If you’ve already seen the trailer you’ll know the story, but basically there’s a list of spies and that gets lost. Bond ‘dies’ and then rises like Lazarus to fight against Javier Bardem as Silva, a campy Julian Assange character who has major mummy issues with M and seems to have been dressed by Mathew Kelly’s stylist.
This is not the film to think, ‘why is there a list?’ or ‘Daniel Craig really looks like an England rugby player’ or even ‘Christ, Bardem’s head is massive’. It’s one to sit back and enjoy all the references because the series has well and truly eaten itself.
This is no bad thing, and in a way it has to happen to most long-running fictional characters. Otherwise real life sort of trips them up. So we get the Bond for our times, or rather the Bond idiom chopped to fit it. After all, Bond was originally a product of the Cold War, where the worst outcome would literally be the end of the world. No one man, regardless of his knowledge of obscure Scottish single malts and men’s fashions could save the world from the Bomb. So as a character he worked best on the periphery, especially if that periphery was somewhere exotic with lots of gadgets and suggestively named women. That’s why Casino Royal was such a good film. Bond was going after the financier of international terrorism rather than the terrorists themselves.
The periphery here is the culture of hacking. Silva boasts about how he can bring down governments and influence markets just with a computer. The new, overly stylised Q quips in his buttery cadence how he can do similar, ‘before I’ve even had my first cup of Earl Grey.’ But they’re both archetypes, two sides of the geek coin. Regardless of Silva’s bizarre choice of using YouTube to leak his information (surely Twitter?), both characters are just believable enough for us to get the idea: this film is about the unseen world and the forces that manipulate them. It’s a film of tunnels and ‘dark shadows’.
A good chunk of Skyfall looks like the cut-up geography of a dream especially when Bond takes centre stage. The casino, Silva’s island and the way they’re introduced with aerial shots all resemble the lucid composition of the unconscious. Well mine at least. Characters appear as if they were hanging around on standby waiting for Bond to turn up and switch them on. The whole resolution of this film looks like the kind of night’s sleep I enjoy after eating a wheel of Brie. It’s not Bourne where you can imagine standing next to Paddy Considine as he’s neutralized in Waterloo’s WH Smiths. It’s inconceivable you’d ever wander into a scene from Skyfall. This film is pure fantasy and all the better for it.
Bond also seems less of a dummy in this one, which can only be a good thing. In the early films – he’s the man. He knows how to correctly tie a bow tie, scrap a shark in a swimming pool and comes fully equipped with a perceptive knowledge of art history. Sean Connery really pulled this off well and so did Roger Moore to a lesser extent, even though he would always pull his ‘serious face’ when it came down to a good old bit of exposition. But still, however campy, the authority was there. For a while Craig’s Bond was a blunt instrument, less brainy and knowledgeable and more reliant on guile and wits. Thrilling as that was, I’m glad the writers have tipped the balance the other way. The Bond who would casually critique a wine’s vintage is gone for good I fear, but at least it now looks like he can use an iPhone rather than just stare at it blankly like a dog does with a card trick.*
Skyfall is a good, if odd film with some really great chemistry between Silva and Bond, and only one misstep. I won’t say what, but it sticks out a mile. With the introduction of Ralph Fiennes and others, there’s a sensation that the film is a re-boot for the next installment: familiar settings and characters are now in place. But then Bond was always one for reinvention.
It’s been 50 years since the first Bond, Dr No. There are great films in the series and some real stinkers. So here are my top Bonds and their films:
#1 Daniel Craig
Great actor and his Bond at least appears as if he could have been in the SAS. Yet underneath the suave cheekiness there’s a vulnerability that makes the whole thing interesting. As an actor, Craig is also strong enough to withstand the incongruous product placements. Plus, whenever he’s in a chase he just looks epically pissed off.
The best release so far. It’s the one where Mads Mikkelsen whacks Craig in the goolies with a bit of old rope.
Quantum Of Solace
Bond battles Serge Gainsbourg in the middle of a writers’ strike.
#2 Sean Connery
The men’s magazine favourite and another Bond who could at least act. Connery was smooth, irrelevant and acted like he was in danger whenever a bad guy tried to laser off his old chap. The early Bonds are iconic films with brilliant design, soundtracks and characters. It’s just a shame he came back, and then back again.
Archetypal Bond film: great bad guy, great henchman, hot woman.
You Only Live Twice
This one has the best base to go bang. Some say Pleasence’s Blofeld is too over the top, but I say if you have a monorail, you carry your cat sir. Features Ninjas.
Diamonds Are For Ever
Camp bad guys, and a moon buggy sequence you’ll watch through your fingers.
Never Say Never Again
Has all the charm of a digital watch.
#3 Roger Moore
It was all so wrong: the outlandish plots, safari suits, slavishly following any popular trends, everyone pretending to be in zero gravity in Moonraker, Jaws, Moore wheezing his way up the Eiffel Tower and then bedding Grace Jones. Almost all the Roger Moore films are bad, and yet I still like watching them. Moore not only made it work, he camped it up so it was fun and never threatening. I can’t imagine Connery whipping up the cookbook-cover feast of quiches like Moore did for Stacy Sutton in A View To A Kill.
Quite a bit of the film was shot in Udaipur, and if you go there now you’ll find every restaurant is town screens Octopussy in all its glorious grainy VHS glory every night of the week. It’s a pretty good adventure film.
The Spy Who loved Me
Even though it’s You Only Live Twice set underwater, and even though it has Jaws and the dullest/worst dressed bad guy, it does have Naomi the helicopter pilot. And she is hot. Considered the best of the Moore canon.
Bond in space (WTF). Jaws. Safari suits. Can you whistle the theme tune?
A View To A Kill
Worst Bond girl, dumb plot and Walken machineguns a crowd of people to death in a PG film. At 57, Roger Moore was well past it when he made the film.
They were the best Bonds; the rest of the series was mostly meh.
The Living Daylights
Timothy Dalton’s Bond always seemed so wishy-washy, but this one is pretty standard ITV2 fare. Not bad, but not brilliant. The book and tape were great though: ‘Oh James it’s a human heart!’
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
Lazenby was a poor Bond, but this film is unfairly overlooked. The soundtrack is ace.
License To Kill
Bond goes after drug dealers, yawn. Terrible theme tune.
Anything with Pierce Brosnan
Brosnan’s Bond looks like a mid-level Shell executive on some sort of adventure weekend. He even drives a five series BMW in one of the films and spends most of his time getting beaten up by Kenzo models in another. There were outlandish plots, John Cleese and an invisible car. Even Golden Eye was rubbish. The only good thing that came out of the whole debacle was the N64 game.
*Bill Hicks joke.