FAIR WARNING: This post is a festival of spoilers. It assumes that you've either seen Skyfall or you don't mind knowing most of its surprises. If neither of those apply to you but you still fancy some Skyfall review action, head this way for completely spoiler-free waffle.
Well, not quite. Skyfall is undoubtedly great, but it's no Casino Royale. In fact it's hard to rank it alongside any other Bond films, simply because for half the time it doesn't feel much like a Bond film at all. The familiar half - the bits with the Bond theme, the OTT set-pieces, the tux and so on - goes to enormous lengths to reassure after two films light on the perceived tropes. Direct references to previous entries abound: an opening in which Bond is apparently killed (You Only Live Twice); an Aston Martin with an ejector seat (Goldfinger); an escape via reptile-hopping (Live And Let Die); and a gun which only Bond can operate (Licence To Kill). That's Connery, Moore and Dalton fans taken care of right there; all we need is a beefed-up role for M, as we saw in the Brosnan years, and a Lazenby-era last-minute death of a loved one and everyone's happy.
Well. Almost everyone.
The remainder of Skyfall, though, is so unlike the rest of the canon that it takes every ounce of director Sam Mendes' skill to make the film work. Like master chefs, Mendes and writers Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and John Logan blend old cheese with fresh milk and come out with delicious Skyfall sauce. The film's delicate balancing act is executed flawlessly, never tipping too far into crass comedy or overwrought drama, and its unexpected twists and turns free the series from the shackles of the past, making anything possible in the future.
Ironically though, the future looks oddly familiar - at least if the final scene of Skyfall is anything to go by. The roughly ten-year cycle that Bond films go through from knockabout caper to frowny revenge thriller looks to be heading back to the former, and for once I'm excited about it. I love Serious Bond, but I'm ready for him to relax now, enjoy himself, maybe find Quantum and blow up a volcano or two. Let's leave the brow-furrowing introspection for Fassbender to deal with in 2018.
Of course no Bond film is perfect (not even Licence To Kill), and Skyfall sports two major wrinkles which, while not enough to derail the film, are difficult to ignore for those of us tragic enough to care about what remains of the franchise's Craig-era continuity.
The first is the feeling we're left with at the end, which is uncannily similar to that with which we were left at the end of the previous two Bond films. By Casino Royale's climax, this MI6 noob had gained his licence to kill, his Aston Martin, his theme tune and his excuse for treating women like tissues to jizz into and dispose of immediately, so that when he defiantly pronounces himself "Bond... James Bond" at the end, he's finally ready to serve Queen and country. Hooray! Then, in Quantum Of Solace, it turned out he wasn't quite James Bond yet - he still had to go through a deeply personal mission in order to get a load of emotional baggage out of the way, after which he was finally ready to serve Queen and country. Hooray, again! Now, at the end of Skyfall, after going on another deeply personal mission and getting another load of emotional baggage out of the way, he's *sigh* finally ready to serve Queen and country. Hooray again, again. Can he get on with his job now? Please?
But like so many niggles (the bizarrely empty tube train; the sudden onset of darkness when Silva attacks Skyfall lodge; the fact that Bond doesn't even loosen his tie or undo his jacket on his 500-mile drive up the A1), this timeline-mangling is just something you have to get over. If you can't get over it though, fear not: Bond's diaries are readily available, and explain everything you need to know about the wilderness years between Quantum Of Solace and Skyfall...
Busy year. Lots of it went by in a near-incomprehensible blur. Found out all sorts of stuff about Quantum and managed to not kill the two people associated with it that I wanted to kill the most. M reckons this is progress.
Quiet year at work. Couldn't find Quantum so stayed in and watched Straw Dogs a lot. I liked the guy defending his isolated home from nutters. I could see myself doing that, only I'm never going home because I hate that place and there's a weird old man who lives there by himself with no supplies of any kind and thinks he's Sean Connery.
Haven't killed anyone for ages, starting to wonder if I've still got it in me. Found my first grey hair too.
Not that I'm having a midlife crisis or anything but I decided to soup up the DB5. Took it into Q Branch where they made it right-hand drive and fitted revolving number plates and machine guns like in a film I saw once, then they stuck in an ejector seat for LOLs. Those guys!
Agent Ronson gave me a new watch for Christmas. It's an Omega Seamaster Planet Ocean 600M. It follows in the footsteps of its illustrious predecessors by sporting a raft of specialist diving features including a rotating diving bezel, a chromium nitride diving scale and water resistance up to 600 metres. Also it goes nicely with these Tom Ford suits. Ronson is just the best. I call him 'my new Leiter', LOL! We go to the gym together a lot, although he's much fitter than me. He introduced me to Home Alone, a film about a kid defending his home from nutters with all these crazy traps. As if!
Still haven't found Quantum. Beginning to worry that I'm losing my edge.
I'm definitely getting old: thought I saw Quantum's Mr White in Waitrose so I shot him in the head. Turns out it was M's husband buying her weekly bottle of Macallan Scotch. Awk-ward! Not as awkward as the funeral though: I got drunk with M on Heineken (won't be drinking that shit again unless I'm in a VERY bad way) and slept with her. In a way it brought us much closer. Even moved in with her for a while but she kicked me out for watching Straw Dogs and Home Alone all the time. Still got a key to her flat though, never know when it might come in handy.
Got drunk at the Christmas party and slept with Agent Ronson. Interesting experience. Still, there's got to be a first time for everything. He's taking it all a bit seriously, says he'd die for me, all that stuff. Trying to avoid him by changing gyms and spending all my time there. As a result I'm pretty buff right now, which means that none of my suits fit. Must do something about that.
Got a bit depressed about the M situation this year so went to the cinema a lot to try and forget. Watched The Dark Knight Rises eight times. Batman sure knows how to pick himself up from a crippling incident that nearly killed him and defeat a formidable ally despite being a bit out of shape! Inspiring stuff.
Saw M in Waitrose and patched things up. While we were chatting some guy nicked her laptop out of her handbag and neither of us noticed till we got to the office. We're definitely both losing it. Now I've got to go to bloody Turkey with Agent Ronson to try and find it. Hope he stops banging on about dying for me, it's embarrassing. Also some bimbo's coming with us but for some ridiculous reason she won't tell me her name. Says she's 'waiting for the right moment'. Not sure I trust her: I watched her at the shooting range the other day and she couldn't hit the broad side of a barn if she was in it. Not to worry, I'm sure she can't do too much harm.
So I leave for Istanbul tomorrow. Left a note in the kitchen for May, my elderly Scottish housekeeper: "Pls cancel milk. Oh and don't let those MI6 bastards sell the flat. James Bond will return."
The cuff adjustment
In moments of extreme Bondiness, Pierce Brosnan straightened his tie. Daniel Craig prefers to ensure that his cuffs are protruding exactly the right length from his sleeves. This is the first sign that Skyfall isn't taking itself too seriously, and it's perfectly judged.
The Shanghai fight
The zenith of Roger Deakins' cinematography in Skyfall comes in this incredible scrap between Bond and Patrice. Shot in one take, entirely in silhouette, with humungous neon jellyfish floating across the background, it's the artiest fight Bond's ever had. It's also a triumph of choreography; every crunching kick and punch looks brutally convincing.
Silva's introductionThe lengthy, one-take monologue about rats is one thing, but the following banter between Bond and Silva is absolute gold. Craig wisely lets Bardem provide the pantomime, so that when he deadpans "what makes you think this is my first time?" it deflates Silva and slays the audience. It would be great to think that Bond has had to go mano y mano in the past to get the job done, although if Ian Fleming were alive he'd have an absolute dickie fit, the massive homophobe.
Skyfall drops a devastating slice of near-arthouse cinema on us in this tremendous scene which further encapsulates all that is Bond. Reciting Tennyson's Ulysses in voiceover while 007 legs it up Whitehall to her rescue, M reminds both her inquisitors and the audience that although the British Empire may be a distant memory and secret agents may be a relic of the Cold War, the world still needs heroes. And most of all, it still needs James Bond.
It was a long time coming (as great as DJD is, her presence in the post-Brosnan films has always stopped me sleeping at night), but when M finally resigns for good in Bond's arms, orphaning him again, I don't mind saying I wept for the first time in a Bond film since Roger Moore snowboarded to the Beach Boys. She may have been a continuity-buggering irritant but I'll miss her potty mouth.
And finally: Hopefully New Bond won't be forgetting Little James in the future:
EVE is apologising to BOND for shooting him in the chest, thereby ruining the mission and injuring him so badly that he almost died.
It was only four ribs. Some of the less vital organs...
(he leans closer to EVE and whispers)
(he leans closer to EVE and whispers)
BlogalongaBond will return with Spectre
What the hell is BlogalongaBond? I'll tell you.