Skyfall Review: (Dark) Knight of the British Empire

James Bond is a staple of British culture. When it came to defining our nation in the opening ceremony of the Olympics, we couldn’t look any further than Daniel Craig suiting up as the World’s most famous secret agent, but over the last few decades his screen visits have become more of an obligation than a necessity. All this has changed with Skyfall.

The 23rd James Bond movie opened for general release on Friday, and was welcomed by a wave of positive reaction by critics and the public alike, creating that rare item that is beginning to become not so rare, a blockbuster that will line newspaper columns with positive reaction as much as it does studio bosses wallets. There is a lot to be asked of a James Bond film, you must in some way stick to the formula that has become so popular, there is a reason this franchise

Imagehas endured to reach it’s 50th anniversary. In the same way that Westlife will always stand up for the key change, James Bond will always introduce himself surname first, he’ll always ask for that most famous drink, he’ll always travel across the globe and he’ll always be in a suit. Over the last few decades however, 007 has become a parody of himself. There is a fine line between adhering to tradition and becoming a slave to it. You could arguably go back to the beginning of Roger Moore’s tenure and see how the franchise was transformed to a family-friendly-bring-your-kids-and-don’t-forget-to-buy-an-extra-large-popcorn kind of film over the gritty Sean Connery that defines the role even to this day. This is of course good for business, or should I say, was good for business. Cinema has changed, we’ve seen such a step forward from car cashes and big explosions being all you need to satisfy an audience, todays cinema goer is a completely different beast that craves for more intricate and gripping plot, characters who don’t need an innuendo for a name to stay memorable.

The film is undoubtedly brilliant. The casting is fantastic, Dench is rejuvenated by taking centre staging for the first time, Craig takes another step towards usurping Connery as the defining Bond and Bardem is simply incredible. The locationing is spot on, in a constantly globalising world where travel and far out destinations aren’t the rarities and impressive sights that they were in the 1970’s, it’s refreshing to see the film try to stay in Britain for the most part, with the most memorable scenes taking place in Scotland. It’s a film built for the 21st century, and is very ambitious, unless my memory betrays me this is the first mainstream film to show a terrorist attack in London since 7/7.

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Skyfall picks up where Casino Royale left off, as an indication of our current world, the constant referencing of “old-fashioned” techniques and how our national security system should be viewed are extremely refreshing, as well as the growing transparency of these systems.  There is of course a massive elephant in the room and that is that Skyfall very much benefits from being a post-Dark Knight film. The comparisons are endless, and will dominate the reviews, mostly for better but sometimes for worse. Javier Bardem is a brilliant actor, and plays a fantastic part. He really does. I think you could make a good argument for Silva being the best Bond villain the franchise has seen, the only problem lies in this role being created after Ledger’s Joker, where the comparisons are just too huge for words, his brilliant monologues (rats in oil is something I’ll be quoting for a long time), flailing arms and constant tinges of madness are terrific makings of a villain but are seem like echos over anything else, if this films had been released before The Dark Knight we’d be comparing Silva to Hannibal Lector, I honestly believe he’s in that iconic standard.

Of course there’s no such thing as perfection, and within the film there are a few points that should be addressed. Mendes is not my favourite director in the world, I understand the desire for MGM to want to attach themselves to a high profile director, especially with their financial difficulties, but if you want to recreate The Dark Knight cinematography and direction then go hire Christopher Nolan and his staff. There’s no need to go for Diet Coke if you want some full fat. This piece of film does do well to continue the transition to rejuvenate the franchise, but at the same time why not hire some new writers and properly inject some new blood. I don’t know if it’s something everyone does, or if I’m a little odd for doing it, but the first thing I look at when looking at a film is the writing team, even before the director or cast.

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Purvis and Wade have been writing Bond films for fifteen years, surely we can look at throwing some different writers into the mix. However, perhaps the failings in writing do better to keep the focus where it should be. Skyfall is a rare film that doesn’t necessarily need an elaborate plot to keep people interested, whilst being more than just car chase scenes and shoot-em-ups. Bardem and Craig make it so extremely difficult to argue who had the standout performance, Craig just has to be in contention to be considered the ultimate Bond and two more films might just cement that statement.

Skyfall does well to continue a successful transition from cold-war relic to post-9/11 hero that began in Casino Royale and does so much more than simply satisfy you for a few hours whilst taking you through the motions. Skyfall is arguably the best of 007’s adventures, it’s thought provoking, memorable, cold and calculating. Hopefully it will be a massive box office success and will allow the producers to carry this rejuvenation on through because Bond’s best days look to be in front of him, and for a franchise celebrating it’s 50th anniversary that’s an impressive statement.

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