I’ve recently become a big James Bond fan, so this review is going to be biased. Having read Ian Fleming’s From Russia with Love and Casino Royale, I’ve begun to familiarize myself with the shadowy world of espionage that pervaded Fleming’s time during the Cold War, immersing myself in the legendary writer’s world, a time in history when uncertainty shook the world and war was a reality that characters like James Bond were designed to alleviate the ordinary man from.
So watching Skyfall last night was an experience in evaluation: evaluating the relevance of 007 in today’s world. Bond has always been a staple cultural phenomenon, but as a literary piece it can be debatable as to whether it stands its own in a world where the excitement of spies and exotic locales have been overshadowed by superheroes and extravagant CGI.
Academy Award® winning director Sam Mendes took charge of the latest Bond film, the 23rd in the franchise, Skyfall. And his prowess behind the camera clearly showed in what is clearly the most beautifully filmed 007 picture yet. Every frame was composed with care. Skyfall’s mise en scène alone makes it a worthwhile watch.
But it is the story that stands out as the most critical piece of this film. A far more considered plot, the gripping storyline brings Bond full-circle in the so-called “trilogy” of re-boots that returned Bond to the world with Daniel Craig as the eponymous spy/assassin in 2006’s Casino Royale. In Skyfall we see Q and Miss Moneypenny resurface, and the character of M returns to the book depiction (Ralph Fiennes is a superb choice for the replacement). More importantly, though, is the antagonistic force in the guise of Silva, a character that is unashamedly based on Wikileaks founder Julian Assange. Javier Bardem is even dressed to look the part of the infamous information overlord, and his performance is psychotically good.
The writers have taken careful aim at positioning this film as a question of the relevance of espionage organizations like MI6 in today’s world: in a time when cyber crime and cyber warfare are becoming increasingly threatening to a country’s security, how does the physical resources of spies and assassins – the “cloak and dagger” world of old school James Bond and his creator, Ian Fleming – match up? This motif is carried throughout the film, touching the character of Bond and M, and inspiring the internal tensions between political forces in the British parliament and the big shots at the office of Military Intelligence, Section Six.
Some will argue that the film is too long; that it doesn’t match up to the action packed, romantic world of James Bond that previous films have presented. The Bond girl (Sévérine, played by Bérénice Marlohe) is hardly present, and there’s no new, flashy Aston Martin. But I argue that what director Sam Mendes has done is profile a Bond that is gritty, mature and befitting of the world we live in. In essence, Mendes has brought the seriousness out in the franchise, bringing 007 back to his roots (in more ways than one), recreating him as a symbol of struggle in the face of new, deadly forces of attack.
Let’s talk about the music. Thomas Newman is no David Arnold, but the score was apt and befitting of the action on-screen with beautiful orchestrations. I particularly enjoyed the sequences in Istanbul. The real standout, of course, is Adele’s rendition of the theme song. Yes, she has been given a hard time following her success of 21. Many are tired of her songs (they have been killed on radio, after all). But her voice is undeniably beautiful. It’s haunting, melancholic, the tones brilliantly suitable to the world of James Bond.
I’ve always considered the title sequence of Casino Royale to be amazing. But with Skyfall I think we have a very serious contender for the most beautiful, atmospheric opening to a Bond film yet. It captures the feel of the film, and accentuated by Adele’s singing and the classic, return-to-roots music powering the song, hails the full-circle that Bond has come in these past three films.
It’s incredible that Bond has been around in film for 50 years now. It’s the longest-running film franchise in history. And whilst there have been many hit-and-misses, Skyfall is more than a worthy addition to this pedigree. Is James Bond still relevant? In a world where cyber warfare is on the rise, where uncertainty pervades the planet, and where copious CGI and flashy effects are the primary drawcards to the cinema, it’s refreshing to see a film of the James Bond calibre treated with such respect and cinematic integrity.