The very first movie reviewed on this blog was Casino Royale, which was a solid effort to make a more grounded and intelligent Bond movie in a world that had - it seemed - had its fill of smirking stunt-fests. Casino Royale is a good movie; it starts with a great big action sequence involving chasing around through slums and construction machinery, then it slows right the heck down into something more cerebral where Bond has to match wits with a cunning adversary in an effort to save the life of a woman who's important to him. It ends up with a massive shootout in a house which gets completely demolished, and Bond doesn't quite manage to save the woman. The movie works because it's well acted; an astonishing amount of talent got thrown at it and they were given an actual script rather than a succession of one liners to roll out between explosions. Oh, and it's got just horrible amounts of product placement.
Casino Royale was followed by Quantum of Solace, which was pretty terrible, really. There's an opening chase, which is quite fun, but after that it's all over the place and the climactic explosionathon makes even less sense than the plot.
So, I wasn't too sure what to expect from Daniel Craig's third outing as James Bond. The production had had problems, what with the studio going bust in the middle of pre-production, and six years on from Casino Royale, Daniel Craig is showing his age a bit. At the current announced pace of work, he's going be doing his fifth Bond movie around his fiftieth birthday. Skyfall jokes around his age a bit, but in another few years it might not be so funny.
So, you'll all be hoping that Skyfall is a return to the Casino Royale form. And the good news is that, yes, it is. The not quite so good news is that it's perhaps too much of a return. It starts with a chase through slums and construction machinery. Then it slows right down….
Three movies in seems a little early for the gritty reboot and the reestablishment of the iconic characters like M and Q and Moneypenny. Only time will tell whether this new new start is going to get another messy Quantum of Solace followup. Which is not to say it's a bad movie at all, just that it's so easy to map it onto the supposed game changer, and leave me wondering if we're just changing the cliches around, in the same way that Bourne franchise seems to be repeating itself.
The opening chase is great fun, mind you. There's cars in traffic, motorcycles racing across the roof of the covered market in Istanbul and the gratuitous but hilarious destruction of half a train by a digger; tune out that silent voice in your head asking why there's a digger on a railway flatbed and no-one in Turkish Railways thought of lashing it down so that it wouldn't shift, let alone be driven off up the train by some lunatic British spy. And fun and all though the opener is, it's when things slow down that the movie becomes really enjoyable, because once they get things slow enough to let everyone talk, there's all kinds of acting and dialogue being done. The scenes between Javier Bardem and Daniel Craig are so much fun that - just as in Casino Royale - you get annoyed that the action is getting in the way of the characters. Bardem's the first Bond villain in ages who's been worth watching for his own sake. It really does help to get in the actors for these things. So they hired in Ralph Fiennes, and Ben Whishaw and Albert Finney, who astonished me by not getting shot into a hamburger at any point in the movie, but not by effortlessly keeping up with Daniel Craig and Judy Dench. As always, it's a serious mistake to be a girl in a Bond movie, and an even bigger mistake to dally with Bond; just once I'd like to see the villain's fancy woman walk away in one piece from one of those movies instead of being toyed with briefly and then schwacked to make a point about how rotten the bad guys are.
The product placement is, if anything, even more appalling than it's ever been, though just in case we missed out on any of it, there was a solid ten minutes of adverts before the movie, all for products which were about to be waved in our faces in the course of the feature presentation. There's been - I gather - a huge fuss about Bond having a deal with Heineken; I think the books were nicely balanced when Bond was shown drinking Heineken only when he was flat broke, busted, playing dead and feeling incredibly sorry for himself, as all Heineken drinkers properly should.