Skyfall, review

I know what you must be thinking – ‘Bit late on the Skyfall wagon, aren’t you?‘, well forgive me but Bond and I have never managed a connection. However, Christmas Eve came along with the ITV premiere of the latest 007 affair and I gave it a go. And loved it. And then re-watched it. And loved it some more. Many are of the consensus that Skyfall, the twenty-third film in the most successful franchise in movie history, is the best Bond film ever made – and I think they might just be right. Sam Mendes has re-worked the series and given James a disheveled grit and M a vulnerability that viewers have never seen before. Daniel Craig continues to prove why he is the best actor for the job and Javier Bardem is quite possibly the most malevolent villain to date. Rather than a review, this may turn into a fan article – apologies.

We join the MI6 in a vulnerable state – undercover agents are being targeted by a team of sadistic terrorists (led by Bardem’s Silva) and it falls on Bond (like it always does) to track down and take out these assassins. While all this is going on the audience are introduced to three key characters, all of whom were of integral importance to older films in the franchise. Naomie Harris is on as Eve Moneypenny, relative newcomer Ben Whishaw makes a fantastic turn as tech genius Q and Ralph Fiennes finishes the trio as Gareth Mallory, a role which I will leave up to you to understand. This ensemble work charismatically together to finally make James Bond a truly contemporary, and riveting, narrative which sparks with originality.

daniel craig as james bond in skyfall

daniel craig as james bond in skyfall

Why is this so different? It really depends on a number of elements, and it is these elements that made the naysayers of 007 finally stand up, applaud, and treat James Bond as a serious picture. The first of these elements is the adult nature that Mendes has adopted while taking on the position of director; there is a fair amount of violence, with one scene genuinely looking as though it should belong in a 15 rated film. The sexual chemistry between Moneypenny and Bond is electric and just proves you don’t need a sex scene to make a statement. Beyond this obvious shift in tone is the strength in Mendes as a director aware of the weaknesses that the majority of the more recent Bond films carried with them – the cliched bar scenes, the victorious ending, the corny lines that were featured time and again – they are all gone and replaced by an array of visceral scenes that bring a genuine quirk to this somewhat stilted series of films.

Many will disagree with my lack of enthusiasm for 007 and the twenty three films that have exploited the agent and his misgivings, but everyone will agree that Skyfall is a film to be championed, for it breaths life back into a tired man. While the narrative is pretty formulaic and follows Todorov’s theory, the 143 minutes (an incredibly long running time for what is essentially an action film) are accompanied by neon-infused cinematography (OK, only one scene but its pretty jaw-dropping), surreal stunts that make you wish you could do that, and an overhanging sense of impending doom which Bardem should be thanked for. Oh, and this is a particularly poignant feature, for audiences say goodbye to the beloved Judi Dench who, lets be honest, could act in her sleep and win an Oscar.

Spectre, the twenty fourth adventure, is currently in the works and with Mendes back on board we can all start excitedly marking the days until its release.

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, review

Peter Jackson’s final chapter of J R. R. Tolkien’s fantastical Middle Earth came crashing into cinemas in December with a forty-minute battle scene, CGI Orks and a lot of over-the-top action that felt better placed in a B-movie. While there are certainly moments to be heralded, the fact that this third film is the last part in a six movie franchise is something to be relished. Jackson, we love you, but it’s time to hangup that Middle Earth cloak. Beginning with one hell of an opening – get set for a brief return from that dastardly Smaug and some awe-inspiring graphics that see Lake Town go up in smoke – The Battle of the Five Armies feels like one overly-long 144 minute scene. While An Unexpected Journey and Desolation managed to successfully combine the stories of a set of characters, this final effort feels messy with the Elves, Dwarves and residents of Lake Town all coming together for one last battle (which was not even described in Tolkien’s novel). For many, the source material does not sufficiently lend to three films – and that point is verified here.

Luke Evans takes centre stage as Bard The Bowman, newly elected as leader of the people, Bard is tasked with finding a new home for his family and wants his Town’s fair share of the gold over at good old Thorin‘s hangout on The Lonely Mountain. Meanwhile, Legolas (looking as youthful as ever), Tauriel (Evangeline Lily is an absolute triumph here) and co are coming to join the fight and equally want to reclaim what’s there’s. Thorin refuses to give in to them due to his thirst for the Arken Stone which our favourite Hobbit Bilbo has acquired. It’s a simple enough tale but is unfortunately over-taken by Jackson’s apparent need for constant action. Yes, you are right, I was a little disappointed.

promotional still for the hobbit: the battle of the five armies

promotional still for the hobbit: the battle of the five armies

There are certainly loveable attributes to Jackson’s film, the main few being the arrival of Billy Connolly as Dwarfe Dain, the death of Smaug is a spectacular visceral opening which has to be seen on the big screen, and the ending is suitably whimsical (it means more because viewers are aware of the Ring’s future). The biggest bug bare for me was the unrealistic CGI which took play during some gravity-defying battle moments that were so surreal it was almost funny. The Lord of the Rings looked stunning and how, eleven years after the last, the quality of graphics has somehow taken a dive, is surprising and leaves one with a feeling of dismay – the Orc’s don’t even have their streak of pure terror that can always be seen in previous ventures.

Middle Earth, and more importantly Tolkien, will remain in the hearts of cinema-goers and book lovers for decades to come. Peter Jackson created something memorable with LOTR, and so nearly with this last series of films too. Ian Mckellen seen for the last time here as Gandalf is as loveable as he has ever been, and adds a wonderful humour when appropriate. With too many corny moments and not enough originality to make it stand out, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies is the weakest of the trilogy which doesn’t allow Martin Freeman enough space to flourish.

More of a fairytale jaunt then that of the grit that LOTR previously carried with it, this final offering is not a masterclass in blockbuster cinema but easy-watching that ties up the story of Bilbo, Thorin and his band of Dwarves simply enough.