It’s the 50th anniversary of the Bond film series – the most successful movie franchise of all time – so how does Skyfall measure up against the rest of the 23 film series?
Well, I went to watch Skyfall last night with my son and am happy to say that I think it deserves to be called one of the top three Bond films made to date with From Russia With Love (1963) and Goldfinger (1964) being my other favourites.
Skyfall has the most exciting introductory sequence of all the Bond films. The intro is set in Turkey and involves a thrilling chase over the Grand Bazaar. The movie titles – which usually consist of coy shots of some sultry women – are replaced with a far more interesting sequence featuring various images revolving around the theme of Bond’s death. The accompanying theme song for Skyfall by Adele also ranks up there with Shirley Bassey’s vocals on Goldfinger and Diamonds Are Forever.
The main villain is played by Javier Bardem who so memorably featured as the psychopathic serial killer Anton Chigurh in the Coen Brothers’ No Country For Old Men. Bardem’s performance as a hilariously camp cyber-criminal is a joy to watch. In one scene, Bond is held captive and Bardem runs both his hands up Bond’s thighs and says that there is a first time for trying everything. ‘How do you know it is my first time?’ responds Bond and got the loudest laugh in the cinema last night.
The product placements were fun to spot – the Sony Vaio laptop was prominently displayed several times. I wonder how much the Chinese must have paid the Bond producers because the scenes featuring Shanghai at night were very alluring.
Skyfall also featured a break from the usual astonishing Bond gadgets – whose lowpoint must surely have been the invisible car in Die Another Day. All that Daniel Craig gets handed by Q in Skyfall is his usual Walther PPK handgun (albeit crafted so that it only fires if it can match Bond’s palm holding the gun) and a small radio transmitter.
Sam Mendes has to be perhaps the most accomplished director that the Bond producers have placed at the helm throughout the past 50 years. He provides the viewers with an interesting backstory about Bond’s childhood in Scotland which helps give the character additional depth. There was also a wonderful scene where Judi Dench’s M was being grilled by a hostile parliamentary committee which believed that the secret work her department did was not being properly scrutinised and lines between right and wrong were being blurred. Dench’s M responds by quoting – at some length – from Tennyson’s poem Ulysses:
Though much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in the old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are,
One equal-temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
It is certainly very stirring stuff. M has to work in the shadows to defend her country from all outside threats and Bond may be a killer but he is a dedicated Brit doing his duty.
However, it was rather difficult to watch these scenes with a straight face without being reminded of some of the things that MI6 has actually been up to in recent years. The secret service is currently embroiled in a series of very damaging allegations that suggest that far from defending democracy and freedom MI6 has been involved in a number of illegal activities including helping Colonel Gaddafi’s dictatorship by luring and capturing Libyan dissidents and handing them over to be tortured. And who can forget the role of the former head of MI6, Sir John Scarlett, in the attempts to convince the British public that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction? The false WMD claims were used by the Blair government to persuade the UK public to back the war against Iraq.
Still, real life aside, Skyfall was a very enjoyable movie.
Here are some nice lines to savour from earlier Bond movies until you get the chance to see Skyfall.