Monday, 22 July 2013

Favourite Films: Skyfall

by Tom Harper

Upon my recent exploration of the latest movie archives I was stopped dead in my tracks by Disney and Pixar’s recent announcement of the production of Finding Dory: the sequel to Finding Nemo that no-one asked for nor wanted, and this led me to reflect on how truly sublime all-time classics such as Shrek, Predator and however many Police Academy movies there are out there have been spoiled by the ticking time bomb that is the sequel. Granted, many series such as that of Harry Potter have thrived from their franchises but once in a while the film industry needs to know when it’s beaten, and this seemed to be the case upon the disastrous release of Quantum of Solace in 2008. Not only did the 22nd instalment to the Bond series face drastic budgetary difficulties but also received huge criticism from a variety of sources, including ex-Bond Roger Moore who stated that “There didn't seem to be any geography and you were wondering what the hell was going on!”. Hence one of the greatest film franchises of all time was seen to be heading for disaster, and I must admit that when I first heard of the production of its sequel my hopes weren’t high........

......... but then Sam Mendes came along, the movie was released across the globe to the rapturous applause of previously anti-Bond critics and Skyfall is now not only my favourite Bond film, but in my opinion is one of the best films of all time. This has to be the main reason for why I believe Skyfall deserves the credit it has received: unlike so many other movies it has not only become a sequel that matches if not betters its predecessors, but it has also been able to pull a supposedly doomed franchise out of the gutter on its merits alone (an action which I firmly believe Stephanie Meyer will be unable to repeat with the upcoming release of The Host).

The means by which Skyfall was met with such open arms by critics is the second reason that I adore it: the exceptional acting. Ever since Casino Royale Daniel Craig has sparked the intrigue of film buffs like myself with his darker and more serious adaptation of Bond, and Skyfall was no exception. Throughout the film Craig is able to keep the momentum going as the agent starting to question his authority, with some light-hearted moments and typical Bond one-liners thrown in to keep things interesting. We also see Bond’s character being beautifully complimented by Judi Dench’s M, who at long last rises up to meet the prominent role we have all been waiting for. However, it is clear that the greatest credit must be given to Javier Bardem’s unforgettable portrayal of villain Raoul Silva, whose perversely eccentric personality constantly keeps the audience on its toes from start to finish. The witty banter (whereas really I should say flirtations) that passed between good and evil spelt for some real highlights, and when combined with the mind-blowing soundtrack from Adele as well as the breath-taking locations and stunts this film deserves its reputation as the epitome of what 007 should be.
However this is not all that Skyfall deserves recognition for, as it also brings Bond into the 21st Century. As well as introducing a younger Q sharply played by Ben Winshaw, Mendes manages to take the conventionally dull setting of the London Underground and turn into an action-packed chase scene that still has me reeling many months later. Furthermore the concept of cyber-terrorism being the plot’s focal point helps to modernise traditional Bond conflict and adapt it to more current global circumstances.

Conversely, the message that this movie really hits home is (as both Moneypenny and Kincade put it) “Sometimes the old ways are best”. On one level this refers to the fantastic and seamless inclusion of both cut-throat razors and flintlock pistols (which I would have never thought possible for a film set in our era), but on another level it summarises the purpose of the movie as a whole: to bring Bond back to his roots. Not only are we finally given some insight into Bond’s troubled past but we also see the return of the Aston Martin db5 as well as Bond’s knife-throwing skills, which were only brought to light in the Ian Fleming Novels. Thus Skyfall offers us a break from the more recent complicated plot developments and confusing storylines such as that of Quantum of Solace and instead gives us the mere backbone of 007: Bond and his eccentric nemesis in a fight to the finish.

Having said this, along with these conventions a true 007 fan would also expect the traditions of gadgets, guns and girls: and yet one finds these barely play a role in the film at all. As Bond rather disdainfully puts it after receiving his armoury “It’s not exactly Christmas, is it”, and although some may argue that this detracts from the franchise I would take the complete opposite side of the debate, because Skyfall does not miss out these conventions but in fact subverts them.

Bond does indeed receive the quirky gadget of a gun attuned solely to his fingerprints which most Bond-viewers would immediately expect to be the key item in defeating the film’s main villain; and yet he loses it relatively early on to a mere henchman to signify how he must defeat Silva  with his own skills.

The only love interests of the film take their form as Moneypenny and Severine, who again would cause traditional fans to roll their eyes at the predictable image of more women desperately falling head over heels in love with MI6’s best agent. However, whilst one disappears for the majority of the film the other is killed within minutes of having met her, and so audiences are shown that something more than traditional Bond is transpiring before them. Interestingly, upon the basis of a Bond-girl being 007’s female companion we find that the true Bond-girl of Skyfall is in fact M, hence completely undermining our expectations of the franchise. The film really gets to grips with the turbulent relationship between 007 and his cynical boss, and rather than the majority of the movie being spent with Bond and his companion ready to display their passionate love for one other they are instead ready to tear each other’s eyes out!

Therefore it is not only the tragic death of M at the end of the film that signifies that the Bond franchise will never quite be the same again, as one finds that with Sam Mendes’ expert direction the entire movie drops hints towards a new species of 007 evolving: one that contains inspiring new stunts, actors and concepts whilst still keeping to the basics. This is why Skyfall is my favourite film of all time: as it takes the great and subverts it to the even greater.

An abridged version of this article first appeared in the 'Fight Club' issue of Portsmouth Point magazine, in July 2013.

1 comment:

  1. Are you seriously suggesting that no-one asked for a Finding Nemo sequel? You mean, in the same way that nobody wanted Monster's University?


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