Sunday, 18 November 2012

Under Neon Loneliness



Four years we've been waiting for Skyfall as MGM crumbled and continued before finally Bond's 50th gets a 23rd film as celebration.  Unfortunately, it's not exactly Christmas.  I wanted to love Skyfall and have been waiting an age for it's release.  Between the restoration of old traditions and the long, lingering camera shots of watches and sunglasses there's something missing.  Bond's tale of self discovery and resurrection is, at times, painfully slow, always threatening to explode but not quite letting off the fireworks.  Having said that the reinvention of Craig's Bond is now complete and the series is aimed at the future whilst aiming maximum respect at it's past.

Skyfall is a celebration of all that has gone before and nods it's head and homages in ways more subtle and nuanced than the fateful 40th anniversary abomination Die Another Day.  From Craig's novel use of a Komodo Dragon to ape Moore through to the signature gun that would make Dalton jealous, Skyfall treads a familiar path within the Bond canon.

Skyfall is a tale of revenge and salvation yet this time it isn't Bond out for revenge set largely against a backdrop of London which makes the capital look glorious in this Olympic year.  Despite the obligatory globe hopping this is a very, very British Bond film.

We begin in Turkey and Bond stumbles across the loss of a laptop hard drive.  A hard drive full to popping with the list of secret agents undercover in terrorist cells.  All very Mission Impossible.  Accompanied by Eve, Bond is off on a slow burning car chase before ending up on a train.  Yes, another incarnation is about to take a turn for the worse on a train.  It seems that Bond will never learn.

Dead again
M's loyalty to the mission sees Eve put in an impossible position but she takes the shot and, not for the first time, an obituary is typed up for Commander James Bond.  Bond's descent into the watery depths begins a credit sequence that is probably the best in the franchise's history.  Adele's inevitable theme hovers above a hall of mirrors that would have made Scaramanga blush.

Bond's death and the loss of the list of agents is soon lost under a pile of bureaucracy as we are introduced to Mallory: Ralph Fiennes' implausibly trousered Whitehall enforcer.  Skyfall begins to open out, it's not going to be a run of the mill Bond film.  This time it's an M film.  In the face of enforced retirement M watches as her world is blown up around her.  Again Millbank is exploded and you wonder if the Tate avoided the shrapnel.  Thankfully, The Clampers are absent this time.  M and MI6 are being personally targeted by a cyber terrorist who obviously watched Jurassic Park.

The dust settling by the Thames is reported by CNN to a fully alive James Bond who has been contemplating life and apparent betrayal whilst playing stinging drinking games by the beach.  In desperate need of a shave Bond bombs back to Blighty and makes himself comfortable in George Smiley's front room (now resident to M.)  Bond's resurrection is hampered by standard procedure which has set about erasing him from history.  All seemingly very easy to do to an orphan with no next of kin.  Will the tearful restauranteurs and underemployed tailors of Bean's Goldeneye tirade really be all that's left?

M puts Bond back to work, but first he has to prove himself and we see the gruelling rebuilding of the secret agent in the gym.  Something that was painfully missing from Bruce Wayne's resurrection in The Dark Knight Rises.  Bond is put back on field duty and dispatched to Shanghai to find his old train companion.  Before he goes he has an appointment with The Doctor, sorry, the new Q.  I miss Desmond now more than ever.

Hunting Replicants and a massive jellyfish
This is where we see Bond for what he really is.  He's not a spy, he's a government hard man getting his hands dirty so politicians don't have to.  This is best seen in the airport as Bond's crap disguise leads him to follow his target up a skyscraper.  Shanghai has been ripped from the celluloid of Bladerunner as Bond stalks the shadows and reflections of an assassination.  The constant neon jellyfish haunting a fight in a glassy prison.  It's surprising Coca Cola didn't insist on their own little chunk of product placement.

The assassin's cryptic payment is a casino chip and we're off to Macao.  Skyfall has been drawn off a palette saturated with colour and the neon noir of Shangai juxtaposes with the seedy vibrancy of Macao almost perfectly.  No Lazar this time but a very seductive Severine.  She looks like a villain but you know deep down that she can't be as she's not ginger even if she does have very, very, pointy nails.

Camp blonde hair and an awesome island shirt
Through Severine we finally meet our villain.  It's been a slow slow-burner so far but now things are looking up.  The villain has his own island! Hurrah!  The spirit of Blofeld rejoice!  Not as impressive as a hollowed out volcano but still, it's a fucking island.

Out-camping the combined efforts of Mr Wind and Mr Kidd Javier Bardem's Silva or Rodriguez arrives via a lift to get all touchy feely with 007.  Silva has the hump with M for seemingly selling him out for being too good at his job.  It's a little hard to swallow such an Hispanic former MI6 agent after the diet of Dalton's Gibraltar, Brosnan and Bean et al.  Silva is captured and taken back to London and it's all a bit too easy.  Enshrined like Heath Ledger playing Hannibal Lecter, Silva finally reveals what M did to him and the perils of a cyanide capsule.  I don't know if cyanide has a best before date but judging by Silva's dental work and Blofeld-esque droop I think it might have.

The film has been building now for a while and we're beginning to feel like we're ready for an explosive finale.  In fact, we're beginning to need one.  Will Silva escape and Bond pursue him to a tropical demise?  No, Q's uber geekiness pops the plastic chamber and Bond lays a trap in Scotland after a suspiciously tame rush hour on the District Line and Silva's grasping assassination attempt in Westminster.

Scotland.

Scotland.  Forgive me for being underwhelmed but I've been brought up on mushroom shaped islands in the Far East and buried satellite dishes in Cuba.  Instead we're about to get a back story for Bond and a very sad ending.  At least the DB5 is back, the ejector seat still intact.  Up on the moors is a lonely old house.  A house called Skyfall.  Bond's ancestral home and lurking in the shadows (inexplicably) is Albert Finney with a shotgun.  Silva is being lured to Skyfall and Bond sets about drawing on his memories of seeing Home Alone to even up the playing field.

Our creaking finale is punctuated by dancing on ice and nail bombs before an attempt at salvation.  Mortally wounded and abandoned M is cradled by Silva who has gone full blown Joker and wants them both to die at an attempt at 'freedom.'  A death last reserved for Rosamund Pike paves the way for a tragic goodbye to Judi Dench.

Cradling M in his arms, Bond cries as he says goodbye to his replacement mother.  The affection he shows for his boss is on a par with Bond's (deliberately tearless) goodbye to Tracy and you feel that maybe he is now irretrievably broken.  All goes dark before we see Bond gazing out over the London skyline, isolated against the landmarks of the country he defends.  Bond is joined by Eve before the most obvious twist in a long time.  The running joke that Eve may be more suited to a desk job is cemented as she is formally introduced.  Perched behind her Sony Vaio it's difficult to see Moneypenny hot desking.  Instead she is the guardian of the man behind those leather cushioned doors.  Having proven himself to Bond earlier as more than just another bureaucrat Mallory assumes the initial and tosses a dossier towards Bond.  Top secret and for 007, now that he's shaken off his case of Brosnan's Shoulder, a new mission.

The reboot is complete and all the true Bondian elements have been restored.  So now, perhaps, we shake off the shackles of Jason Bourne and have a little fun?

James Bond will return and I think I want Quantum to return too.

Hopefully this time the gun barrel will be AT THE BEGINNING.