So here we are, at the 50th anniversary of the longest running film franchise of all time, and I am happy to report that – improbably, but conveniently – this is the Best Bond Film Yet (a phrase you will already have heard far too often).
And yes, Daniel Craig is the Best Bond Ever. But before we get too carried away, let us remember what the competition consists of. Exhibit 1. A former body builder who built his entire career around a broad Scottish accent, and precious little acting talent. Exhibit 2. An Australian who'd never acted at all. Exhibit 3, a TV star with a permatan and a smirk, and all the athletic ability of a geriatric snail. Exhibit 4. A proper actor who had no screen presence. Exhibit 5. An Irishman with a slightly better smirk. And then Craig. Like I say, it's not a tough contest. Ditto the films. Say what what you like, apart from Casino Royale, they're a ropy bunch relying on sexism, racism, casual violence, bad jokes, improbability and an over developed sense of nostalgia. Just so we get that clear.
Right, back to Skyfall. For this big anniversary event they've wheeled out the big guns. Craig and Dench obviously. But then they have also hired Sam Mendes to direct (previous films include American Beauty, Road To Perdition – with Craig – and Revolutionary Road). In other words, he's a proper director. Throw in Ralph Fiennes, Ben Whishaw, Javier Bardem and Albert Finney, and it's clear that they're taking this seriously – or as seriously as you can take a Bond film. Plot-wise, we're a long way from any Fleming originals, which is just as well, since it allows the script to be a) integrated and b) up to date. For a start, there is a fairly straightforward narrative purpose – the names of all MI6 agents embedded in terrorist organisations have been stolen – and a consistent underlying drive – Bardem's villain is out for revenge on M.
Craig/Bond's role in all this is to return from what we know is not certain death at the beginning of the film to try to clear up the mess that Silva/Bardem has been creating in order to make M's position impossible. There's a new Q (Ben Whishaw) better attuned to the modern age – he gets computers – and a Whitehall bureaucrat called Mallory (Fiennes) who also seems to be out to nail M. There are – of course – all manner of set pieces on trains, in cars and even in the Underground, but most importantly, there is a coherent thread both of narrative and emotion, running through the film, something that couldn't be said of Quantum of Solace, this film's predecessor. It's also an extremely beautiful film to look at; the amount of pointless and crass sex is reduced to a minimum, and despite the advertising blitz that has accompanied the film, I was not aware of product placement being too obtrusive – apart from setting a couple of scenes in China, where Bond is huge apparently, especially when he heads East.
For me, the best thing in the film is Javier Bardem. It's hardly a surprise that an actor as excellent as he is should be able to play a Bond villain of a different calibre to what we've been used to for so long. He's sinister, articulate, creepy, ever so slightly camp, and you feel he is a real threat to Bond and M. Craig, of course is excellent, with the body of a man half his age (who'd like it back when 007 has finished with it, please), and a screen presence that leaves all his pre-Bonds eating dust. I'm not going to go into any more detail about the film, because the trailer gives away enough as it is, and the less you know beforehand, the more you'll enjoy it.
My reservations, such as they are, concern the length of the film, and the final act which is very different to anything we've ever seen in a Bond film before. Not necessarily bad, but possibly a bit superfluous. I'd always go for a 2 hour film, over one that lasts 20 minutes longer. Judging by the number of people who were in the cinema at 10.20 on a Friday morning, and the hordes arriving as I left, the film makers need have no fears. Nearly everyone knows about this film – the advantages of saturation coverage and name recognition – and most of them seem to want to see it. And I'm pretty sure they will enjoy it.