Skyfall – The Rules of the Game

Craig, on the rooftops of London. Cor, what a sight

WARNING contains *spoilers

The 50th anniversary screen outing for Monsieur Bond is supremely stylish and offers a multitude of mouth-watering locations to make even the most experienced traveller salivate with jealousy. It’s hugely enjoyable and instills confidence in the franchise after the disappointing Quantum of Solace (2008).

The opening sequence, widely renowned as the most important scene in Bond history, is a remarkable, action-packed feat that sees Bond chasing his adversary on a motorcycle across the rooftops of the Grand Bazaar, Istanbul. His mission: to retrieve a hard drive that contains all the names of all the undercover NATO agents embedded in terrorist organisations. However, the assignment goes wrong and leaves Bond close to death. His chance to retire from MI6 turns into a personal vendetta as he crosses the globe and attempts to retrieve the document, meeting the sinister Silva along the way.

This is Bond at his most vulnerable. On many occasions, the film questions Bond’s competency due to his age and his character continuously struggles to maintain his masculinity and machismo. Bond has now become damaged goods; his physical and mental state deteriorating. This is what Quantum of Solace should have explored – a man living on the edge, dicing with death. Daniel Craig, once again, humanises Bond. He gives the character layers and a way to crack through his cold exterior to reveal someone with real emotions.  Furthermore, this is the most personal Bond yet.  Screenwriters Neil Purvis, John Logan, Robert Wade and Patrick Marber ground Bond by revolving the main theme around the idea of family.  They give London a central role and Judi Dench’s M steps forward taking centre stage.

‘Mummy was very bad’. M’s past has come back to haunt her and she is increasingly pressured by MI6 to retire. True to Dench fashion, she is not going to back down without a fight. Her relationship with Bond is put to the test and, more than ever, she becomes the ultimate motherly figure for Bond. Judi Dench as M is one of the greatest casting decisions ever. Dench plays M with such dignity lending her an air of aloofness that even Bond can pass through. She continually berates Bond for being too personal but, this time, it is she who is being too personal. She is responsible for the latest terror attacks and, according to Silva, she must pay the price.

The only person to top ‘our’ Judi, is Javier Bardem. His character Silva is a Bond villain that really gets under your skin. He is undoubtedly mentally unstable and the product of an Oedipus complex as he believes that M neglected him in the line of duty. His entrance is unforgettable and possibly the best introduction a screen villain has ever been given. He enters the room from a lift in a long shot and, in one take, Bardem walks towards the camera (where an offscreen Bond is tied to a chair) giving a speech about what happens when rats fight one another. He closes in on the camera, like an animal taunting its prey, and converses with Bond in a strange, homoerotic way that closely references the torture scene in Casino Royale. According to Sam Mendes, Javier Bardem felt really strongly about the physical appearance of Silva and he came up with the idea for his villain to be blonde and it shows that Bardem knows exactly what a Bond villain should be. In one scene, he is encased within a glass container trying to manipulate Bond and M. An excellent reference to The Silence of the Lambs (1991). The most disturbing thing about Silva is the frightening realisation that he resembles Bond in many ways; he tries to manipulate Bond where he is most vulnerable in the hopes that he will become a brother in arms helping him take down their ‘mother’. It’s as if, in some way, Silva is trying to become Bond. It’s all a bit perverse and totally unlike the Bond films we have come to know but that’s what makes it so good.

In the majority of contemporary Bond movies, it appears common practice to reference previous aspects of the Bond films. Well, Bond is now 50, so what better way to celebrate his cinematic legacy by cramming your film full of classic homage. The Aston Martin DB5 is back and gadgets are introduced for the first time in the Daniel Craig films. A certain Miss Moneypenny is also back as is a new, younger Q, brilliantly acted by Ben Whishaw. The introduction of a younger Q may possibly relate to the latest literary trend of reinventing the stories of beloved characters – Charlie Higson’s Young Bond series and Andrew Lane’s Young Sherlock Holmes. On the other hand, with Bond seemingly past his game, Q represents the business climate and is the latest addition of young talent replacing the older generation. There is a great comical scene in which Q is first introduced to Bond.

Despite all the references to classic Bond, Mendes has tried to expand the vision and ideas behind Bond with much more adult cinematic references. We have Silva’s Hannibal Lecter style character but at the ending of the film, there is a disturbingly bizarre similarity to the video nasty Straw Dogs (1971) in that Bond, shotgun in tow, must do what is necessary to protect his ‘home’. This association seemed rather odd to me until I learned that the revered film critic, Mark Kermode had exactly the same opinion. The fact that Mendes and the screenwriters are not afraid to try new things makes this Bond all the more exciting. It doesn’t have to rely on old tricks to keep the franchise alive. This is something that director Marc Forster was trying to achieve with Quantum of Solace but didn’t quite get it right. His film was a strange mixture of filmic styles and really couldn’t make up its mind as to what it wanted to be.

Skyfall is an excellent addition to the Bond series with stunning visuals and superb action sequences. There are interesting aural and visual match cuts in the first 15 minutes of the film that establish that this Bond is going above and beyond. It doesn’t rely too much on Bond girls and continues the witty charm that’s such a beloved trait of the series. It’s stylish and visually stunning but, the only let down is the films’ song and title sequence. Adele’s vocals are not passionate enough and it seems very monotone at times, whilst there’s no doubt she has an incredible voice, it is not Shirley Bassey. Additionally, the title sequence feels like it could be a sequel to Quantum of Solace; they are too closely matched in design. Despite this minor problem, the film is hugely enjoyable. It’s well acted and beautifully realised. Mendes has done us proud!

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4 thoughts on “Skyfall – The Rules of the Game

  1. Pingback: Skyfall | Smart blue eyes

  2. The locations were breathtaking yet none of the shots seemed overly ‘look at us taking pretty pictures’. There was a point to make in each of them and that made the whole set up so much stronger, beauty came after purpose but was not neglected. Also really liked the Silence of the Lamb reference. Very well placed, not only from within the logic of the story but it also suited the character of Javier perfectly. Plus it makes the film lift on the association viewers have with the Silence of the Lambs without having to go through a thorough set up as Bond is far more action orientated than the Silence of the Lambs and can’t really take too much time for that within the pacing dynamic. As was shown in the Skyfall bit, there is an almost immediate move from Bond’s history there to preparing for battle.
    Within the battle the film confirms that every scene has a purpose. Of course the makers want a big fight scene with lots of action packed special effects so they leave Bond in a place with very limited gun power which allows them all the action they want in which Bond will retrieve more guns before the story really moves on.
    I have not seen all the Bond films but I reckon this one must rank among the best. As a stand alone film it hits so many of the necessary boxes in the ‘perfect film’ category. I look forward to seeing it again!

  3. Skyfall left me fairly annoyed at two very obvious plot flaws. The loss of M’s laptop results in all the details of MI6’s agents falling into Silva’s hands. Apparently he has no difficulty decrypting the data. Yet when Q finds himself with the difficult task of decrypting Silva’s information, he comes up against advanced encryption which he (Q) claims to have developed himself. Why wasn’t Q’s encryption used to protect the data on M’s computer?

    Second – it was all a bit too simple-minded of Bond and M to drive all the way to the most isolated spot in Scotland without having anything else up their sleeves, such as extra weaponry or even a company of SAS troops to come storming to their rescue. Insisting on a Plan B.was the bare minimum I’d have expected of M’s character, especially as they had plenty of time to organise one before the final showdown.

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