Daniel Craig returns as Bond, James Bond in a much-awaited atonement for Quantum of Solace, and many friends and critics seem to be hailing Skyfall as not only a return to form, but one of the best James Bond films. Some are going so far as to say it is one of the greatest action films, rivalling the likes of The Dark Knight.
I am feeling a bit torn about all this. I didn’t find Skyfall to be remarkable at all, to be honest. I enjoyed it more than Quantum of Solace, but significantly less than Craig’s debut in the Casino Royale remake. I enjoyed it more than many Bond films, since many of them really aren’t very good at all, and even the ones that are have not aged well. I understand the filmmakers’ desire to knock it out of the park given that it is the 50th anniversary of the films, but Skyfall feels more to me like a ground-rule double.
The Bond franchise is finding itself in competition with the Bourne films, superhero franchises, foreign martial arts films, and standalone gems like Haywire. The touchstones that have long characterized Bond – ridiculously named paramours, gadgets, diabolical villains with grand plans, exotic locales, and dark humour – are all jettisoned in Skyfall, which is one of the few films where Bond looks inward. The best part of the film is the opening sequence in Turkey, which concludes with Bond getting shot off the top of a moving train, supposedly to his death; certainly symbolically so.
After he returns to support M (Judi Dench) in the wake of an explosion at MI-6 engineered by a former agent called Silva (Javier Bardem), Bond finds himself surrounded by a new MI-6 and a new supporting cast including Ralph Fiennes as a new incoming M, Ben Whishaw as Q, and Naomie Harris as Moneypenny. Bond and M discuss his past and how he was recruited to become an assassin. When Silva allows himself to be captured in order to strike at M in London, Bond spirits her away to Skyfall: the Scottish country estate upon which he was raised. It was recently sold and most of the contents packed up, including a gun collection that would have been handy; but with the help of the Bond family’s old gamekeeper (Albert Finney), Bond and M mount a defence.
Director Sam Mendes and his crew provide some lovely visuals throughout, and the action sequences are decent; I expect one of them will be referenced for years to come. But otherwise, I find the script rather flat, in the way that many of the Bourne-era action films are flat. In a world where ordinary technology has made redundant the fantastic devices of classic Bond, we wind up with the lazy screenwriter’s tricks of having someone direct the hero by watching him on satellite feed and speaking into his earpiece; of putting M on trial to defend her career; of building suspense watching a progress bar. For all of his alleged insanity, Silva is not building a death ray in space; he’s a hacker.
Folks, that shit is boring. Hackers are boring. Trials are boring. Rehab montages are boring. James Bond should be better than the British version of 24; and it should be better than Skyfall. The essential parts are all there, but as is usually the problem with a Bond film, they need to find the right script. Better luck next time.