Skyfall is the biggest film in UK Box Office history – bigger than any Potter, Indy, or Star Wars – and has been heralded as ‘the perfect Bond film’ by people who’ve largely never liked Bond films.
On the surface, their enthusiasm is understandable. There are no dastardly SPECTREs or Quantums manipulating global events; no orbiting laser or nuclear warhead buried in an abyss, poised to wreak havoc on unsuspecting nations; no exploding pens, concealed knives, or invisible cars; no bevy of beauties bouncing on Bond’s arm, every one easily conquered and just as easily discarded; and Bond himself is neither a suave quip-machine nor a humourless bore with a bad haircut.
Most obviously, though, last year he was the right character at the right time. Skydiving with the Queen into the heart of London 2012, Bond expertly positioned himself at the heart of an unprecedented celebration of British spirit that was compelled to embrace Skyfall, which itself embraces Britain like no Bond before it. At the time it almost felt like a crime if you didn’t hold both a UK Passport and a ticket stub to this 50th Anniversary adventure.
Similarly, I walked out of Tesco’s last Wednesday with the Skyfall DVD in my bag, and I haven’t bought a DVD for over half a decade. Did I really buy this movie out of some perverse sense of patriotic duty? Or is it truly a keeper?
I won’t go into too much plot detail because we’ve all bloody seen it, but Bond is missing presumed dead after a botched attempt to retrieve a hard drive that could blow the cover of every field agent in the world. When the thief blows up MI6 and specifically targets M, a barely-sober bestubbled Bond returns to the fold, well out of shape physically & mentally and obviously not up to the task, but M instantly assigns him anyway, because he’s more than just a busted body and a pickled brain.
She knows it, and we know it, and Daniel Craig absolutely plays up to it. His stance, his walk, his every gesture suggests what Bond should always have been: the perfect blunt instrument in human form. All the wardrobe, weapons and one-liners down the years have just diluted that one essential. Craig, standing on the boat deck braced against the wind and facing a typically uncertain fate, blows away all that pointless stylistic bloat with a single posture. He doesn’t even have to move.
A lot’s been made of the script’s nod to Bond’s back story – how the death of his parents killed his childhood and drove him into M’s maternal arms – and, yes, it is nice to give the character something to hang on, but Craig evokes the driven, duty-bound emptiness in Bond so powerfully that it’s almost unnecessary. Pierce Brosnan busted his guts trying to pull a similarly shadowy trick with his Bond, but was sadly lumbered with the same hysterical set-pieces and cartoonish attitude to death that marred the Moore years.
Skyfall, by contrast, takes death very seriously indeed. The fantastic score, by Thomas Newman, eschews the usual over-reliance on barping horns and goes for the elegiac jugular, and never more so than when M stands over the Union-Jack draped coffins of her murdered subjects and vows to bring their killer to justice. Such moments are peppered throughout Skyfall. Moments of sombre quiet amidst the chaos; moments when Sam Mendes combines silence and action to define a character.
Which is why I hope they bag Mendes for Bond 24. Skyfall may be a very dry watch at times, particularly in the opening half, but it’s easily the most tonally consistent and visually arresting Bond I’ve ever seen. And, like I said, Craig is The Man.
I am never buying another DVD though. Fitting, then, that Bond should be both my first and last.