Review: Mean and touchy-feely, James Bond is back on track in Skyfall

3.00

 

Celebrating 50 years in the business, 007 is looking 00K in Skyfall, still lean and mean, quick on his feet, contemporary but not afraid to look back.

It gets off to a flyer with a long and elaborate chase, then keeps the pedal floored in a series of dynamic set pieces that show off director Sam Mendes's technical expertise and his understanding of what's required in a James Bond picture. It looks spiffy, largely thanks to Roger Deakins's crisp photography, and gets the franchise back on track after the cheerless Quantum of Solace threatened to derail the show. It also has a top villain, one of the great Bond baddies, in Javier Bardem.

And yet something about it prevents me from joining the loud "wahoos" already raised in acclaim. Enjoyable as it is, there are creaks and judders in the machinery that suggest the film-makers' nervousness about Bond and about his long-term appeal. Most notable is an uncertainty as to how far they should humanise a spy who has operated, necessarily, "in the shadows". Take away those shadows and, like a vampire at dawn, his substance may shrivel in the light. Skyfall belatedly clues us into a backstory explaining 007's emotional reticence and his professional psychopathology, but I think that is to mistake what the audience seeks in Bond – they don't want to know about his mother and father, they want to know if he can still deliver a great one-liner while dodging an oncoming train.

Did I say vampire? Our hero, if not undead, does appear to have given up the ghost at the end of that opening chase. Who could have survived a sniper's bullet and a 1,000ft plunge into the deep? Bond, that's who. When he reappears in London months later, even M (Judi Dench) appears mildly surprised. If he looks shaken and stirred, M's case is a lot worse. Not only is MI6 about to retire her, she's also under attack from a fiendish cyber- terrorist with a grudge: "Think on your sins," is his signature warning. Before she can even collect her P45 her office is firebombed in broad daylight. The villain has also stolen a hard drive containing a list of Nato agents, which he intends to leak online in weekly installments. "I'll go home and change," says Bond, snapping into action. "Oh, we've sold your flat," replies M – standard procedure for an operative Missing Presumed Dead. Charming!

Bond is put through rigorous tests by his employers before returning to the field, and his marks aren't good. Doubts are voiced about his nerve, his sharpshooting, even his age. "This is a young man's game," warns new MI6 taskmaster (Ralph Fiennes), which is harsh on Daniel Craig. At 43, he appears in excellent fettle, his silhouette slim and his movement graceful. He looks terrific in a tux. The one thing missing from his armoury, alas, is a sense of humour. The scriptwriters have supplied some good gags here, but Craig is too clenched an actor to make the most of them. Say what you like about Roger Moore, he knew how to time a quip. I liked the assignation with new quartermaster, Q – Ben Whishaw looks like the nerdy one on the wing of a University Challenge team – and the austere back-to-basics package he presents to Bond: a gun, and a radio. "Not exactly Christmas, is it?" says James. "What were you expecting – an exploding pen?" (Actually, yes, we were.) There's another flash of retro-gadget comedy later on when Bond recovers his old motor – a moment too good to spoil.

Mendes keeps the thing rocketing along, switching from the rooftops of Istanbul to the glittering scrapers and gambling dens of Shanghai, where Bond makes contact with a mysterious woman (Bérénice Marlohe). The sex? Blink and you miss it; this Bond has his mind on The Job, not the job. In any case, the real erotic encounter involves not a woman but a man. Behold Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem), a former MI6 agent sold down the river by M ("Mommy was very bad"), returning to eat revenge's cold dish after surviving his own cyanide capsule. Bardem thoroughly enjoys himself, inserting camp little moues between his words and treating Bond to the sort of feel-up he probably hasn't experienced since public school. "What's your regulation training for this?" Again, Craig hasn't the lightness of touch to make it a comic duet, but it's OK because Bardem has enough mischief for two. He also does that sinister thing of smiling through his own captivity – you just know he's got a fabulous escape plan.

It's all set up for a big finale, with Bond playing Galahad to his old boss and reuniting with an aged retainer somewhere on a moor in Scotland. Unfortunately, it turns out to be the least successful part of the movie, not merely because it's overlong but because it tries to situate Bond as a man in touch with his feelings, as son and heir, almost "one of us". Next thing you know he'll be stopping his glottals and claiming he's a straight kinda guy. The film-makers should beware of this. I don't want Bond with a back story, I want him to be a man alone, dark, self-possessed, egregious – literally, "outside the flock". Craig may not be able to offer much in the way of charm or humour, but he knows how to hang tough. Banish his darkness and Bond becomes your standard action man, another rooftop-leaper and street- runner à la Jason Bourne. His name's Bond – James Bond – and that's all the information we need from him.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Thomas carried Lady Edith over the flames in her bedroom in Downton Abbey series five

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck as Nick Dunne, seated next to a picture of his missing wife Amy, played by Rosamund Pike

film
Arts and Entertainment
Rachel, Chandler and Ross try to get Ross's sofa up the stairs in the famous 'Pivot!' scene

Friends 20th anniversary
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham

books
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey

There’s revolution in the air, but one lady’s not for turning

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Chloe-Jasmine Whicello impressed the judges and the audience at Wembley Arena with a sultry performance
TVReview: Who'd have known Simon was such a Roger Rabbit fan?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Actor and director Zach Braff

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams plays 'bad ass' Arya Stark in Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Syria air strikes: ‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings

    Robert Fisk on Syria air strikes

    ‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings
    Will Lindsay Lohan's West End debut be a turnaround moment for her career?

    Lindsay Lohan's West End debut

    Will this be a turnaround moment for her career?
    'The Crocodile Under the Bed': Judith Kerr's follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

    The follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

    Judith Kerr on what inspired her latest animal intruder - 'The Crocodile Under the Bed' - which has taken 46 years to get into print
    BBC Television Centre: A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past

    BBC Television Centre

    A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past
    Lonesome George: Custody battle in Galapagos over tortoise remains

    My George!

    Custody battle in Galapagos over tortoise remains
    10 best rucksacks for backpackers

    Pack up your troubles: 10 best rucksacks for backpackers

    Off on an intrepid trip? Experts from student trip specialists Real Gap and Quest Overseas recommend luggage for travellers on the move
    Secret politics of the weekly shop

    The politics of the weekly shop

    New app reveals political leanings of food companies
    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
    Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

    Beware Wet Paint

    The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world