Sunday, 4 November 2012
Directed by Sam Mendes
Playing at cinemas now
But not at the first hurdle.
I think I should probably state here and now that the latest EON Bond movie is actually not a terrible movie. There are some good things in it and I think, well I know actually, that a lot of people will like it. I’m putting this statement up front because I didn’t think that the movie was anywhere near as great as people have been saying and I don’t want people, Bond fans in general, to get the impression that it’s not worth their while seeing. If you’re a fan of the Daniel Craig Bond films then this is probably the best of those to date. Also, I’m pretty sure a Bond movie is fairly review proof when it comes down to whether you’re going to see it so I’m pretty confident that I can give my honest opinion here without worrying anybody isn’t going to see it of the back of this review. I’m getting a fair number of readers on this blog site nowadays but, from the comments some of you leave, you seem to be fairly intelligent readers... so no worries about putting anybody off I reckon.
My personal relationship to James Bond starts very young. In 1973, when I was 5 years old, my parents took me to see Roger Moore’s debut Bond movie, Live And Let Die, at the cinema and I loved it. Even today, while I still think Roger Moore is the least Bond-like of the Bonds, I can still find time to enjoy this one from his era. Since I’d loved this one so much, in between the releases of Live And Let Die and Moore’s second golden shot at the role, The Man With The Golden Gun in 1974, my parents started taking me to various James Bond double bills which were re-released around UK cinemas at this time. So I caught up with the Connery stuff and much preferred it. Roger Moore was already on the decline for me (when I was only a six year old, even I could predict the ending of The Man With The Golden Gun from that stupidly obvious opening set up) and although The Spy Who Loved Me had a cool car and an even cooler Caroline Munro in it, as the Moore Bonds carried on I lost faith in the character and backed off from them. Octopussy had been diabolical and a benchmark for me of Bond awfulness (until I’d seen both Die Another Day and A Quantum Of Solace, which were equally as bad) and I didn’t even bother with A View To A Kill when it first came out (to date, the only Bond film I’ve not seen at the cinema, I believe).
I rediscovered Bond with Timothy Dalton’s excellent debut, The Living Daylights but after the abysmal License To Kill hit the screens I assumed the franchise was dead. I honestly didn’t know anything about the legal wranglings... I just assumed that, even though I loved Dalton in the role, if you make a movie as bad as License To Kill was, even if you’re Bond, your movies wouldn’t be invited back to cinemas anytime soon.
Yeah, okay. I’m naïve.
Somewhere around this time I read all the novels too. They were mostly hit rather than miss (with the odd exception towards the end of Ian Fleming’s career) and so I gained a new layer of respect for just how those first movies were.
When Pierce Brosnan stepped into the role I was really pleased because he was who I’d kept telling people should play James Bond before Dalton got the role. He reminded me of Connery and that was good because, even though my favourite James Bond movie is On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, starring the inimitable ‘Big Fry’ George Lazenby in the role... Connery was a pretty good role model for the part and something the Bond actors had to live up to, in my eyes.
Even Brosnan’s Bond was a little hit and miss. Goldeneye was fantastic, Tomorrow Never Dies was just too action oriented and humorous (and too Roger Moore-like in its execution for me, I think), The World Is Not Enough was almost as cool as Goldeneye and Die Another Day... well that last one was just dead on arrival as far as I’m concerned. An awful movie.
Now I was never okay with the choice of Daniel Craig in the role of Bond. Don’t get me wrong, Craig is a fantastic actor, but something about it wasnt quite Bond for me. Casino Royale was, I guess, kinda okay for a general action movie... just not really hitting the marks for a Bond movie and certainly not as straight to the novel as the original 50s TV adaptation of the book (although a little more faithful than the David Niven version, to be sure). A Quantum Of Solace was... quite bad. The action editing was just completely obscuring whatever the hell was going on and the story seemed to somehow fall short and was, perhaps, overly simplistic (which is saying a lot for a Bond film which generally pride themselves on having simplistic plots as an advantage). So I have to admit to have been not looking forward to seeing Skyfall very much, it has to be said. I waited a week or so after its release and got dragged to the cinema by two people who wanted to go see this one... namely my parents.
Now Skyfall has a lot going for it, it has to be said... but I think that, overall, it falls in the camp of being one of the weaker Bond films to date. The opening sequence (from which I still miss the absence of the gun barrel openings) is pretty good in itself but you will know, just from watching the trailer campaign, that it will leave Bond for dead at the end of it. That being said, the action in general in the whole movie is edited with a certain amount of respect to actually being able to follow it this time around (unlike the last film) and an especially nice touch was the contrast between the sunny location where the action is taking place and the cold offices in London with the rain hammering down.
Actually, the rain gets a special mention here for a nice capper to that last sequence because it does two things rather nicely. One is that it signals the death of Bond, although nobody is going ot believe that, of course, and this wouldn’t be the first time the character ‘died’ in the pre-credits sequence of a movie, they’ve done that a few times now. The other thing it does, though, is to show just how hard it is for operatives who aren’t in the field. As M looks out through rain drenched windows, the contrast between the agents who are ‘out there’ getting death or glory with the bureaucrats who are left behind comes, literally, pounding home. Great use is made of that rain in the early scenes of the film and I was really greatful for it. Is this the first time it’s rained in a Bond film? No, I’m thinking back and my memory is latching onto another rain filled moment from the 80s, but certainly I think it’s never been more effectively utilised here.
Unfortunately, we have a problem right after the pre-credits sequence... it’s called the credits sequence.
They’ve got a not great credits sequence which they’ve managed to prop up ineffectively with what I can only call a pseudo-Bond song. The tragedy of this particular Bond song is that it’s almost, almost there... it’s got a strong voiced singer (someone I’ve not heard of, naturally) but the song’s writers, unfortunately, forgot to write in a strong melody line (not the biggest fan of melody as an element of music but I think a Bond song does need a strong tune) and whats left is a weak foundation, being sung with conviction. Ironically, the last note, literally the very last note, ends exactly as a Bond song should end... but by then it’s too late.
But from that point the movie seems to recover itself for the long haul and becomes a pretty competent action movie. There are less twists than I’d have liked in it. I was waiting for one particular lady to reveal herself as the ‘real villain’ at some point near the finish but the producers have a very different fate in store for her at the end of the movie and I look forward to seeing this actress continue in this role in future movies. A whole host of ‘A Listers’ join Judy Dench and co for this film and all the performances are pretty great from such household names as Ralph Fiennes, Albert Finney and Javier Bardem, and the screenplay isn’t too bad either (not what I’d expect from these writers) in that the title of the movie does have an emotional significance to Bond’s life and, when the title is explained, you realise how clever the psychiatrist near the start of the movie is being. The new head of Q branch is pretty good too, although I would have liked to have seen less damning of the old gadgets from him. Luckily, a surprise gadget reappears in the latter quarter of the movie and is used to the best effect it’s been used in the series since it’s debut in 1964.
The music is kinda worrying. Because director Sam Mendes has a working relationship with composer Thomas Newman, David Arnold, the series’ most regular composer since John Barry’s last score for the series on The Living Daylights, has had to sit this one out, although I understand some of his score from Casino Royale was licensed to track into this one in places to help bolster the music up (not the first time these kinds of shenanigans have occurred in a Bond film) and I have to confess I was a little worried when Newman scores a sequence right at the start where a pocket of light shines on Bonds face with a musical stinger. The age of ‘mickey mousing’ the music to illustrate every on-screen action is alive and well folks... and I have to say it popped me out of the picture straight away. The rest of the score seems competent enough although it’s hard to judge because a lot of it is buried way back in the sound mix. I’ve always referred to Thomas Newman as “the pots and pans man” to my friends because his music seems to me to be very ‘percussion lead’ and there’s a lot of that trademark percussion coming out in the scoring in this one. I’d have to listen to it away from the movie to make a proper call on it but, from what I did hear, I wouldn’t call it a “great Bond score” like I would one of Barry’s scores, or even Arnold's first two scores for the series (he kinda lost it a bit from Die Another Day onwards, it seems to me).
All in all, though, I would have to say that, for me , this Bond film isn’t quite as globe hopping as I’d expect (although I do appreciate the fact that the majority of the film is set in the UK) and while the set piece climax to the movie is quite acceptable, I was kinda hoping for a little more bang for my buck at the end. I was expecting a whole action epilogue but didn’t actually get it, I have to confess.
It seems to me that Skyfall is trying really hard to retain the spirit of Bond while giving it a bit of a jump start so it can go on for a bit longer. It doesn’t really do it for me though... it’s very Bondian in places and in others, not so. Oh, and by the way, there’s still a shaken Martini in it... so everyone can relax on that one. They were drumming up publicity.
Still, it is a fairly decent action film and some Bond fans would possibly be quite correct in saying that this is all that matters. Perhaps they’re right. For myself, I wouldn’t recommend this as a great movie with the kind of vigour that a lot of people seem to be doing right now... but equally, I wouldn’t want to put anyone off if action movies are their thing. But like I said at the start, it doesn’t really matter what I think, these movies are pretty much ‘review proof’, so I’ll leave it at that and say don’t expect too much from it and you can’t be all that disappointed.