FBF – Spectre (2015)

British, Christoph Waltz, Daniel Craig, films, James Bond, Ralph Fiennes, reviews, spy, TBT, terrorism

So, you may have noticed that this week’s Throwback Thursday post has actually become a Frowback Friday post. Last night was my work’s Christmas party so I was a little too busy to be posting. It also means, considering I started work at 7 am this morning, that I had no fucking sleep so I’m totally exhausted. So, I imagine this is going to be a pretty dire review of Spectre. I meant to write it as soon as I got home but, because I’m such a pathetic individual, I fell asleep instead. I’m not even 30 yet and I can longer cope with a night of shenanigans without every muscle in my body aching. It’s not as if I was even hungover. At least that would make sense. I’m just pathetic. Anyway, I’m here to review Spectre, which I watched for the first time this week. I loved Skyfall so was really interested in seeing how the follow up would work out. There was a time when it was believed to be Daniel Craig’s final time in the role so it was kind of bittersweet. I wasn’t entirely convinced that Craig would make a good Bond but he’s really grown on me. I think he’s perfect so it’s hard to imagine anyone else in the role. I love T Hiddle but really don’t think he should get it. Equally, I think Tom Hardy is amazing in every way but I have my doubts. My top choice? Idris Elba. Do I think it’s likely? Well, he’s getting on in age a bit so who knows. Anyway, Spectre has a lot to live up to for many fans. Skyfall had done so many wonderful things and we all felt Craig deserved a decent farewell. Plus, it was the first film for ages without Judy Dench. I bloody love that woman and everything she did within this franchise. I know The Grand Budapest Hotel really turned me around on Ralph Fiennes but I still wasn’t sure he could live up to the Dench. I mean she doesn’t give a shit about the CIA. Her role as M was phenomenal. But I digress and I really do need to get to bed asap.

Spectre takes us to just after the events that ended Skyfall. The old MI5 building is in a state of disrepair and the new M (Ralph Fiennes) is having to cope with a potential takeover from the Joint Intelligence Service. In light of recent events it looks like the JIS will scrap the 00 programme all together; something that becomes all the more likely after Bond causes utter devastation whilst in Mexcio. It turns out 007 got a posthumous message from the Judy Dench M and James is now on the hunt for a secret villain who could threaten everyone’s safety. However, after his actions, Bond is given a suspension from field work so must work in secret with the help of Q (Ben Wishaw) and Moneypenny (Naomie Harris). As James finds out more information, it becomes clear that the present case has a strong link with his past. But who is the mysterious figure at the centre of everything?

I didn’t really know what to think about Spectre going in. I was excited but I’d heard mixed things about it when it came out. Obviously there was a chance this was just post-Skyfall fallout where anything the film did would have been seen as not good enough. However, it could just be a fairly underwhelming film. At the very least, the opening song by Sam Smith was the worst Bond song since Carly Simon’s effort. I mean I didn’t like Skyfall but this made that seem fucking amazing. It’s even more of a shame considering the opening title sequence is visually stunning. I’d say it’s one of the best ones ever made. A bloody great start to this film.

Just as the pre-credits sequence is perhaps the best thing we’ve seen in the Daniel Craig era of Bond. We see James in Mexico during the Day of the Dead, wearing a skull mask and walking through the carnival with a beautiful lady. He then leaves his companion and casually strolls over rooftops to spy on his target. It’s such a brilliant and understated piece that just works so well. It’s the kind of gripping sequence that should be saved for the end of a movie not the beginning. It’ll have you hooked.

Which is good because the rest of the film is a little less solid. The storyline follows up from Skyfall’s link with Bond’s past and makes 007’s vendetta with the big bad personal. Apparently, it’s not enough just to want to stop people endangering lives anymore; you have to want to stop them because they’re wronged you personally. There is a lot to this film that just makes it seem like they aren’t even trying any more. It’s a pain by number Bond that you could, genuinely, play 007 Bingo watching. We have the insane gadget that only becomes useful in the final seconds before Bond’s potential death; the two women who get very little development but are lucky enough to shag Britain’s horniest agent; there are enough car chases in weirdly quite cities to satisfy anyone who loves everything Jeremy Clarkson says; and there is the return of a villain who has had more comebacks than the Rolling Stones. This is the perfect Bond film for any fan of the franchise as a whole.

It’s not a bad film though and I really enjoyed it. Daniel Craig’s time as Bond has brought the grit back to the series and, in the past 2 films, we have seen a slight return in the camp comedy of Roger Moore’s era. However, story is becoming a problem. There is so much potential, especially with Ralph Fienne’s M (who deserves his own franchise by the way), that I kind of wish had been used more. This film would have been seen as exceptional after Quantum of Solace but we’re in a post-Skyfall era. This just isn’t quite good enough.

Tuesday’s Reviews – Lego Batman (2017)

animated, animation, Batman, Channing Tatum, DC, films, fucking beautiful, fucking funny, Lego, Ralph Fiennes, review, silly, Will Arnett, Zach Galifianakis

Let’s be honest, Batman has something of a chequered history when it comes to live action adaptations of the comic book character. Aside from the supremely cheese but colourful television show of the 1960s and the best forgotten Joel Schumacher films of the late 90s, the Dark Knight has provided something of a literal interpretation. The films created by Tim Burton, Christopher Nolan and, Zack Synder are all part of that super cool, edgy and moody brand of superhero film. Batman has long since shed the image of his cartoony caper when Adam West was the man behind the cowl and has transformed himself into an angsty longer who most probably listens to MCR and muttering about people just don’t “get him”. So, when Lego Batman, voiced by the supremely funny Will Arnett, became the breakout star of the 2014 The Lego Movie nobody was sure how his solo outing would fit within Batman’s canon. Especially cause, as we know from the past, comic book fans are massive dicks about this kind of thing. A colourful, family friendly and comedy filled story is hardly on a even playing field with the politically heavy and mature narratives on display in Nolan’s trilogy. After all, the sillier that Batman became the more his fans complain. I mean are we still not ready to admit that there is something so gleefully bad about Batman and Robin that we kind of don’t completely hate it? No? Okay then.

I was excited about Lego Batman and I could never understand the people I met who weren’t. The signs were all there that it could end up being magnificent. The Lego Movie was great, Will Arnett is always super funny and Lego leads to so many possibilities. Like all the other Lego video games I’ve played over the years, the Lego Batman one were full of in-jokes and silliness that made my heart leap. The only thing that could go wrong are the fans. As we’ve seen before, there are certain Batman fans out there that take their shit very seriously. They don’t like the idea of someone taking the caped crusader and making a mockery out of him. Which, when you think about it, is kind of silly considering what he’s put himself through over the years. He is an ageing billionaire who dresses up at night and plays with expensive toys in the streets of Gotham. If that doesn’t deserve even some gentle ribbing then I don’t know what does.

And Lego Batman is full of references to the character’s past. There are multiple references to the comics as well as each film adaptation and the, now, infamous television series. We see flashbacks to previous costumes and mentions of iconic moments. We are in no doubt that this is supposed to be the same characters who, as he points out himself, has aged remarkably well since his first appearance. There will be people who will fan this continual fan service annoying and will become irritated by the endless in-jokes and self-parody. I, however, have always been one of those people that loves it when these Easter Eggs appear.

Of course, none of this means that Lego Batman doesn’t know who it’s main audience is. There are plenty of jokes for the older members of the audience who remember where Batman has come from. However, it is, at its heart, is a children’s film. It is filled with the same sort of action and adventure that the first one offered and it hammers home its major theme with exuberant force. That moral being “it’s better to face things together than alone”. After all, Batman is the solo hero who never plays well with others and avoids significant relationships. There is a beautiful moment, after he has once again saved Gotham, where Bruce Wayne sits alone in his mansion eating Lobster and watching Jerry Maguire. He doesn’t celebrate with her super-friends but microwaves his dinner and reminisces about his dead parents. He’s sad, wounded but has too great an ego to realise it.

Until he finds himself unwillingly taking on partners. When Commissioner Jim Gordon retires at the start of the film his daughter Barbara (Rosario Dawson) offers the masked vigilante a chance to work with the police instead of against them. He, unsurprisingly ignores this offer and, when his nemesis the Joker (Zach Galifianakis) hands himself and his evil colleagues over to the police, Batman, against Barbara’s better judgement, decides it is time to rid the world of Mr J once and for all. When sending him to the Phantom Zone only results in the escape of every famous villain of film, television and literature Batman must finally accept help to get things back to normal.

All the while Bruce must come to terms with his issues with family when he accidentally adopts an orphaned boy, Dick Grayson (Michael Cera). Alfred (Ralph Fiennes), his father figure and butler, thinks it will help him to accept the boy but Batman just uses him in the same way the Lego Star Wars games used young Anakin: to get into small spaces. The back and forth between Batman and Robin is fantastic and their relationship is a perfect melding of both sides of the coin. We have a sidekick who is straight out of the 60s TV show and a brooding hero that has more in common with Christian Bale than Adam West.

There are moments when Lego Batman loses its grip slightly and some jokes that just don’t land properly. There is an awful lot going on and a huge range of characters to contend with. A usual criticism of super hero movies is the final act when the big bad is suddenly joined by more big bads to up the tension. Here, we see every possible bad buy stepping forward to cause chaos and, whilst the end results is exciting as fuck, it proves to be a tricky thing to pull off. It doesn’t quite work on a visual basis and there are perhaps one too many irons in the fire. However, I feel as though it’s worth it for Eddie Izzard’s Lord Voldemort and Jermaine Clement’s Sauron. The final action piece is another of those moments that has so much fan-service to contend with that the story gets lost a little. It could have done with some refining.

Watching Lego Batman is not the same as watching The Lego Movie. But it’s not supposed to be. This isn’t a sequel and it has dropped several of the themes that made the previous film so refreshing and original. It is, instead, a celebration of an iconic character using the same beautiful animation and propensity for fun that it’s predecessor was so loved for. This is a Batman film like we’ve not see before. In a sea of endless bleakness where Bruce Wayne is concerned, this film puts him back in the fun zone and shows us that superheroes don’t need to take themselves so seriously, Who else but Will Arnett could get away with rapping his way to victory? Not Christian Bale that’s for sure. Unlike everything we’ve been programmed to believe, Lego Batman shows us, once and for all, that silliness is best and being broody and dark is not the best way to achieve anything. Wouldn’t you rather microwave Lobster for four instead of one? This isn’t the Batman we know but he is the one we deserve. And, after the abysmal Batman vs Superman, he’s also the one we desperately need right now.

The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

animation, Bill Murray, fucking beautiful, Ralph Fiennes, review, Tilda Swinton

I have to admit that if I had to pick one director as my spirit animal then I’d probably go for Wes Anderson. That’s not to say that I, hands down, consider him the best director of all time (we all know his had his fair share of misfires) but, out of everyone, it is his cinematic vision that always has the ability to make my heart leap with joy. I mean I still smile to myself when I remember the gorgeous stop-motion animation of Fantastic Mr Fox. He also happens to be a very divisive director and I often find myself having to justify my Anderson appreciation to one of my closest friends who often dismisses him as hipster pretentiousness. This is the same friend who has also spent years trying to convince me that her love of Ralph Fiennes is anything other than madness. To her dismay, I’ve never really got over his insistence on pronouncing his name “Rafe” or been able to forgive him for Maid in Manhattan. However, after watching his recent films, Coriolanusand Skyfall, I found myself coming round to her way of thinking (although his time as Magwitch in Great Expectations proved to be unintentionally hilarious – I mean that death scene) and if any man could prove her to be correct it’s Anderson.

For his eighth outing, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Wes Anderson is moving into the world of murder mystery and slapstick crime caper a la The Pink Panther. Taking inspiration from Austrian author Stefan Zweig, Anderson introduces us to the fictional European country of Zubrowka, home of the eponymous hotel. We experience the hotel through multiple timelines starting with the celebrated author (Tom Wilkinson) who remembers his meeting with the hotel’s owner (Abraham F. Murray) in the 1970s. The young author (Jude Law) inquires into how the mysterious Zero Moustafa took possession of the hotel and why, if he as rich as people say he is, he insists on sleeping in cramped employee quarters. Taking us even deeper, Moustafa reminisces about his time as lobby boy working for the much loved concierge M. Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes).

As we’ve come to expect from Anderson, The Grand Budapest Hotel is a pastel coloured, visual treat. With his beautifully imagined snowy vistas of Middle Europe, watching Anderson’s latest film is like indulging in a fucking huge ice cream sundae without feeling sick. Sitting on top of it all is Anderson’s crowning glory, The Grand Budapest Hotel itself: sitting atop this ice-cream mountain looking like the world’s best wedding cake.

Whilst a selection of the interior shots was filmed on location at an old department store in Germany, the wide shots of the hotel were gained thanks to a scale model. Like Anderson’s adaptation of Fantastic Mr Fox, this gives the film a greater sense of nostalgia and feels as though we’re all watching over the residents of a really intricate dollhouse. Let’s be honest though, when you watch a Wes Anderson film you are watching an adult child playing with the biggest toy set that he can get his hands on. He has such a deep-seated presence within his own film that everything comes together precisely and it’s always a joy to behold. Take those brief moments of animation which have a wonderful homely feel to them and sort of make it feel like Oliver Postgate got creative in a candy store. I could easily gush about how fucking beautiful this film is for hours because it’s just fantastic.

Although, there is a lot more to The Grand Budapest Hotel than the sweet candy coating: the story packs an emotional and dramatic punch. We are dealing with a Europe underneath the gathering storm clouds of invading Communism. The growing presence of the grey Nazi-like force with their “ZZ” emblazoned uniforms increases as the film progresses and is just one of Anderson’s reminders that life isn’t just a soft pastel joyous affair. Gustave himself is a contrast of perceived perfection whilst hiding his secret life as a gold-digging paramour to the hotel’s elderly and wealthy women. Gustave’s illicit affairs come back to haunt him after his greatest conquest (played by an almost unrecognisable Tilda Swinton) dies suddenly and leaves him a priceless painting. This sets in motion a plot filled with art theft, murder, love, prison breaks, clandestine meetings, military occupation and cake. It is a dark tale that whilst full of horrors and dangers is tinged with enough optimism that I left the cinema feeling a great serenity wash over me. Quite simply, The Grand Budapest Hotel is your typical Wes Anderson controlled mayhem in which even the moments of violence and danger are played out with polite society in mind: take for example the gunfight taking place towards the end of the film.
Any of you out there playing Wes Anderson Bingo or whatever will no doubt be overjoyed to discover that, added to The Grand Budapest Hotel’s already fairly full list of the director’s staples, the film contains a whole host of Anderson collaborators. The film offers brief appearances from regulars, likes Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman, Owen Wilson and Willem Defoe, as well as some from the newer members of his film family, Edward Norton, Jeff Goldblum and Adrien Brody. Some of these are fleeting and used primarily to keep to long standing tradition but, as with all customs, there is some comfort to be found in their presence.
It also helps that the supporting characters are horribly (or fantastically I suppose) overshadowed by the central figure of Gustave, played to great effect by Ralph Fiennes. Fiennes hasn’t pulled off this great a comic turn since his part in 2008’s black comedy In Bruges. Fiennes clearly relishes the challenge of the concierge’s rapid-fire dialogue that flawlessly moves between sophisticated, smarmy and obscene. It is the definition of a pitch-perfect performance and everything is perfectly executed.  With his stiff and angular mannerisms, his straight back and perfectly groomed facial hair, M. Gustave is the perfect figurine to roam through Anderson’s dollhouse.
Whilst watching, there never comes a moment when you are worried that Anderson has lost control of his film. Everything is planned out with utter precision and attention to detail. All parts of the films are planned out to aid the storytelling and create a fully imagined world full of 3-dimensional characters. It may seem like a small thing but Anderson even goes so far as to differentiate between the three different timelines by utilising three different aspect ratios: 1.33, 1.85, and 2.35:1 respectively. Frankly, it’s brilliant and rather exciting film making. Whatever your thoughts on his style, there can be no denying that Anderson is a director who knows how to use his camera, particularly for comic effect. His preference for theatrical framing devices and Kubrick-esque love for symmetry is as much on show here as it ever is. His signature long tracking shots and comic zooms (often immediately panned straight back) are present throughout. Although, you never get the feeling that these things are simply par for the course because everything has a purpose. There is no aspect of The Grand Budapest Hotel that feels redundant.
I’ll be honest with you, I loved The Grand Budapest Hotel from the moment I saw the opening titles and that oh-so-Anderson font (despite the fact that he once again avoided his classic Futura). I went to see this with a friend who had little experience of Anderson’s films so I was worried my over enthusiasm would oversell it. However, my fears were soon forgotten: this is by far Anderson’s most accessible and funniest film in years. It also happens to be the most Wes Anderson film that the director has made for a long time.

Coriolanus (2011)

Brian Cox, drama, Gerard Butler, Ralph Fiennes, Shakespeare, tragedy, Vanessa Redgrave, war

Ralph Fiennes has a deep history with this particular Shakespeare play after his much appraised portrayal of the title character about ten years ago. With the help of screenwriter John Logan (GladiatorHugo) and cinematographer Barry Ackroyd (The Hurt Locker), Fiennes offers us an exciting modern adaptation of the little known and little loved play. Modern adaptations of Shakespeare are not uncommon but there is always the danger that the connection between the plot and the updated setting will start to wear a little thin. For example, I was lucky enough to see Michael Sheen in Hamlet at the Young Vic last Christmas. Not only was he amazingly talented, mesmerising and rather beautiful (in a crazy way) but the adaptation itself was pretty exciting. The action was set in a mental asylum where Claudius and Gertrude were medical staff and Hamlet their patient. This worked incredibly well until the plot demanded that the staff organise a deadly fencing match between their patients. Obviously there needs to be a suspension of disbelief but the scene did stand out as a bit much. When plays deal with plots set in the Elizabethan period there is bound to be a certain amount that doesn’t quite translate. The trick is making sure these elements blend in enough that it doesn’t really matter.

For Fiennes’ masterpiece, the centurions of Ancient Rome have been replaced with modern soldiers armed with the AK-47s and running the risk of getting caught up in impressive explosions.  Logan’s script cuts down the lengthy tragedy down to two hours of classic drama and heart-stopping action. It is a film that shows the necessary appreciation to its source whilst avoiding the potential trap of a straightforward and traditional production. Logan includes as much of Shakespeare’s language as is possible and all of the key scenes have been given due care and attention. Filmed on location in Belgrade, the costumes, props and cinematography could be taken straight out of most modern war films. Gone is the city of Rome and the action is placed in a modern Balkan like state. The political focus of this play fits well into the turbulent times we have all seen in the past few years. In Logan’s skilled hands and with a certain amount of help from modern scenes we are all familiar with (smart-phones, internet streamed assassinations and satellite news) this Ancient Roman tragedy becomes a modern tale of the struggle for power and respect. For my part, I enjoyed the way that certain conversations that organically would have taken place between Roman citizens were transformed into news items and interviews with experts. I can understand the reviewers who found it a little too tongue-in-cheek but I relished the cameo by Channel 4 news presenter Jon Snow and firmly believe he should do all news items in Shakespearean language from now on.  It is amazing how easily the play fits into this setting and it only goes to remind us how relevant the issues Shakespeare raised 400 years ago. The place which calls itself Rome could indeed be anywhere and the action sequences and rolling news could well have been seen on any news channel in recent times. 

Thanks mostly to the fantastic work of cinematographer Barry Ackroyd who most recently worked on the Oscar-winning film The Hurt Locker. As expected from Ackroyd he places the camera in the centre of the action creating scenes of shockingly realistic and immediate brutality. The action sequences themselves firmly place the play within a modern setting. Ackroyd is the main man when it comes to putting the shaky cam in the thick of the action. It sets us up for some exquisite visuals and effects as Coriolanus and his men advance on their enemy. Shakespeare’s own Rambo dispenses his brutal punishment on those who are posing a threat to his city and he walks out to meet his adversary covered in their blood. Fiennes has certainly ensured that, visually at least, his soldier is the centre of attention. In this modern setting Fiennes has transformed the Roman soldier into a Nineties Balkan warlord like figure. There is a striking image towards the end of the film when Coriolanus, with his shaved head and army fatigues, accepts his wife and mother whilst slouching in his chair surrounded by gunmen with his legs splayed. It is the ultimate sign of his manly arrogance and sums up his actions throughout the film. He is a soldier, a killer and he demands the respect that comes with it. Fiennes has never been one of my favourite actors but he shows a certain amount of restraint here but plays the title character with his usual intensity.
One of Fiennes’ greatest decisions was to surround himself with a supporting cast made up of truly wonderful actors. Despite placing himself in the key role, Fiennes takes a step back and allows seasoned performers like Vanessa Redgrave and Brian Cox do what they do best. Unsurprisingly, Redgrave gives us the standout performance of the entire film. In a case of life imitating art, this is a film that is dominated by Redgrave’s Volumnia, in much the same way as Coriolanus himself is ruled by his overbearing and belligerent mother. It is the scenes where we see mother and son together that really bring this film to life. The pair both flourish in their roles and Fiennes is able to allow Redgrave to show us all why she’s one of our finest actresses. Her performance is so mind-blowing that, at times, it would be possible to believe that Shakespeare first wrote the role with her in mind. In a more understated role, the ever reliable Brian Cox plays silver-tongued politician Menenius and gives us another exceptional performance. He doesn’t draw attention in the way that Redgrave is able to thanks to the dominance of her character but he is on hand to offer us a careful and considered performance.
To anyone who went into this film doubting Gerard Butler’s Shakespearean potential: shame on you. Yes, Butler has made some questionable, romantic-comedy based choices recently and is more of an action hero than a tragic one but he is no stranger to Shakespeare and this play in particular (having been cast in Steven Berkoff’s 1996 stage production). Taking up the role of Coriolanus’ adversary Tullus Aufidius, he gives a confident performance. Shakespeare’s words seem natural coming from the mouth of a man who is more used to playing action men of much fewer words. He plays the brutal Aufidius as a dangerous savage and worthy opponent to the mighty Coriolanus. The men have met each other in battle several times and the fact that he has never manage to best the General is a constant source of shame and anger for the beardy and brooding Aufidius. Fiennes’ casting decision may have been slightly bizarre considering the wealth of Shakespearean actors out there but, after his first dramatic scene, there is little doubt that Butler is the perfect actor to update the Volscian commander into a modern action man that would sit just as easily in the type of film Butler may usually be seen in.
What Fiennes has attempted to do with his directorial debut is create an adaptation of a play he is undoubtedly passionate about that will resonate with ardent Shakespeare fans and those who would normally find the Bard a little over facing. In some respects that is my major problem with the film. It doesn’t seem very complete or self-assured. The action elements and the Shakespearean dialogue fight for supremacy and often find themselves at odds with one another. Logan has obviously pared back the play to make it more cinema friendly but I can’t help but feel that more should have been made of Shakespeare’s words. Unfortunately, this film has not been handled correctly. The visual aspects, whilst stunning, don’t always work in harmony with some of the issues that are at the heart of the original play. Coriolanus may have contained the greatest number of battles of all the plays, but violence and war were never the major focus. This is a play about the character himself and the problems of mixing military might with political power. The greatest moments come when Coriolanus comes face to face with his mother and her plans for his future in politics. It is the politics of the family and the emotional and psychological elements that demand the floor but they are often partly overshadowed by the generic action movie imagery. What we have is a fitting debut in the director’s chair for Ralph Fiennes but it is far from being a perfect production. 

Skyfall (2012)

Ben Wishaw, Bond, Daniel Craig, England, fucking beautiful, Judi Dench, Ralph Fiennes, review, Sam Mendes, spy

Daniel Craig’s time as James Bond has certainly had its ups and downs since the announcement that he would take over from previous incarnation Pierce Brosnan. Although, I think it’s safe to say that, despite what you may have thought about Quantum, Craig has shown that he has more than enough skill to take on the challenge of such a renowned figure. This was a Bond for the modern age; a Bond who takes on the physical challenges expected of a super spy whilst still looking every part the traditional English gent. That was the greatest thing about Casino Royale, we had a film that took a character rooted in the British tradition of stiff upper lipped patriotism and turned him into a gritty action hero with just enough heart. Casino Royale changed the rules for 007 and remains the best film of the series. This has, of course, meant that all future films will be compared to it. Something that didn’t go well for the disappointing and much criticised Quantum of Solace and something that will mean that Skyfall won’t get the full appreciation that it deserves. It is no Casino Royale but the latest offering is the perfect celebration of 50 years of Ian Fleming’s literary construction.

For this is the ultimate purpose of Skyfall; respecting the past whilst accepting that times have changed and Mr Bond has had to move with them. The film makes several key nods to the Bonds of the past whilst maintaining that he is still the same, dark, moody and damaged super spy that we are used to nowadays. In keeping with the current craze of Nolanesque sensitive and broody heroes, Bond has a certain amount soul searching to do in between the Jason Bourne style stunts. Forget Connery, Moore and co., this is the James Bond for the 21st century. The storyline itself shows a deeper awareness of current events as it leads us through strands based around cyber-terrorism, the theft of sensitive data and government inquires. Providing the perfect opportunity to introduce the 007 to his new quartermaster and techno wizkid, played by the always brilliant Ben Whisaw. Gone are the amazing but nevertheless rather quaint gadgets of old; no more exploding pens, jet packs and submarine cars for our slick, modern spy. No, we find ourselves in a simpler, more realistic world where it is computer hacking, a personalised gun and a radio that will save the day.

Despite this focus on a more stately, up-to-date action man, Mendes goes through the motions and offers the audience all of the traits that we have come to expect from a half-decent Bond film. The director obediently ensures that the credits sequence, the sexy ladies, the cars, the exotic locations, the gadgets and the ruthless villain all get their moment. Unfortunately a lot of it is done rather half-heartedly and simply to keep the fans  happy. Particularly in regards to the token Bond girls, namely Eve (Naomie Harris) Bond’s flirty MI6 colleague and femme fatale Sévérine (Bérénice Marlohe), who come across as underwhelming and pretty unnecessary. I don’t want to find myself in a feminist anti-Bond girl rant because, frankly, I feel like a Bond film without at least one sexy foil slightly misses the point of Fleming’s original creation. However, in this film it seems that there should only have been one leading lady in Bond’s adventure. For the past seven Bond films, Judi Dench’s M has been standing on the outskirts disapproving of the eponymous spy’s trigger-happy behaviour and his eye for the ladies. It was about time that she got her moment in the spotlight and given the chance to show what she could be. Forget the scantily clad ladies that have graced our screens and James’ bed for the past 50 years, it is M who is the quintessential Bond girl. She is the feisty, strong and ruthless matriarch with a string of men eager to lay down their lives at her say so. Quite simply, M is the Queen of the Bond girls.

Once the necessities are out of the way the film is able to really get going. Skyfall is the first Bond film to really make use of home soil and the set pieces in London and the Scottish highlands are a wonder. It is all very familiar and shows the real concerns for 007. In Silva’s plot for revenge it is the innocent London commuters that get caught up in the action. Bond must save the country he has spent 50 years serving whilst his boss must justify the department she heads up. Writers Neal Purvic, Robert Wade and John Logan provide us with all of the in-jokes and references that you would expect from this celebratory production but present us with a fresh and engrossing story that shows us the franchise still has something to offer its fans.

Although, there is a sense that the film has been too influenced by the new breed of superhero and the latest Hollywood trend of exploring the emotional damage at the heart of every half decent struggle with evil. I must admit that my heart sank when there was mention of the tragedy surrounding Bond’s parents as I was sure a Nolanesque tale of a damaged orphan dealing with his loneliness was looming. Thankfully these references are short-lived and don’t distract from the most important feature. Skyfall flirts with a more introspective and emotional attitude but there is no doubt that this is an all action flick. Sam Mendes was brought in to bring back a certain amount of credibility to the franchise after the much criticised Quantum of Solace and in the pre-credits sequence he certainly proves that when you place a train-top fist-fight in his lap he can deal with it. Mendes plays down the Bourne style action that created such disappointment in Quantum but still provides us with several memorable sequences of high-octane drama. I’m sure that pretty much every review you may have read about Skyfall will have made at least a passing reference to the amazingly talented cinematographer, Roger Deakins. After their previous collaborations on Jarhead and Revolutionary Road, Mendes and Deakins join forces once more and offer the audience some of the best visuals of the entire series. Skyfall is, quite simply, a feast for the eyes. You need only take another look at the moments in China to see how good these two are; scenes such as the one that takes place in an office building where a gorgeous light show accompanies an assassination, show us that action films can also be beautiful films.

Of course, the film isn’t just a success thanks to the two key figures behind the scenes. It is thanks to the awesome trio that lead the plot and their great interactions that really make Skyfall such a triumph. We are presented with an obviously older and more careworn 007 who has clearly been through quite a lot since his double 0 debut in Casino Royale. Craig’s Bond is as harried, stern and deadly as ever and he leads us through Bond’s beardy, physically and emotionally damaged period better than Bronhom ever did in Die Another Day. He has something to prove to himself and, most importantly, to his superiors. He not only has to save everyone but show that his boss’ continued faith in his skills isn’t as ill-advised at it may seem. It was about time that more weight was given to the turbulent relationship between Bond and M and Judi Dench and Daniel Craig have such a great chemistry that it’s a shame that they couldn’t have shared even more screen time. The relationship has been one of respect, loyalty, subtextual (and fairly oedipal) eroticism, and, to steal a phrase from Peter Bradshaw, “smouldering resentment”. M demands everything from her agents but is more than happy to risk their safety and their lives to succeed. It is something that Bond has, so far, not questioned and has enabled him to enjoy pushing their bond to its limits. That is until a rather terrifying face from M’s past returns to force her into atoning for her sins.

That face belongs to a blonde and creepily eccentric Javier Bardem who presents us with one of the most dangerous yet enigmatic Bond villains of all time. In line with the rest of the film’s visuals, Silva is a sight to behold. I have seen comparisons with Julian Assange, Larry Grayson and Jimmy Saville. Whatever you’re view, there is no denying that Silva looks unsettling thanks to his intensely blond appearance. Silva is the Mr Hyde to Bond’s Dr Jekyl; they both share the skills of a super spy and share a rollercoaster relationship with M. Bardem’s villain is sensational. From his utterly captivating entrance, spouting his parable about rats in a barrel, onwards he gets under Bond’s skin and forces him to question the foundations of his whole life. Even his love of women thanks to an eerily flirty encounter whilst Bond is tied to a chair. It is the interactions of these three figures and an excellent supporting cast that drive the action and intense storyline of the 23rd outing of Fleming’s hero.

There is little doubt that Skyfall is a great Bond film; it more than makes up for the previous film and allows both old and new fans to see how, important, enjoyable and exciting the last 50 years have been. It is not perfect but Mendes does a remarkable job to mix the old with the new and make a bloody good film at the same time. His turn is sombre, thoughtful and incredibly brash all at the same time. It takes some time to get going but once the obligatory Bond guidelines have been adhered to the film really opens up. We are taken on a wild adventure through Turkey, China and London and end up in an explosive finale in the remote Scottish Highlands. The lead actors and their supporting cast (with a vital but short appearance from the outstanding Albert Finney) we have a Bond film worthy of the character and the fans. With its slight emotional core adding to, and not distracting from, the action, Skyfall just goes to show there is still a place for the likes of James Bond in our society.