There remain moments when Craig resembles the world’s luckiest hodcarrier, but director Sam Mendes proves less interested in our hero’s default thuggishness than in his flickers of intuition, visible even as that gym-chiselled physique lets him down. This Bond is more connected with the women in his life – literally so, through those first minutes, as a transmitter puts their voices in his head: Naomie Harris, owning the prominent role she’s long deserved, as Eve, Bond’s protégée, sidekick and something more; and Judi Dench’s magnificent, moody, maternal M, whose distinguished intelligence career is threatened when a list of undercover operatives falls into enemy hands. Critically, Bond and his latest adversary, sniggering rogue agent Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem), have been reframed as little boys competing for M’s affections; the film proceeds towards a genuinely shocking pietà.
Mendes is not an obvious action director, yet as the stylised shootouts of 2002’s Road to Perdition made clear, he knows good cinematography, art direction and production design when he sees it. Skyfall often thrills simply by doing something different for this series: staging fistfights in silhouette (DoP Roger Deakins’ work throughout is exemplary), or in Asian gambling houses – complete with peckish Komodo dragons – that hint at what a John Woo or Kill Bill-era Tarantino might have done with this franchise. It’s a warmer, more human and inclusive Bond – giving due prominence to older and mixed-race performers – yet one that doesn’t sacrifice its commercial edge, functioning mightily well as an example both of action cinema de luxe and of a brand rediscovering its bulldog spirit. Not for the first time in 2012, you can buy British with confidence.
(MovieMail, November 2012)
Skyfall screens on ITV1 tonight at 9pm.