London, Oct. 13: Skyfall is a great British bulldog of a movie. From the moment the orchestral sound of Adele belts out, sending a nostalgic shiver down the audience’s collective spine, we know this will be a triumphant return to classic Bond.
Sam Mendes, the director, deftly balances fanboy worship of 007 tradition with sophisticated filmmaking, and (apart from early Sean Connery) nobody does it better than Daniel Craig.
Craig is back for a third time on craggy, witty, world-weary form; steely and tightly tailored, while M moves to centre stage as the plot thickens deliciously.
M, Britain’s national treasure Judi Dench, has been released from her brusque business at M16 into the wider world, and proves fallible. Not only has she lost the hard-drive filled with names of Nato agents embedded in terrorist cells, but she seems to have lost Bond — he is shot by British field agent Eve (Naomie Harris) in the opening, as he battles an enemy on a moving train.
There will be no spoilers here, but even the Skyfall trailer shows Bond plunging to his death from a railway viaduct, and when he reappears — “my hobby is resurrection” — no one is pleased. Trying to make a comeback, 007 is shabby, stroppy and out of shape. He faces the contempt of the political head of the secret service (Ralph Fiennes) with the cold blood of Voldemort still coursing in his veins.
Aside from fancy gadgets and ill-conceived invisible cars, the Bond story has lagged behind these cyber-centric times, but Skyfall pulls up its iSocks by making the villain, Silva (Javier Bardem), a hacker, bent not merely on good Old World domination but taking revenge on M.
Rightly, Mendes has brought back Q, a scene-stealing role for Ben Whishaw rather than the usual old codger. Indeed, this Q, a whip-smart computer hacker, implies that Bond is now the codger past his prime.
“I’m your quartermaster,” he begins. Bond takes one look at the apparent teenager, with his cardie, thick specs and anorak, and snaps: “You must be joking.”
But in a positively moving tribute, Q issues Bond with a retro PPKS 9mm gun, activated only by Bond’s palm prints.
“Less of a random killing machine, more of a personal statement,” says Q, and that’s a fair summation of Bond’s 23rd film. The audience actually cheered when Bond revealed his car: an Aston Martin DB5, last seen in Goldfinger.
But now we come to the Bond girls, and regulations insist there must be two, one of whom is a double-crosser. Actually, the real Bond girl in this movie is M, and the waspish affection between the agent and his M16 headmistress figure is at the heart of the film.
Mendes has dared to raise character and motivation to levels unseen in Bond films, while still keeping the action setpieces in London, Turkey and Shanghai, and a searing ending in Glen Etive in Scotland.
The stunts are as athletic as ever, but the best part comes when Bond makes a death-defying leap on to a moving train and pauses, just for a moment, to adjust his crisp white cuffs.
The Bond franchise is 50 years old this year, and the script-less mess of Quantum of Solace may be considered its mid-life crisis. But Skyfall is a resurrection, and will go down as one of 007’s best.