Allow me to say something brazen, James Bond’s latest cinematic outing is every bit comparable to the recently released iPhone 5 – a sleeker, shinier, meaner machine than its predecessor, with purportedly enhanced capabilities and claiming to have more cutting-edge features than the previous one. This statement is accurate in some ways. Skyfall is, indeed, better than the previous British spy incarnation Quantum of Solace by a considerable margin. But it’s certainly not the best Bond film ever made, as the mainstream media would cheerfully scream to your face. Anybody with some semblance of wit intact would notice that these are all just drivel, marketing words utilised in a bid to commercially manoeuvre you to actually believe that this is the best Bond product so far. Sure, Skyfall tries hard to stand up to the challenge, but if you ignore the brouhaha built around it, sidestep the corporate selling points and deconstruct Skyfall for what it really is – and we’re left with a cinematic ‘product’ deliberately assembled with exactly the same parts, running on the same mechanics, based on the same tried-and-tested formula, resulting with the same equation. It’s the same product, through and through – albeit with some new fancy exterior fittings.
Bond is dragging 50 years of baggage, a good few decades’ worth of product evolution, eternally recalibrated and re-engineered to appeal to a new set of audience. Casino Royale worked brilliantly because it had the audacity to shake things up, start afresh and took creative risks in revitalising a franchise that started showing craggy wrinkles. And audacity is what Skyfall is sorely lacking. It sticks to the rules like a priest on lent season – eschewing bold creative choices and rather serves up a platter of proverbial ingredients that you’d naturally expect in a Bond movie. This might be the most beautifully shot Bond film, thanks to a gorgeous cinematography by the lens veteran Roger Deakins, but the lavish picture don’t quite mask a hackneyed plot that concern most of Skyfall‘s running-time. Funny that Neal Purvis and Robert Wade’s script touches on themes of rebirth and resurrection – when the narrative itself is loaded with tired, redundant clichés. As much as the opening action sequence along the rooftops of Istanbul excites, there’s a punch-up on top of a moving train that’s been done a hundred awful times before, and there’s a Shanghai assassination set against the backdrop of the ominously neon-lit metropolis, whilst handsomely framed, feels unnecessary and contrived. For a film to work, one has to believe in the narrative. Things don’t just happen because the film needs some lovely shots. Things happen because they need to.
It has all the rudiments de rigueur – but it still feels curiously hollow. What’s even more curious is that barely any reviews out there notice that Skyfall‘s ex-agent revenge plotline has been the central thread of many spy capers, and making the arch-nemesis a cyber-terrorist is the most convenient prototype villain in most spy movies. Thank fuck, then, to Javier Bardem for making the most of Silva – the most complexly drawn character in the film, and he’s a villain. He chews scenery like dinner, exhorts an air of intrigue, irony and seething malevolence. His introductory scene with Daniel Craig tied up on chair, as the blonde Silva teases Bond with his touch, hmming and tutting like an aesthete observing a piece of relic, charges more sexual electricity than Craig shares with his other largely disposable Bond women. This is a testament to Bardem’s piercing talent, leaving a very strong impression amid the banal proceedings. Craig, on the other hand, is ever reliable as Bond, a character he now fully inhabits, and Judi Dench gives M some much-needed sombre gravitas. The Oedipal connection between Bond and M takes centre-stage here, giving Skyfall something to root for, but even that thread feels linear and predictable in a patchwork that is essentially woven with the same pattern, but with different colours.
DIRECTOR: Sam Mendes | CAST: Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Javier Bardem, Bérénice Marlohe, Naomie Harris | SCREENPLAY: Neal Purvis, Robert Wade | PRODUCER: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer | RUNNING-TIME: 143 mins | GENRE: Documentary | COUNTRY: United Kingdom