Directed by: Sam Mendes
Starring: Daniel Craig, Helen McCrory and Javier Bardem
Running time: 143mins
In an attempt to avoid any spoilers, all that we’ll mention of the movie’s plot is that it involves MI6 agent James Bond (Daniel Craig) as he attempts to recover a stolen hard drive containing the identities of undercover NATO. With M (Judi Dench) facing judicial review and potential forced retirement by intelligence committee chairman Gareth Mallory (Ralph Fiennes) over the screw up, the pressure is on for Bond to recover the drive from Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem), who has made MI6 his target in a terror campaign.
Without spoiling the plot, I’ll start by saying that Skyfall is a vast improvement over the disastrously bad Quantum of Solace, with it’s heights being as good as Daniel Craig’s first outing as 007, Casino Royale. Craig’s performance is his best in the role, this time given more of a struggle with himself to portray than a struggle with his job which is what Casino Royale focused on. Bond allows people to be killed throughout the movie, when in previous movies he may have maybe stepped in before their being killed, here he doesn’t, and it makes the point that Bond isn’t out there to be the good guy, Bond is a spy, and a damned good one, who is focused on the mission – and if people die to obtain that goal of the mission, then so be it. There’s also an ongoing question of outliving one’s usefulness which applies not only to the character of Bond but also that of Judi Dench’s M, facing the threat of having to step down and make way for someone else.
An attempt has been made with the movie’s script to simplify the story, which leads to each step of Bond’s investigation being less complex than they were in Casino Royale, and the whole thing of gadgets being essentially dropped. A rather odd decision considering this is Craig’s first Bond movie to feature a Quartermaster, with the character of Q played excellently by Ben Whishaw, if a little too stereotypically (in a kind of young sweater wearing Cambridge graduate who, just to make the point of how British he is, loves to drink tea).
The movie is darker and more mature in tone than the previous ones, with the subject of terrorism and a political undertone taking a more central role in the story, with the characters being serious for a great deal but with subtle attempts at humour throughout, including a reference to Live And Let Die which made me laugh. It does add to the characters more, with the interplay between M and Bond gaining greatly from both. Javier Bardem is an interesting Bond Villain, if a little too much over the top even for this type of role. His motives come across successfully, but at times I felt as if he were trying to out-do Heath Ledger’s performance as The Joker from Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, though this may be down to the writing, which at one point has the character make a statement with the use of The Animals cover of song Boom Boom.
Product placement is, as always, an issue – Early on Bond is lying in a bed drinking a Heineken rather than his trademark Vodka Martini, there’s a lingering shot of Bond’s hands as he does something which makes it clear that he’s wearing an Omega Seamaster watch – which you know is a Seamaster because of the numerous adverts shown before the movie. It’s not as in-your-face as the product placement in Casino Royale, but it’s to an extent that is certainly noticeable enough to be a distraction from the movie.
At 2 hours and 23 minutes in length, the movie does have a slight issue with being too long. There is action and there is drama, with an equal focus on both and an intentional decision made to not hit the viewer on the head repeatedly with action sequence after action sequence. But that does mean that early in the second act of the movie there is a slight lull to the pace, and the movie would have perhaps gained from some trimming of the fat. That said, it is an enjoyable 2 hours and 23 minutes, that is most certainly not a disappointing experience.
Skyfall certainly helps to cement Craig as the best Bond since Sean Connery, and Sam Mendes has done a far better job than expected for a director who has rarely tackled a movie featuring this level of action, but should not have been given quite as much free reign with the movie’s length. Overall though, you would be missing out on a great addition to the Bond series if you missed this at the cinemas, especially as it’s the first Bond movie to be given an Imax release. Fans will not be disappointed.