We have come full circle.
This is it, this is the reboot. Staging the scene in Casino Royale, the Bond franchise has renewed itself. It’s the old crew as we know it—but it’s new digs, indeed; even as hints as big as anvils are dropped that James is getting too old for this shit.
Explosions! Diggers! Fights on trains! More trains! As Eve says: it’s a little difficult to explain. The crazy stuff that James gets up to the minute he leaves the house is… you have to have been there.
First off, though: Roger Deakins, you are a god. Never, ever has a James Bond movie looked this good. The entire sequence in Shanghai, up in the skyscraper was a marvellous work of art—as was the rest, but I just found this to be the most visually stunning, with the glass reflections, the projections on the side of the building, and that amazing fight/stunt sequence, in which they managed to fit James and Patrice into a 4:3 frame, having an amazing tussle, while bringing up a ball of light that turned out to be a giant squall up behind them. That is just one example of the stunning imagery of this film. Its play with colours is riveting: from the vibrant, deep red of Macau, to the grey and glass of MI6 temporary headquarters down in the bunker, to the sulphuric orange of the burning Skyfall estate with Silva’s silhouette staggering across the frozen moor.
The opening credits are a marvel, my jaw had dropped below ground level by the time the skeleton’s teeth turned into tombstones; and then I was just falling headlong into love.
Deakins and Sam Mendes have created a vision. James Bond movies have always been producers’ movies rather than directors’ movies; and now, this—this is both. There is no dichotomy between cool guys not looking at explosions and aesthetic principle. Not that previous Bonds didn’t look good—they just didn’t look like this; they didn’t feel like this.
And that only works if the script is bloody amazing. The plot is incredibly tight, it drives itself to its logical conclusion without ever stopping, without leaving you behind. It takes you along on a ride that is breathless and well-paced at the same time; it picks up speed, going slow, getting James back on track, until eventually the entirety of the second half of the film happens in less than 24 hours; and his precision is back up to 100% as he gets his hands on his father’s old hunting rifle.
This is what this movie is about: home. It’s the first time Bond fights his final battle on British/Scottish soil; this is about England—about his family. After his parents died in a mountain-climbing accident when he was a boy, James didn’t have anyone. The closest to family he has is Kincaid. And MI6. We hardly ever see as much interaction and familiarity between Bond and his colleagues at MI6 in any of the previous movies. He usually shoos in at the beginning, grabs his gear, and heads out, sometimes punctuated by the occasional visit from Q. But now, this, here, this is family; this is showing him among the people who know him, the only ones who can vaguely claim to, anyway. When he is believed dead, his things are put in storage, his flat is sold, because MI6 are the only next of kin he has. His crucial relationships are with his colleagues, his handlers. Eve, Tanner, Q, M, and now Mallory: they’re his folks. Orphans make the best recruits, because they have everything to give and nothing to lose.
Kincaid: “Don’t even try to stop me, you jumped-up little shit.”
Kincaid’s a father figure the same way M is basically James’ mother; and the three of them fight Silva, together, in James’ family estate. The symbolism is as marked as it is simple. Bond’s country is under attack, from within. That’s why Q needs Bond there when he decrypts Silva’s laptop: Bond recognises Granborough, recognises the pattern for what it is: the heart of London. And when the heart of London is under attack, he has no place to run, no place to hide—except for his past. The Aston Martin, the original one from Goldfinger, complete with ejector seat and ribbing, is as much as landmark of that as it is a tribute to Bond’s 50th anniversary.
James: “Are you going to complain the whole way?”
M: “Go on, then, eject me. See if I care.”
When James comes home after enjoying death, he goes to see M; and what you see is the prodigal son returning. Did you catch that little look down towards his shoes when he says, ‘I’ll find a hotel’? That’s a little boy, shuffling his feet. Just for a second, and then M tells him that he’s damn well not sleeping at her place, lest he get too comfortable. It’s as adorable as it is twisted.
James’ trust in M is being called into question this time: she gave up Silva, she told Eve to take the bloody shot—because that’s her job. That’s the trouble with surrogate families, they don’t work quite like the real deal.
And yet, M’s last line is one of maternal pride: “I did one thing right.”
James Bond, the agent she guided, made him a 00, “raised” him to become the operative he needs to be.
And now she’s gone, and seeing James cry is so far out of range of anything I can deal with without becoming a blubbering mess myself.
She lied to him, she did her job: she is the centrepiece in the tryptichon, framed by Silva and James. Silva and Bond are two sides of the same coin—one would still do anything for her in spite of it, the other is overcome with rage at her betrayal. They both love her; but where James tortures himself, Silva tortures others. They are the last two rats, but of two very different breeds.
Javier Bardem is… I don’t know if there are words to describe the perfection of his performance. The first confrontation between Bond and Silva is, well, bloody damn hot, is what it is; and it’s the amazing introduction into a psychotic character that is driven further and further to the very edge of insanity, and that culminates in the chapel at Skyfall; begging M to kill them both with the same bullet. His fixation on her is frightening and creepy and completely logical. He was her favourite the way Bond is now.
Silva: “Life clung to me like a disease.”
He wanted to die, but life wouldn’t let him. He doesn’t want all the money that his hacking skills could make him, doesn’t want the huge bite out of the world that he could take and chew, grind into dust with his false teeth. He wants M dead, and he wants to finally die himself. He’s a chip of the literary vampire block: undead, damned into life, he possesses superhuman skills and knowledge, but all he wants is mortality; and because he’s been denied for so long, he wants revenge, too.
Let’s talk about the new MI6.
The new MI6 is an assembly of an astounding cast. Rory Kinnear, Naomi Harris, Ben Wishaw, and Ralph Fiennes are like Christmas, all birthdays I’ll ever have, and Easter on the same fucking day.
I don’t think I’ll ever get over the scene where Tanner is drinking beer while Q is doing entirely illegal things, and then Mallory walks in, having just proven himself to be a total badass at Westminster, scaring the living daylights out of them until basically telling them, ‘Carry on, boys, we’re gonna have some fun with this shit.’
Look at Q’s small smile, and Tanner’s oh-we’ve-underestimated-you face. It’s priceless.
Can you imagine Bond on a mission, with Q, Tanner, Mallory, and Eve in London following his movements, snarking back at him over his earpiece?
And afterwards, they can get out the alcohol and get pissed in M’s office. With the dynamic that Bond has with each of these characters, and the characters among themselves; it is going to be mind-blowing.
Now, Q. The world predicted, quite rightly, that the Internet would eat this kid alive, and we bloody well did. I mean, really: a skinny geek with a shag of hair, retro glasses, and more than enough sass to match Bond? Hello.
Bond: “Can you get past them?”
Q: “I invented them.”
Q, Bond likes you.
Bond: “It won’t open.”
Q: “Of course it will—put your back into it!”
Bond: “Why don’t you come down here and put your back into it?!”
Q: “I’m guessing this isn’t strictly official.”
Bond: “Not even remotely.”
Q: “So much for my promising career in espionage.”
Which is where I’m slapped in the face by the versatility of this script: there is the tragedy, the anger, the action, the suspense—and the sheer, utter fun. This film takes the time to insert a shot of a couple staring after James as he jumps the train, ‘He’s keen to get home—’ because this is just something that happens on the London tube, dammit. Then there’s that great double-take shot of James and the conductor staring at each other before he yells at her to open the door. Only in a Bond movie. Yet, it is never glib—Bond knows half his jokes are cheesy, but that’s why the others have so much class.
His electric blue eyes say a lot more than words ever could a lot of the time, anyway. Daniel Craig is, hands down, my favourite Bond. I started watching Bond sixteen years ago, I’ve watched each movie so many times I know most of the dialogue before I hear it. The first one I ever saw in a cinema instead of on the telly was Die Another Day; and then, there was Casino Royale and I fell in love all over again. Much like Eleven is my Doctor, Daniel Craig is my James Bond.
I’ll go put Adele’s Skyfall on repeat now and rock myself to sleep.
P.S. Bond’s now canonically bisexual. Bye!
So it wasn’t just me? This was the first Bond movie in a very long time that I thoroughly enjoyed.