Skyfall showed to a packed audience at the Leeds Showcase yesterday evening, despite the fact that it had already been part of that cinema’s programme for several weeks. It was a very mixed audience, too: it included groups of teenagers, canoodling couples, families with children, pensioners and singletons, indicating, I suppose, that MGM knows how to draw support from across the whole demographic spectrum (as it exists in Leeds, anyway).
It’s a film impossible to critique sensibly; it contains an example of just about every pulse-raising set-piece from all the thrillers ever made: the car chase, the train chase, the helicopter chase (even something of Apocalypse Now here), the chase along subterranean passages, the fight in a tall building, the fight in a casino complete with man-eating dragons, the fight in a deserted city, the denouement in a spooky old ancestral mansion which is blown up in the process. The smaller cameos are equally classic: there is Bond’s walk along an exotic beach while he recovers from his wounds, his effortless entry into M’s high-security flat where he waits to surprise her with a visit, his uneasy relationship with the geek who acts as his ‘quartermaster’, his dalliance with two beautiful women (though the sex scenes are kept to a minimum – probably to secure the 12A rating), one of whom – she turns out to be Miss Moneypenny – even shaves him with a cut-throat razor; and all the time Ralph Fiennes is hovering in the background, waiting to take over from Judi Dench.
Traditional Bond bons mots and motifs are scattered throughout, though subtly: ‘The name’s Bond, James Bond’ etc. He never actually says ‘shaken, not stirred’, but looks on approvingly as this action is taking place. The good old Aston Martin puts in an immaculate appearance, though sadly (I’m sure it was ‘only a model’!) is finally destroyed by the villain – who can smile and smile and be a villain if ever actor could. I should have liked a little more irony here – the opportunity was ripe for it – but perhaps this was expecting too much.
So, am I describing a giant cliché? Surprisingly, the answer is no. The film succeeds in putting all this thriller stock-in-trade together in such a way that it impresses, if not with its originality, then with its superb virtuosity. It is a film that achieves perfection down to the last detail, from the quality of the acting (smiling villain notwithstanding) to the impeccably-choreographed fight scenes and the eye-popping special effects. However, it is because of the latter that I don’t think it will stand the test of time to become a great classic. Special effects improve constantly, with the result that what impresses today tends to seem hopelessly jejune tomorrow – think of Jurassic Park or Titanic. However, if what you’re looking for is a thrilling night out with the bonus of keeping your deeper thoughts well off-limits, this is your film.
As a footnote, may I conjecture that I must be the only woman in the country who doesn’t find Daniel Craig attractive. (I’ve never fancied Colin Firth, either!)