With that formality out of the way, I’d like to tell you about a little film I saw last night at the local cinema. You’ve probably heard of Skyfall, unless you’re a blind and deaf hermit surviving on berries and limpets in the Outer Hebrides. After all, the merchandising for this film is staggering: I’ve seen toys, wine, perfume, jewellery, makeup and other paraphernalia all stamped with 007’s seal of approval. We’ve been anticipating the film’s theatrical release since the Olympics. Did it live up to the hype?
Well, there’s no denying that this was a lavish production that had a metric tonne of heart and soul put into it. Director Sam Mendes (American Beauty, Road To Perdition) teamed up with seasoned thespians Daniel Craig, Dame Judi Dench, Ralph Fiennes and others to give us what I would argue is one of the most memorable Bond films ever made. Coming from one who normally avoids set-piece action blockbusters, that’s no small compliment. While Skyfall has enough explosions and expensive car crashes to keep your average popcorn-munching plebeian grunting with atavistic pleasure, there were enough ingredients in this cinematic stew to mark it as a cut above the rest in terms of quality and plot.
Almost from the start, MI6 operative 007 is thrown into action on top of a train in Albania, or thereabouts. It’s fisticuffs at dawn as our hero attempts to beat up an ill-favoured ruffian and avoid falling off Casey Junior to his death far below. No such luck, as he is accidentally shot and plunges into a ravine. Whilst a 50-metre drop and a gunshot wound would fell a mere mortal, our hero is made of sterner stuff and wakes to find himself in the arms of a nubile young woman in a beach hut. Eventually, he becomes bored of knocking back single-malt whisky and getting laid, so he returns to Vauxhall Cross for another top-secret mission. Providing him with his trademark gadgetry is token nerd, Q, played by Ben Whishaw (whom I remember best for his memorable role in Nathan Barley). With these in hand, his next escapade takes him to Shanghai and we are shown some breathtaking images of the city at night, with its soaring skyscrapers and neon lights. I wonder whether the Shanghai tourist board had invested any money in Skyfall, because I really want to see the place for myself now. Bond shakes off his jet-lag in true heroic fashion, wins four million euros at the casino (does MI6 need to be funded by the taxpayer? Those canny chaps can earn their wages at the craps table, surely) then gets stuck into a few more punch-ups, the most memorable taking place in a pit with two hungry komodo dragons. That’s right: komodo dragons. No Bond movie would be complete without those absurd little touches.
We eventually learn that the mastermind behind all these shenanigans is a turncoat named Raoul Silva (played by Javier Bardem). Now, we’ve had some weird and wonderful Bond villains over the years – scheming malefactors with metal teeth, really sharp headgear, 24-carat firearms and dodgy accents – but none, as far as I can remember, have been as downright disturbed and comic-book crazy as Silva, nor have they ever struck right at the heart of the motherland so effectively. Not only does he subject 007 to a little amorous groping (Bond remains unfazed by the experience, of course), but he succeeds in hacking into MI6’s computers, causing havoc on the London Underground and even gunning down some government officials. I must admit, I was rather pleased to see Helen McCrory’s pen-pushing MP, who had spent the past few hours grilling a beleaguered M, run for cover as Silva burst in with his gun-toting henchmen. The scene illustrates the relevancy of Secret Service in a post-Cold War age, when the enemy is not always visible or recognisable.
The final act, to my mind, was what made Skyfall a Bond film with a difference. We are taken north, to Scotland’s ruggedly beautiful and mist-shrouded Highlands, where Jimbo and M lay a trap for their nemesis. For the first time, 007’s background is revealed. It turns out that he was orphaned as a young boy after his wealthy parents were tragically killed. Looked after by his loyal butler on the family estate, he nonetheless spent much of his time in an underground cave, honing his skills. Sound familiar? That’s right, James Bond is officially Britain’s Bruce Wayne. I suppose it makes sense; after all, replace the tuxedo with a spandex suit and you pretty much have a superhero to rival anything from DC or Marvel. And so it is that Scottish laird 007, aided by M and Albert Finney’s version of Alfred, defend the ancestral seat from Silva and his marauding goons by booby-trapping the gaff using improvisations that were somewhat reminiscent of MacGuyver or The A-Team. The showdown was as spectacular as it was absurd, but Bond finally triumphs over evil and is back to work the following week. Keep calm and carry on, old boy, that’s the spirit.
The ending left me feeling optimistic about a sequel, as a lot of loose ends were tied up. Classically-trained Ralph Fiennes will replace Judi Dench as Bond’s cranky boss M, which makes sense to me. After all, if anyone’s going to out-posh Dame Judi, it’s the Wraith himself. Miss Moneypenny’s character has now been fleshed out and made an impressive comeback. I did wonder whether the introduction of the back-story element would upset the fan-boys, but then reminded myself that I don’t care one iota about the opinions of a noisy minority. Skyfall was, I maintain, a thoroughly enjoyable film, well worth the price of a cinema ticket. It had witty dialogue, sweeping visuals, well-choreographed fight scenes (Craig, the little trooper, performed his own stunts) and a good soundtrack. It was mainstream entertainment at its best. Indeed, as I walked out of the cinema into the cold night air, I thought how nice it would be to drink vodka martini in sunnier climes. Some other lifetime, perhaps.