Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Skyfall - 2012

BackgroundSkyfall was an important movie for the Bond franchise and it was one that all concerned (myself included) fans and people connected directly with the film wondered if they would ever see.

Why was it important, more so in my opinion at least, than other films? It came after a relatively disappointing entry in Quantum Of Solace, after a wonderful start to the reign of Daniel Craig in Casino Royale. It was also being released in 2012, which made it the 50th anniversary film. I think fans expected a few nods to the history, without it being overdone, something that ruined Die Another Day, the 40th anniversary film. For some reason actors seem to be very strongly identified with the role once they've done 3 Bond films. Maybe this is just me, but you don't really seem to be Bond in my mind until you've completed 3 films. Let's face it no one connects George Lazenby and Timothy Dalton with the role as much as they do Sean ConneryRoger MoorePierce Brosnan and now Daniel Craig. In Lazenby's case he was an epic failure as an actor and it wasn't really his thing, in Dalton's he never really fitted the role comfortably and not being identified strongly with it has enabled him to continue his career as an actor in many and varied roles (Connery also did this, as will Craig, that's got to do with all 3 men being good actors with versatility).

The hold up with it (4 years between Quantum Of Solace and Skyfall) was financial more than anything, if that had not happened, they may have been able to release Skyfall in 2010 and SPECTRE in 2012, which would have made 2012 the release of the 24th, not the 23rd Bond film, although they may have also wound up releasing Skyfall in 2011 and missed a film in the year of the 50th anniversary which is a bit tragic. MGM hit huge financial problems which meant they had to drop a number of projects and put others on hold, this also affected the first of The Hobbit films, it was a very real possibility that Skyfall may not have been made at all, or if it was, not by MGM. To his credit once the new director had been chosen (Forster only did the one film thank goodness) he committed to the project and even turned down other work while the financial angle was sorted out.

Other than that things to seemed to run smoothly. Neil Purvis and Robert Wade wrote their 5th James Bond script, this time with assistance from John Logan, no writers strike, so the likes of Michael Wilson, the director and the star didn't have to get involved in that side of things, no rush job this time, although they did lose the original screenwriter (Peter Morgan) during the suspension.

I have to admit I approached the film with trepidation after Quantum Of Solace, wondering if Casino Royale had been a flash in the pan. I have to admit that the team involved with Skyfall brought their A game. Maybe in an acknowledgement that they had managed to get Bond to a point in his career that fans were more comfortable with and because it was the 50th anniversary some things once lost returned: Moneypenny (although the reveal was left to almost the last minute) and Q. They were very different Moneypenny's and Q's than we were used to, but they still referenced things that were familiar to the audiences about their characters. We also for the first time saw two M's in the one film, unless of course you count Robert Brown's appearance in The Spy Who Loved Me as Admiral Hargreaves alongside Bernard Lee's M.

Story: they took a different approach with the story. The part of it concerning Quantum was over, that story ended in some ways with Quantum Of Solace, although Barbara Broccoli did say that although Skyfall doesn't involve them, it doesn't mean that they're done with them just yet. In a few ways Skyfall has a bit in common with Goldfinger. It was the 3rd Bond film and it was the 3rd film to star Sean Connery and the first one not to involve the shadowy organisation of SPECTRE in any way, shape or form. Casino Royale kind of started Bond all over again, so that means that Skyfall is the 3rd 'new' Bond film and the 3rd to star Daniel Craig, it is also the first of the 'new' Bond's not to involve the shadowy organisation of Quantum at all. That's largely when the comparisons end, but I think they are important to note.

Bond is believed to be dead at the start, this echoes You Only Live Twice, where he was 'killed' in the pre credit sequence to the extent of having an obituary written, which also happens here. The agent himself is living, existing would probably be a better word, on an unspecified tropical island, where he spends his time having joyless sex with a local girl/s, engaging in dangerous and bizarre gambling practices involving alcohol and live highly venomous scorpions (it does rather remind one of Marion Ravenwood's introduction in Raiders Of The Lost Ark), and drinking himself senseless. It's during one of these drinking sessions that he sees a news report about the bombing of MI6 and decides that it's time to insert himself back into the game.

MI6 has moved from their flash new offices into a massive underground bunker that was originally used by Churchill during WW II in case his regular headquarters got bombed to bits by the Nazis. It's an interesting fusion of old and new and quite arresting to see on screen. Bond's time 'dead' has left him physically and mentally scarred and although he fails the psychological and physical tests, M tells him that he passed and says he's fit for active duty, probably because she doesn't trust anyone else to run whoever is behind the attacks down. At the same time her fitness for command is being questioned and she's being actively pressed to retire by Gareth Mallory, the former lieutenant colonel who is now heading up the Intelligence and Security Committee that is investigating her running of MI6 and recent developments.

The chase takes Bond to first Shanghai, where after confronting and killing his target, he notices a bewitching Eurasian lady in the building across from him, watching the whole incident with interest and a knowing smile. He follows the trail using a clue from his dead target to Macau and a local gambling den. While he never says shaken not stirred, there is a scene at the bar where the bartender is seen shaking his drink before pouring it and after he sips he pronounces it excellent, so he clearly asked for it to be shaken not stirred, even if the audience never heard him, a nice little subverting of the expected phrase. He's also backed by Eve, a young MI6 agent he's worked with before, they flirt, but never really take it beyond that, which is important. When undercover in the casino he does caution her to not touch her ear while they're using the earpiece microphones to communicate, which is a call back to Casino Royale, where doing that blew an agent's cover in Madagascar and got him killed.

Bond meets and flirts with Severine, the lady from Shanghai, and after taking out opposition in the casino, and managing to lose the Walther PPK that Q gave him (he will be annoyed) ends up with Severine on a boat to where he does not know, but he hopes will take him to whoever is behind the attacks on MI6.

That turns out to be Raoul Silva. Silva was a former agent, who was left for dead by M and still wants revenge, hence the attacks. There's a nice bit of byplay during the interrogation with some homo eroticism thrown in where Silva attempts to seduce Bond and tells him that he may enjoy it the first time, Bond spoils the moment by asking 'What makes you think it's my first time.' (it's quite possibly the line of the film) Silva releases him and invites him outside where they can play a game by shooting at Severine, she's bound and has a shot glass of Scotch on her head. What Silva probably knows is that Bond isn't the shot he once was, and they're using old fashioned duelling pistols which are harder to use than modern pistols. Bond misses, then Silva quite deliberately shoots Severine in the head, killing her. Bond says it's a waste of good Scotch, frees himself by shooting Silva's guards, but leaving the killer alive. Silva thinks he's home free, but Bond has used the miniature radio transmitter Q gave him to call in the cavalry.

We go back to London and MI6's new headquarters where Silva is held in a glass cell. The whole sad story comes out. How M betrayed him and left him for dead while the Chinese took him and the cyanide capsule in his teeth didn't actually kill him, but did scar him horribly internally (the scene where he removes his oral insert and his face collapses is both disgusting and a tribute to the art of the CGI people working on the film). M appears to be unmoved, but does tell Bond, Silva's real name and confesses that he was brilliant, but also breaking the rules about which he had been warned and they had little option other than to let the Chinese have him.

M goes to the hearing to determine whether or not she's fit to run MI6, and in fact questions the need for the existence of the entire organisation. There's some wonderful acting from Helen McCrory as the acid tongued MP Clair Dowar (more on that in Casting) and while she's being grilled and out of the building Silva puts his plan of taking down MI6's computer network and getting out so he can kill M.

As soon as the attack starts and Q subverts it to an extent, and is shown up not be quite as clever as he thought he was, Bond goes to Silva's cell, but finds the guards dead and Silva gone. He gives chase. They used a Tube train for some of the chase, this was done wonderfully and was very tense. Silva tries to take Bond out using explosives and an empty runaway commuter train. He fails, they always do.

His men attack the hearing that M is in, but thanks to Bill Tanner, Eve and even Gareth Mallory they don't get M, Mallory is wounded, though. Once Tanner bundles M into a waiting government car it takes off with her inside and him not and it's Bond driving. M asks if she's being kidnapped and Bond says no, but he is going to 'go back in time' to protect her. He ditches the government car and reveals that his private car is a DB5, it's the same one he used in Goldfinger, has to be, it's still got the ejector seat and the machine guns under the headlights. It's an affectionate and amusing reference to the past, this is the sort of classy call back that they should have done in Die Another Day rather than trying to cram as many references as they could into the script in places where they didn't belong and occasionally referencing films *cough* Octopussy *cough* that we'd rather forget. Some fans do refer to Skyfall as the anniversary/milestone film that Die Another Day should have been.

Skyfall is one of the few Bond films to reference his origins as written by Ian Fleming. The only other one that springs readily to mind is On Her Majesty's Secret Service which has the Bond family coat of arms and the motto of 'The World Is Not Enough'. A couple of others, You Only Live Twice is one, do also mention that he attended Cambridge, although Brosnan's version tends to promote the idea that he may have been an Oxford old fellow, as that is where he is studying Danish with the attractive professor early on in Tomorrow Never Dies. They created the fictional ancestral estate of Skyfall located in the Scottish highlands, but got his father's name of Andrew right and that of his Swiss mother Monique Delacroix, they also mentioned that he was orphaned young, but don't reveal at what age, although Fleming said he was 11 when they were killed in a climbing accident.

Bond takes M to Skyfall a desolate place dominated by a monstrous gothic edifice that was his boyhood home. Bond expects to find the house deserted, but is greeted by Kincade, the crusty old gamekeeper/caretaker, who appears to have been some sort of uncle figure to the young James, even before his often absent parents were killed. James greets him with the words: 'You're still alive?' They are clearly very close. Kincade expresses great surprise when James turns out to be a crack shot and asks him: 'What exactly is it you do for a living, again?' He also insists on calling M, Emma, because Bond introduces her as M, and he naturally mistakenly hears it as 'Em', the accepted shortening of the first name of Emma. As she's still officially running MI6, her real name is a state secret (we also find out that her husband has passed, she mentions her late husband at one point).

Once Kincade has been worded up what is coming the three go to work both protecting the house (boarding the windows, etc...) and leaving little surprises in the form of explosives and shrapnel bombs in the lights that will turn the house into a deathtrap for anyone unwise enough to try and force entry.

Silva does come with an army of gunmen and a large attack helicopter, which is blaring a version of John Lee Hooker's 'Boom Boom' as it flies in. It wasn't Hooker singing it, (it's The Animals cover, which with them being a British band does suit Bond) but I wish it had been his voice just suits the song so perfectly that any cover sounds like a pale imitation of the original.

There is a huge fight with things getting blown up, sadly the DB5 does not survive, rather less sadly Bonds' parents house is also obliterated and shots flying around. M proves to be a dreadful shot and also though she claims to be not hurt she sustains a fatal wound to the stomach. 

Kincade and M take refuge in another old building on the property, I think it may have been a church and Silva sees the torchlight and goes after them. Silva actually wants M to shoot herself in the head and take himself at the same time. He places the pistol to her head and puts his own next to hers claiming that the one bullet will kill the both of them. He once again made the fatal mistake of thinking Bond was dead when he crashed through the ice over the property's lake with his last remaining man. Bond always has the upper edge in water, even freezing ones like that and he broke his opponent's neck by using his legs. He stabs Silva in the back, using the knife that was his one remaining weapon and he dies. Then Bond is left to hold M, while she too dies from the wound in her stomach.

Eve finds Bond on the roof of the building MI6 are now using and hands him a box that M willed to him. It contains a China doll of a British bulldog. Bond had never liked it. After the bombing her remarked that the building was bombed, yet that bloody thing survived. She always did like a joke. Eve tells him that she had decided field work wasn't for her and took a desk job as the secretary to the new M, that's when he asks her surname and she tells him that it's Moneypenny, she actually introduces herself similarly to him: 'Eve...Eve Moneypenny', he calls her Miss Moneypenny for the first time and goes to meet M (I actually knew before seeing it that Eve would turn out to be Moneypenny, the actress had denied it, I try not to spoil myself. I didn't know M died or that someone new stepped into the role, but I had heard that Moneypenny was returning, it turned out to be Eve by process of elimination really, still loved hearing her say it and Bond's reaction). The new M is Gareth Mallory and judging by the decor we've come full circle. Mallory's office is almost a mirror image of the one once occupied by Bernard Lee and Robert Brown, right down to the leather panelled door and the picture of a ship on the wall. Bond is going back to the future.

The iconic eyeball shot appears just before the end credits as it did in Quantum Of Solace.

Skyfall is a great response to the disappointing Quantum Of Solace, and a great celebration of 50 years of Bond.


Director: there were a number of names thrown around before Sam Mendes was signed in 2010. Marc Forster apparently was not judged suitable. Kathryn Bigelow was rumoured after her success with The Hurt Locker in 2008, so was Slumdog Millionaire director Danny Boyle, fuelling rumours that the Bond girl would be Indian and that some of the film would be filmed there, but Mendes was the man they went after. He had previously worked with Daniel Craig in Road To Perdition and signed once he'd read some of the script. To his credit he remained loyal to the project during the suspension, reportedly turning down the offer of directing the first Hunger Games film, due to having committed to Skyfall (probably known as Bond 23 at the time). He brought his previous experience as an artistic director to the role filming in a highly artistic style probably the most since Lewis Gilbert in You Only Live Twice, but at the same time not letting it spoil the action the way Forster's artistic touches had in Quantum Of Solace. The cinematography from go to whoa is of the highest standard and uses the surroundings wonderfully whether it's the desolation of the Scottish highlands or the glittering lights and towering buildings of Shanghai, in fact one of the highlights is the fight between Bond and Patrice, where you cannot see either man during the fight, but just their silhouettes illuminated in the bright neon from the buildings outside in Shanghai. He also got the best out of his cast even the inexperienced and clearly nervous Berenice Marlohe as Severine.

James Bond: maybe Craig got the itch to write and have influence over the production beyond just acting in it out of his system after Quantum Of Solace, because that's what he does here, he acts. Sometimes it takes a few films before a Bond actor really clicks. It did with Connery and Moore, although Brosnan's best outing was his first. In Casino Royale Craig was evolving as a character and an actor, in Quantum Of Solace the character was largely a humourless killing machine, in Skyfall he puts it all together and presents a rounded and developed character, one that audiences can really be on the side of. His chemistry with Naomie Harris is spot on and he even develops some with Berenice Marlohe. Despite Craig's contract having been extended beyond Casino Royale to about 4 or 5 films before the first one had even hit the screens after a couple of films they always want to discuss new actors in the role. This time around before Craig's involvement was confirmed when they started shooting, the names Clive Owen (maybe once, but that time was past), Hugh Jackman (they keep throwing this one up, but I have no idea why, he just isn't right for the role on any level, and I really don't think he's at all interested) and Idris Elba (there's a big push to get Elba into the role and it's often thrown up that he ticks all the boxes, it's one that those who believe Bond is a name assigned to an agent rather than a name with a person or a history - I think Skyfall explodes that theory once and for all, at least until they decide reboot again - like to think about. I just don't think Elba has the look or the manner for Bond, although he's a fine actor).

Raoul Silva: he is a villain for the ages. I don't know who suggested casting Oscar winner Javier Bardem in this role, but they should be recognised for it (I think it may have been Sam Mendes), because he is brilliant. It is a crying shame that he wasn't nominated for best supporting actor in the Academy Awards, it also shows the Academy's bias against action and/or genre films when it comes to the 'big' awards. Bardem's a freaky looking kind of person anyway, but when you combine it with the dreadful peroxided blonde hair and a permanently insane look in his eyes he's very believable. I found it hard to work out how the character went from being disgraced, believed dead agent to a cyber terrorist with worldwide influence and that his plan to kill M and take revenge was far too complicated and long ranging for anyone to actually execute, but the way he played Silva was perfect. One of the best villains ever.

M: now I know I normally make M a peripheral role, but she's not in this. Judi Dench finally gets the chance to sink her teeth into the role and appear for more than a few minutes at a time. She's left big shoes to fill, although they have got another star casting to replace her. I was shocked that they let her die, gave her a great death scene though and a chance to say a proper goodbye to audiences, but it makes sense, because her M wasn't going to retire quietly. The other thing was Dench's age (she was in her late 70's in 2012) and her health, her eyesight has begun to fail, although she's still making films (reprising her role in the surprise 2012 hit The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel in the sequel The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel). She has forever left her mark on the role of M. There's actually a good argument to be made that she is in fact the Bond girl in Skyfall.

Eve Moneypenny: at last I can give her a first name! Again this is something I normally put in the peripheral roles, but she gets more screen time than the actual Bond girl, she could actually be regarded as the Bond girl along with Judi Dench's M, both are more important to the story than the character of Severine. Naomie Harris got the role and had to answer plenty of questions about whether or not she was Moneypenny, she handled it by saying that Eve is not remotely office bound and that is true. The Eve persona is a field agent and she can match it with the best of them, but her Moneypenny persona is an office girl, although I doubt she can be kept out of the field. The flirting with Bond is handled expertly, it goes further than it ever has before, but it never goes too far. She's a strong actress who I hope we see more of both in and out of the Bond films.

Peripheral roles: at least two of these will recur and they're quite important to the franchise so I'll get them out of the way first. It's hard to say who is more important. I guess it's Gareth Mallory, he's a former army man, turned politician and because he's after M, he and Bond have a less than ideal introduction, Eve takes a shine to him, though. He's been wounded in the service of his country, once being captured by the IRA, and he is wounded again trying to protect people from Silva's men, he's still wearing the sling at the end of the film. He takes over from M, so from now on his name will be M, not Mallory or Gareth. Again once he had been cast Ralph Fiennes also had to fend off questions about what role he was playing. He's a good actor with a high profile and he has the presence to play the role and not be overwhelmed by his supporting cast. As with Moneypenny, making her a kick ass field agent, they subverted expectations with Q by casting Ben Whishaw. While Whishaw was 32 when the film came out, he was a very young looking 32, prompting Bond to say that he had 'spots'. Despite being a great deal younger than Desmond Llewelyn ever was as Q, he plays the cranky old man in a young person's body very well, and I can almost picture Q being exactly like him when he was younger. He'll appear again. The recurring character was Bill Tanner, once again played by Rory Kinnear and he appeared to have turned more into a bodyguard than an assistant this time. 

Kincade: the gruff old Scottish gamekeeper who knew Bond before he was Bond, is a wonderful addition. The casting of veteran actor Albert Finney is another winner. He was around when Bond was first brought to the screen in 1962 and may have even been under consideration for the role, so it's nice to see him here, plus he's a class actor. I do wonder if thought was given to Sean Connery, or if he was actually offered the role, it would have been a nice touch, but probably would have overshadowed the film too much.

Clair Dowar: she's only very briefly in this, but Helen McCrory is superb as this MP on a crusade. Helen McCrory is a veteran of the Harry Potter films and she channels her former cast mate Imelda Staunton as Dolore Umbridge wonderfully, determined to nail M to the wall, skin her and proudly display the pelt for all to see.

Severine: occasionally you get a Bond girl that makes you wonder exactly why they're in the film and why they were THE Bond girl. Severine is only in the film briefly (both M and Eve get far more screen time and are more important to the story) and while she does have an interesting backstory and introduces Bond to Silva, she's really only there to sleep with Bond and be 'fridged' to show how amoral and brutal Silva really is, I think we'd figured out before he shot her. They cast French actress Berenice Marlohe in the role, her heritage (her father is of Chinese and Cambodian descent and her mother is French) gave her exotic look they wanted for the character, she hadn't done a lot of work before, mostly French TV, and while she does her best with the role, she's another example of casting for looks, it's a stilted performance and she's clearly nervous and not comfortable with it at any point.

The Curse of the Bond Girl: it's really too early to tell with Berenice Marlohe as to whether this will hit her or not. She's done 4 films since. Two are in post production and have not yet been released. The other two were a short indie film and a French rom com due for release early 2015, in which she had the second listed role. She's unlikely to do a lot of Hollywood work, as she lives in France, and seems to prefer to work in her native country.

Pre credit sequence: this is an absolute cracker. It takes place in the bustling streets of Istanbul, with Eve doing some pretty major driving, until Bond takes off on a stolen motorcycle and chases their quarry across the roofs of the city, ending up on a cargo train. He uses an industrial vehicle; a bulldozer, to prove that he is a crazy person who will stop at nothing to get his man, there's a lovely moment, where the dozer rips the back off a train carriage and Bond jumps down amongst the shocked passengers, pausing to shoot his cuffs (that's Craig's signature move) before going after who he wants on the roof. It's later on when M insists Eve take the shot and she's off, hitting Bond, instead of their target and enabling MI6 to 'kill' Bond briefly. It links into the film as their quarry has information about undercover agents that Silva later uses against MI6.

Gadgets: like with the previous two Craig films there aren't many, but as this film does have a Q there are some. One is a Walther PPK that is coded to Bond's palm print, less of a gun and more of a personal statement, this later saves Bond's life when an attacker in Macau tries to turn the gun on him and it won't fire. He also gets a small radio that can broadcast his location. He does express dismay with being provided with so little and Q asks if he expected an exploding pen, because they don't really go in for those anymore (that's got to be a direct reference to the exploding pen in Goldeneye). Bond's DB5 is another gadget, still equipped with the ejector seat and machine guns.

Music: it took them three films, but the finally got another winner. Adele was an excellent choice, she has a fantastic voice and it suits Bond films. The artist wrote it with her regular songwriting partner Paul Epworth. It just sounds so great, and it complements the opening credits, which if you look at them closely enough give you hints about the film itself. It's rather like a Joey HiFi Chuck Wendig cover which give you an idea of what's between the covers, but subtly blended with the main image. Unsurprisingly the song Skyfall (they went back to using the title) was showered with praise, including winning the Academy Award, it was the first Bond song to win, although the 4th to be nominated. I don't know who's doing the song for SPECTRE, but they're going to find this a hard act to follow, I wonder if Adele could become the new Shirley Bassey.

James Bond will return is confidently emblazoned across the screen at the start of the final credits, you bet he will after this!

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