As I’m sure you have already gathered, 2012 is Bond’s 50th anniversary, and Skyfall really marks that landmark with style. It’s the best Bond film for years, even better than Daniel Craig’s fantastic debut Casino Royale back in 2006. I was one of the few people who actually rather liked Quantum of Solace, but that picture looks like a mess next to the sleek and sophisticated Skyfall.
The film begins with an awesome action sequence, followed by Adele’s theme song. Her voice perfectly suits the tone of the film, and the song is a vast improvement over the car crash Jack White and Alicia Keys served up in 2008.
The best thing about this entry, superbly directed by Sam Mendes, is that it places Judi Dench’s M centre stage. Dench has been in seven bond films and she has beautifully turned her character into an iconic figure in the series. Her matriarchal role has provided humour and tension, especially in her one-to-one scenes with Bond. I’m not the only reviewer to say this, but one could easily read something oedipal in their relationship; a delicate character-string that is vigorously plucked when the villain of the film refers to her as ‘mother’.
Ah yes, the villain. The threat to Britain, and to M personally, in this movie is Silva, an ex-agent turned bad. He is played gloriously by Javier Bardem, whose blond hair is perhaps the scariest thing cinemas have seen this year. Bardem plays him with very camp mannerisms, and there is a delicious scene where he starts to caress Bond’s torso and legs. Any dated homophobia that could have resonated within the scene is removed by a quick-witted exchange between the two that suggests Bond himself may not be a stranger to the odd gay fling.
Silva has a vendetta with M, the details of which are menacingly revealed in a chilling confrontation in MI6’s new headquarters (they had to relocated after he blew up their old offices). After this, the stage is set for a spectacular series of showdowns.
Mendes, who is famous for his dark domestic dramas such as American Beauty and Revolutionary Road, handles the action very well, and his regular collaborator in cinematography Roger Deakins gives the film a great look. The best scenes are those set in Scotland in the third act, and Deakins’s keen eye for colour, mixed with some brilliantly staged explosions, turn the Scottish highlands into a burning landscape; an intoxicating, powerful mixture of intense browns and smokey oranges.
There is a lot of knowing humour and talk about the joys of being old fashioned. These scenes marry the light perfectly with the dark, and it’s this quality that makes the film so supremely enjoyable.
Skyfall may not be high art, but it’s popular entertainment at its very best. I really don’t know how it could have been better.
Skyfall (2012), directed by Sam Mendes, is distributed in the UK by Sony Pictures, Certificate 12A.