‘Ladies and gentlemen, I’m delighted to inform you that Skyfall is Daniel Craig’s best Bond film yet and easily amongst the top three of the entire franchise. Sam Mendes, you bloody genius, you! *Brain explodes out of excitement.*’
So that was the opening sentence of the review I had expected to write after watching Skyfall, the twenty-third film in the James Bond franchise and the third starring the very intense Craig, given that the badass trailer had very literally left me delirious for days at end and the phenomenal hype had me convinced that I was in for the motion picture experience of a lifetime. And then, as is usually the case, I saw the movie.
Before I make my case about the specific failings of the movie, which has a plot that puts Judi Dench’s M and the MI6 directly in the line of danger, as Bond battles his body and the demons from his past to save the day, let’s start with some reassurance that Skyfall, for the most part, is well worth a trip to the theaters, because you’re probably going to watch it irrespective of this review — or any review for that matter.
This is Craig’s most accessible and well, fun, Bond movie to date; the most popcorn Bond, if you will. It’s also his funniest Bond, with deadpan humour in huge dollops, at the most unexpected places.
Director Mendes pulls out all stops to give us one of the most visually intoxicating Bond films too; the cinematography by veteran Roger Deakins is a class apart, and certain sequences — including the dazzling opening credits and a fight sequence filmed almost only in shadows – give the movie a tone that’s fiercely original and still, fiercely Bond. The acting, from all quarters, is a delight: Craig and Dench have “played this game long enough”, and Ralph Fiennes and the talented young Ben Whishaw (who was also fantastic in the recent Cloud Atlas) ably demonstrate that they aren’t merely there to be cogs in the wheel, but that they truly belong.
And to cite an analogy that’ll perhaps be used freely in the days to come, Javier Bardem is the Joker to Bond’s Dark Knight, even though Skyfall is the franchise’s ‘James Bond Rises’. Bardem, who makes one of the best-written entries in Bond history, is deliciously wicked, and constructs a frighteningly real villain with an uncomfortable, sinister presence that looms large over every scene he’s a part of. In an alternate universe, Bardem would be the common villain to the Bond franchise, with a new Bond to foil him in every movie.
This is where you should stop reading if you are only looking to be entertained by Bond’s latest, and aren’t necessarily interested in Skyfall as a movie by itself.
To be very honest, let me clarify that it’s hard to point out exactly why the movie, which possibly has the best first act in action movies this side of the 2000s, goes wrong. It has all the quintessential Bond ingredients, and each of them spectacularly well-done at that, be it breath-taking beauties (both women and cars), dizzying action, crackling dialogue, an unconventional but remarkable choice of director, a terrifying and terrific villain, and a man’s man in Bond, “an old dog who has learnt new tricks.” But then again, if these were enough to make for a great movie, Agent Vinod would have been the greatest one ever made.
The movie’s biggest problem is the disjointed script that takes an exciting new turn every fifteen minutes, but by the end, ends up confused about where it was heading to in the first place. Take the premise itself: MI6 is under attack and the identities of several secret service agents are now in the wrong hands. But somewhere mid-way, these agents are all but forgotten as the plot shifts gears to a cat-and-mouse game for your typical action movie staple of vengeance.
There are also more clichés in the movie than there are criminals in Indian politics. Without giving away any spoilers, here are some of the formulae that you’d expect Bond to avoid, but Skyfall revels in:
1. When the bad guy is caught early in the movie, you know he wanted to be caught.
2. When the bad guy pulls a gun on the good guy early in the movie, he is not going to pull the trigger.
3. When the bad guy pulls a gun on the good guy at the end of the movie, he is going to give a speech.
4. When the specific quality of a particular weapon is spoken of and dismissed, you know that’s the quality that will save the day in the end.
Then there’s the problem of the Bond girl who serves as much purpose in the movie as that ‘Smoking causes cancer’ ads serve at the beginning of it – she doesn’t. Bardem’s splendid villain is given a shockingly ill-etched out characterisation too, and his job through the movie is waiting it out for the good guy to thwart his bad moves. There’s also the bit about Bond’s backstory, which seems trite and forced and would’ve made no difference to the movie had it been left out.
Truth is, all would have been forgiven had the grand finale been as devastating as was promised. Instead, we get an ode (?) to – without giving it away, a famous children’s film - that seems in scale and impetus, a significant departure from the tone of the movie, as well as the franchise itself. Good or bad, it just doesn’t feel like Bond.
My complaint with Skyfall is that somewhere in between the entertainment, the CGI, the stunts and the twists, there was a great movie to be found. But it fell through the cracks into the abyss and only a James Bond can locate it now. This is a Bond that’s both same and different to the earlier editions, and that’s possibly the reason the movie ends up being, at once, both the very best of Bond and the very worst of Bond.