Craig’s 007 not licensed to thrill
Time waits for no man, not even the suave and sharply-attired 007.
In the 50 years since Ian Fleming’s debonair secret agent introduced himself to Sylvia Trench at a card table in Dr No, global politics have changed beyond recognition.
The Iron Curtain has fallen, the Cold War has thawed, the People’s Republic Of China has emerged as a superpower and terrorism has shifted into the digital realm, forcing James Bond and his colleagues at MI6 to evolve.
Actors, who have been licensed to kill during these five turbulent decades, have brought something new to the party.
Sean Connery married flirtatiousness with rugged machismo and bare-chested sex appeal.
George Lazenby invested his short-lived 007 with tender romance, while Roger Moore arched an eyebrow with impish glee, doling out innuendo-laden one-liners with aplomb.
Timothy Dalton added darkness and grit to his emotionally tortured agent, then Pierce Brosnan restored parity between athleticism and charm.
The latest Bond, Daniel Craig, has rugged physicality but his one-note interpretation remains devoid of personality.
Skyfall will do nothing to dispel those concerns, but is the best instalment of Craig’s tenure.
Director Sam Mendes sensibly surrounds his leading man with an ensemble of award-winning actors.
This tour-de-force supporting cast encourages Craig to raise his game, but also exposes his weaknesses as an actor, most noticeably in a pivotal scene of heartbreak, which relies on a drenching from a previous fist fight to send droplets of water down his inexpressive face, suggesting the tears of a momentarily broken man.
In the brilliantly-orchestrated action sequences, Craig is in his element and Mendes opens with a breathtaking 12-minute pre-credits sequence, which draws heavily from the Bourne franchise to propel Bond and field agent Eve (Naomie Harris) through the winding streets of Istanbul.
With Bond reportedly killed in action, section chief M (Dame Judi Dench) pens an obituary as a political storm rages around her.
A database of MI6 assets has fallen into the wrong hands, compromising undercover agents.
This puts M and the department’s Chief Of Staff, Bill Tanner (Rory Kinnear), in the firing line and they are summoned to Westminster before a committee including the new chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee, Mallory (Ralph Fiennes), and ambitious rival Clair Dowar (Helen McCrory).
While M fends off sustained attacks on her reputation, news filters through that Bond has survived, and M engages her physically-bruised agent to track down menacing cyber terrorist Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem).
Working alongside Q (Ben Whishaw) and Eve, Bond traverses the globe in search of Silva, crossing paths with the mysterious Severine (Berenice Marlohe) in a casino in Macau, which facilitates a steamy shower sex scene.
Bond then unearths dark secrets from M’s past that threaten to bring down the whole of MI6.
Skyfall looks stunning, courtesy of cinematographer Roger Deakins and action sequences don’t disappoint.
Bravely, the 23rd Bond assignment pares back the slam bang thrills to concentrate on characterisation and plot, putting Dench’s authority figure at the centre of the betrayal.
The film dazzles during verbal jousts, such as M discovering Bond in the shadows of her London apartment.
Fiennes and Harris acquit themselves well but sultry Bond girl Marlohe is forgettable.
To tie up the loose ends, the writers hurriedly introduce an additional character, Bond’s old gamekeeper Kincade (Albert Finney), who exists purely to manoeuvre characters into the correct positions.
Director Mendes gets high on nostalgia, to the obvious delight of Bond purists.
However, he spends slightly too long looking back and not enough looking forward, and consequently stumbles with the lacklustre final showdown more befitting of an episode of The A-Team than the second biggest film franchise in history.
(12A, 143 mins) Action/Thriller. Daniel Craig, Dame Judi Dench, Javier Bardem, Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris, Ralph Fiennes, Berenice Marlohe, Rory Kinnear, Albert Finney, Helen McCrory. Director: Sam Mendes.
n SWEARING n SEX n VIOLENCE n RATING: 8/10