Bond is back. But this time he’s flat. In Skyfall, there the latest resurrection of super British spy James Bond by director Sam Mendes, a shocking fate awaits the ageless M, Bond hints at a bisexual encounter, MI6 headquarters gets blown up and yet in the midst of all this, the 143-minute-long film feels like a sedative before sleep.
Shocking for a Bond offering, which in this case could use a little shaking just like his martini.
The film opens in the beautifully bustling yet lyrical landscape of Istanbul with guess what? The Chase! Bond (Daniel Craig) uses a Land Rover, a dirt racer bike, an earthmover and train tops to chase down a professional assassin who has just killed a few MI6 agents and has with him a hard-drive containing identities of NATO spies.
The chase ends in an unexpected twist after Bond grapples with the assassin atop a train and plummets off a bridge into a water-logged gorge. (One of the places short-listed for this sequence was the Dudhsagar waterfalls in Goa, where a railway line cuts across the face of the falls. Alas, we didn’t get it.)
Yes, the film has its moments. Yes, the action was good. But hey, we’ve seen Daniel Craig doing the chase before. And this one’s no patch on the rough and tumble scamper after the bombmaker in Madagascar in Casino Royale (2006).
Now comes the tedious part.
Presumed dead by the MI6, Bond survives. How, we aren’t told. But he seems happy to be back, shacking up with a brunette, drinking for wagers with scorpions on his hand and even growing a stubble of disenchantment, until an attack knocks out the walls of the MI6 and the wits of Britain’s intelligence apparatus. Bond comes back to work, only to find M (Judi Dench) under pressure to retire from her political boss Mallory (Ralph Fiennes).
The trail of the missing hard drive takes Bond to Shanghai to track down the same assassin, even as the slick neon lights of the Chinese skyscrapers battle in the background for attention.
But not before leading Bond to Macau.
At a casino there, in a bizarre sequence, a Komodo dragon in a dry moat below the gaming floor poaches a toughie who has been slugging it out with Bond.
But wait, there’s someone else who outdoes the ridiculous Komodo dragon act: Javier Bardem, who plays the evil cyber genius villain Silva, a former MI6 boy gone rogue.
The master actor, with his wavy hair, straight-combed blonde, a touch of the effeminate, fails to convince as the nucleus of cyber-evil in Skyfall, out to get M for having betrayed him in his days as an agent.
At best, Bardem looks silly and at worst, an actor not exactly in touch with his bad side, even when he is playing the villain.
From an island he owns in China, Silva controls an empire built around hacking and is capable of outwitting even the best brains at the MI6’s Q branch, where, incidentally, the Quarter-Master this time round is a geeky kid who believes in securing the world through a feverish flurry of fingers on keyboards rather than an exploding pen.
The Silva hunt is followed by the old-world stockade sequence, where M puts herself out as bait in Skyfall, a remote estate in the moors where Bond had been raised until his parents died. Here, in the stone-block mansion away from cyber-infected gadgets, they wait for Bardem, whose men arrive to wreak havoc.
Apart from the chase, there are few memorable moments in the film. In the attempt to show Bond as a spy with feelings who needs pensive moments to sort himself out, the film robs itself of the swiftness that has been a Bond hallmark. One could have still empathized with Bond and the conflict in his core had there been a better and more distinctively layered script to make up for the lack of pace.
Even the classic crisp dialogues and repartees Bond’s characters are famous for are too infrequent in Skyfall. Far fewer than the damsels he beds.