If there’s one thing Sam Mendes does right, it’s colour. From the deep red of the rose petals cascading upon Mena Suvari in American Beauty to the piercing blue of Paul Newman’s eyes in Road To Perdition, the man has colour down completely. Mendes uses his palette as another character, switching hues and shades entirely within scenes, matching the mood and setting perfectly the atmosphere. All thanks in large part to the wonderful cinematography of Roger Deakins, master of his craft and Coen brothers DoP regular, whose work on this film is exemplary.
Make no mistake, Skyfall looks incredible. Whether it’s expansive Turkish cityscapes, claustrophobic Shanghai neon or Harry Potter-esque country piles, the photography is rich and detailed, lending an omniscience to the viewer throughout the film. It’s no surprise the same filmmaking team are behind other such beautiful movies as The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and No Country For Old Men.
However, attractive cinematography alone does not a great film make. A believable script, convincing acting and a respect for the legacy of one of the most enduring franchises of all time would also have been useful in the production of the twenty-third James Bond movie.
Because, for all its positives, Skyfall is both the quintessential Bond film and also the antithesis of a Bond film, which is a huge disappointment. It’s all there; the Walther PPK, the shaken martini, the Aston Martin. Massive nods to the fifty year history of ‘Bond, James Bond’ pepper the script, (which is really funny, by the way, although that is not necessarily a good thing), yet the overall feel of the original, non-Fleming story is forced and staged.
The opening of the film is excellent. A rooftop/train roof chase in Istanbul sets up Daniel Craig’s third outing as Bond very nicely. The title sequence, as ever, is beguiling and evocative. Past the hour mark, however, the characters and set-pieces are borrowed from elsewhere. It does not feel fresh, or new. There is a ten minute section early in the film stolen straight from Austin Powers, the third-act action sequence is basically Assault On Precinct 13, and Javier Bardem’s ‘Silva’ is a second rate The Joker, from Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight. Due to the recognisable tropes and uncomfortable comedy, I felt like I was watching Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, not the continuing stories of James Bond, produced by an Oscar-winning production team with decades of experience under their belts.
But, perhaps this is what they were going for. Skyfall is camp, for sure. It subscribes to the Bond formula of old, eschewing the brute Bond of Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace, and replacing him with, eventually, a finely tuned gin-drinking killing machine, which is the Bond most people know and love. In the costumes and set design there are nods to the style of the Sixties Bond movies, and it is clear that the final thirty minutes of the film are intended as some sort of reboot; a huge leap in a new direction for future Bond films. Gone is the machismo and force of Craig’s preceding instalments. Here is a new, sensitive Bond; a Bond who is not afraid to show his feelings, or his entire backstory, which was slightly off-putting.
Skyfall is not without its merits. Ben Whishaw is excellent as Q, and channels Matt Smith’s The Doctor as he brings the character into the 21st century, complete with his own ‘Q’ Scrabble mug, which was a nice touch. Also, there is a sequence in Shanghai involving many coloured lights and panes of glass that was a joy to watch. However, as a complete piece, Skyfall unfortunately falls flat, relying on unnecessary humour and near-pastiche of the previous twenty-two movies to piece together a forgettable Bond film.