Of all the traditions of the James Bond series the caption at the ending “James Bond will return…” is the one the producers have been most keen to stick to.
The films have adapted to changes in cinema (sometimes leading the changes) and the world – not least the end of the Cold War, yet the super spy keeps on returning and thrilling audiences.
Some argue that the biggest change in the 50 year history of the series came when Daniel Craig stepped into 007’s shoes. For others Casino Royale marked a return to Bondian basics. Certainly many greeted Craig’s appointment to Her Majesty’s Secret Service with dismay – yet he proved them wrong and the series hit new heights of acclaim – and James Bond’s return was guaranteed.
The follow up Quantum of Solace (QoS) was eagerly anticipated but less-enthusiastically received. Yet once again Craig carried the film which had difficulties in production thanks to the writers’ strike.
But now James Bond has returned in Skyfall. The restart button had been hit in Casino Royale by rebooting Bond and showing him at the start of his career as a double-O agent. It was again hit at the end of QoS (a point made explicitly by director Marc Foster by moving the signature gun barrel to the end of the movie – he is the Bond we all know now) , it seemed like Skyfall would herald a return of something more like “business as usual” for Bond.
Instead, Skyfall is the first in the series not to be a James Bond film – it is the first ever M film.
It is Judi Dench’s head of Mi6 that drives the plot, more than Bond. She even drives the dastardly scheme of Javier Bardem’s villain.
Not that this is necessarily a bad thing. Dench has become an important figure in the world of Bond since first appearing as M in Goldeneye. Knowing this to be her last film in the series (a secret that the film makers couldn’t hide – even they did manage to hide exactly how she would make her exit) the film is turned into her swansong. This is an honour that no other longstanding member of the Bond cast has ever been afforded before. The closest is Desmond Llewellyn’s exit as Q in The World Is Not Enough (although at the time it was not clear of he was retiring from the series or just considering it. His death shortly after the film’s release adds an extra poignancy to the scene but gives him a fitting exit after many long years of service to 007).
Director Sam Mendes has said that The Dark Knight Rises (which Skyfall has recently surpassed to become the UK’s most success film of 2012 so far) gave him the carte blanche to go darker and delve in the character’s past. Indeed, TDKR felt like it was tying up the ends of all the threads started in its predecessor while Shyfall feels like it is tying up the loose threads of Dench’s M and Bond’s reinvention.
M has become an increasingly important character during Dench’s tenure in the role. From being simply the person who sent 007 of around the world to investigate some McGuffin or other, M has become an integral part of the mission and in touch with Bond throughout the movie. This time Bond is even equipped with an earpiece so M can be in constant touch – something the films seem to have borrowed from recent Bond video games.
Dame Judi certainly has the gravitas and skill to carry the film – or any film. The same could be said for most of the cast. This is certainly one of the best casts assembled for a Bond movie and the series hasn’t been sort of talented people in the past.
Javier Bardem, Albert Finney, Naomi Harris, Bérénice Marlohe and Ralph Fiennes all turn in good performances of varying importance. Most importantly of all Craig shines as Bond once more.
The character has gone though many transformations over the past 50 years. Craig has brought a harsh edge back to the character, or brought him back to his roots – literally in Skyfall.
A nice homage to Fleming is made by keeping Bond’s parents name as he set them in the novels. One thing Skyfall gets right is the homages to the past. Unlike Die Another Day, which marked 40 years of the films, it approaches it subtly rather than shoe horning as many as possible.
Whether intentional or not there are brief unmentioned references to the Brosnan years in the first meeting with Q, the Dalton years in one of the gadget – there is even something of The Man With The Golden Gun about the entire film (yes, really…but there is not the time to explore this here). And of course using Scotland as a setting reflects Fleming’s own homage to the films – he only made Bond half Scottish after being impressed by Connery in the role in Dr. No.
The biggest homage has the car – and in a Bond movie that can only mean one thing. No, not the Lotus Esprit but the Aston Martin DB5. Since appearing in Goldfinger and Thunderball it has been seen throughout Brosnan’s films and Casino Royale. It also provides the biggest logical inconsistency in the film.
Ok, I know this a Bond film, so internal continuity is never a strong point for a character that every few years is able to change his face, voice, height, hair colour – become a different man. Bear with me…
Casino Royale clearly rebooted the franchise. Bond was taken back to the start of his career and is seen winning the DB5 at a game of poker. So how the hell does he manage to have the DB5 fully equipped with Q’s gadgets that agent 007 was given in Goldfinger? Even more so when he refers to it not being an Mi6 vehicle.
You could forgive the ejector seat gag if that was just it. A nice joke for the fans – especially as it is the car actually used in Goldfinger…but having the full works, it just doesn’t work.
However, that is geekery picking and a little unfair. From the use of the Bond theme throughout, the return of Q and other regular Bond characters/elements this is undoubtedly a Bond film and has every right to break its own rules.
Not only that but it is a good film, and a good Bond film. Maybe not the greatest ever but a strong story, brilliant performances, good action and well scored. Some may moan there is not much action overseas and that Mi6 has no jurisdiction to act in the UK – but if you go into a Bond film expecting it to be totally realistic then you’ve missed the point. Besides, Fleming’s third novel (Moonraker) is set purely in London and Kent (and no not space…).
By the end of the film you know that the world of Bond is back to where it has always been – despite the changes some have made a great deal of. The fact the reset button is again hit at the end is weakness. How many more times can this happen? Surely all is set for a one-off Bond adventure next time.
Well, even if the next film follows this template then it will be a high entry to the series and an enjoyable romp. At end I wanted to see it again and see more from Craig-era 007.
We should be very glad that James Bond will return…
Review by @StanleyMizaru