The Skyfall Knight
Daniel Craig’s James Bond has had quite the tumultuous run. From the highs of Casino Royale to the lows of Quantum Of Solace, Skyfall is ironically sandwiched somewhere between the two. With a clear direction of steering away from some of the conventional Bond tropes of old, Skyfall instead leans on fellow action franchises for inspiration. There’s elements of Mission: Impossible, Bourne and, more noticeably, The Dark Knight, that all crop up here in one form or another to deliver a very moody and gritty Bond, unlike what we’ve seen before.
On the one hand, this actually works well to flesh out Craig’s version of this iconic character but it also dilutes the identity of one of the more iconic male action figures on the big screen today.
Unlike Quantum Of Solace’s continued storyline, Skyfall instead delivers a brand new narrative to play with. Set some time after the events of the previous movie, Bond is back in the field and – more specifically – Istanbul. In contact with MI6, his target is a slippery assassin that has access to a hard-drive holding key information relating to MI6 agents. If leaked, this could cause havoc across the globe so the stakes are incredibly high.
Unfortunately the mission goes awry; Bond is inadvertently shot and plummets into unforgiving water below. Believed to be out the fight and with crucial data in the hands of the bad guys, MI6 comes under attack from a figure lurking in the shadows. And the shadows are where this film spends most of its time. Bond returns from the dead as a broken shell of the man he once was, pushed to the limits and desperate to find out who’s responsible for the attacks. MI6 are forced underground and someone has a serious vendetta against M.
The one responsible happens to be a ghost from the past; a former MI6 operative by the name of Silva. This man is maniacally clever, orchestrating hacks that bamboozle a young Q who enters the fray and tries to help Bond with this modernized threat. This fight inevitably takes place across multiple locations around the globe including the neon-lit skyline of Shanghai and – most notably – in London.
The plot itself is intriguing enough to keep you watching, with particular emphasis on the unconventional relationship between M and Bond put under the spotlight. Silva is essentially used as a “what if”; a reflection of what could happen if Bond fails and becomes another victim for the good of MI6.
It’s an interesting narrative device in truth, one that Daniel Craig pulls off beautifully with his complex and moody version of James Bond. All of this builds up to quite the dramatic finale where this relationship reaches its crescendo. Of course, with this emphasis on agent/mentor relations, there’s also no room for the traditional Bond girl which is relegated to the back-seat for most of the movie.
There are still some love interests along the way, a couple of nifty gadgets and an exquisite car showcased, but this is a very different Bond for a different generation. If Casino Royale was a bridge used to unite new and old Bond fans alike, Skyfall instead burns that bridge and leads the way up a bumpy one way track. Sure, it may take longer to get to the destination but is it a road everyone’s going to travel? Probably not.
The action is fantastic though and from the opening set piece through to a crowded chase through the London Underground, Skyfall really does have some great set pieces to play with. In true Bond fashion they’re completely over the top and really well shot too. Gone are the frenetic quick-cuts and dizzying Jason Bourne edits, replaced instead by a much more cinematic and artistic presence.
The true winner here though is a beautiful one on one skirmish in Shanghai atop a skyscraper. The neon-lit colours pulsate wonderfully between blue and yellow as silhouettes showcase the well-choreographed fight. It’s certainly a welcome change from Solace but Skyfall still has some issues with its pacing.
Instead of the fast and aggressive posture in Solace, Skyfall unfortunately swings the other way. The story has some lulls along the way and the third act in particular has a real stop/start feel to it which feeds back into the Dark Knight references I mentioned earlier.
I won’t spoil anything but Christopher Nolan’s movie had a real ebb and flow to it, building everything up to the final act where there was a split focus between Two-Face and Joker. Without a second villain to fall back on, Skyfall instead takes the same plot inspiration from Dark Knight but stretches that out to deliver a rather uninspiring third act. It’s not a deal breaker, and the movie definitely has some stand-out moments, but it also doesn’t quite have the same tightness that Casino Royale had.
Plot holes and pacing issues aside, Skyfall is a much improved Bond iteration compared to Quantum Of Solace. It’s a much more gritty, edgy Bond than we’re used to, taking ideas from both Nolan’s Batman trilogy and the Bourne movies to create a strangely endearing hybrid of the two. While this will almost certainly alienate a good portion of the die-hard fanbase, there’s enough here for new fans to embrace and enjoy.
It’s not as confident as Casino Royale but it’s not a disaster like Quantum Of Solace either. This Bond film falls somewhere between the two, making for a pretty decent movie but also one that’s clearly eyeing a new direction for this moody MI6 operative in the future.