KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 1 — 007 is already running after the bad guy when we enter the theatre. So used to movies starting late in local cinemas, plagued as they are by a near-endless series of mobile phone and carbonated soft drinks advertisements, we had decided to take our time strolling to a morning showing of Skyfall, the 23rd and latest Bond film.
We don’t miss much, of course. If you have seen one Bond chase scene, you’ve seen them all right? A helter-skelter caper cutting across a distant, exotic locale (preferably an outdoor market with a profusion of fruit stalls so the rolling of oranges and melons can ensue), a few bloody scrapes, and our agent gets his guy. Correct?
It's less than 20 minutes in when we get our first surprise and a sign that this will not be your typical Bond film. Indeed, this rougher-around-the-edges 007 (as played thrice now by Daniel Craig) goes through a plethora of rather un-Bond-like emotions - depression, despair, failure and a shattering loss of confidence.
Has new director Sam Mendes (he of Academy Award-winning American Beauty fame) taken the series too far into the Modern Age? After all, when you update Q the quintessential silver-maned gentleman in a white lab coat with a messy-haired and slightly dysfunctional Gen Y-er who still has spots on his face, as Bond wryly points out, one could be forgiven for being just a little worried.
Age is also catching up with Bond. Isn’t the MI6 agent supposed to be forever agile and limber (in and out of the bedroom)? In Skyfall, he huffs and puffs, grunts like he’s about to have a cardiac arrest, and appears to be trying to drink and pop enough pills to send himself into an early grave. This Bond seems almost all too – dare we say it – human?
His boss M is not spared either as her new supervisor Gareth Mallory (a quietly-assured Ralph Fiennes) gently advises her to consider (in his opinion) a long overdue retirement. The feisty master-of-spies (as played by the redoubtable Dame Judi Dench) isn't about to go without a fight though, and that’s when the movie really starts kicking in for us.
The truth is, despite all the cosmetic changes or threats of change, Skyfall is probably the most authentic Bond in years (one could argue decades even) and a true return to the basics of what makes Bond Bond. This is a 007 who doesn’t depend on a ridiculously hi-tech (and far-fetched) arsenal of gadgets and weapons; the new Q (a nerdy-cocky and ultimately very winning Ben Whishaw) offers our agent only a revolver and a radio locator but they work a charm when used in a timely and strategic manner.
Even the villain seems more Bond-ian than ever, one we are sure we will actually remember and relish after we leave the theatre. During screenings of the Skyfall trailer some months ago, Javier Bardem as the cyber-terrorist Raoul Silva looked absolutely garish and comical with his bleached-blonde mop and maniacal grin. Within the space of the actual film though, Silva comes alive as a man who thinks he has been betrayed and – horrors of horrors – we actually empathise with him.
Towards the second half of the movie, we leave the usual glamorous foreign locations (Shanghai and Macau being a couple of nods to China’s growing global domination) for the best Great Britain has to offer – from the cold, grey skies of London to, well, the cold, grey skies of Scotland. Instead of the latest model from one of the German automobile manufacturers, a true vintage specimen reappears as Bond’s wheels of choice. We clap our hands quietly in our seats.
Skyfall is a wonderful movie experience, from the start to finish; not only a good Bond film, but a good film, period. Does this come from having so many Oscar winners in one movie? Perhaps. But we rather suspect it has more to do with the producers finally discovering a crew who obstinately believes in celebrating the best of the old ways, and having the guts to carry it off.
We are impressed; more, we are delighted and entertained.
When the lights come down, we are clapping, audibly this time, and cheering. Before taking our seats more than two hours earlier, we were merely catching another show. Now we have come to realise our deep love and appreciation of all things Bond, and been fortunate enough to share this experience together.
Has it been 50 years of Agent 007 already? We can’t wait for more. Till the next time we hear these words, “Bond. James Bond.”
Directed by Sam Mendes. Produced by Michael G. Wilson & Barbara Broccoli. Screenplay by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade & John Logan. Based on James Bond by Ian Fleming. Starring Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Javier Bardem, Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris, Bérénice Marlohe, Ben Whishaw and Albert Finney. Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer & Columbia Pictures.
* Kenny wonders how many 50 year olds are "Bond babies", wink, wink. Read more nerve-wracking stories of dashing adventure at http://lifeforbeginners.com