When MGM unveiled Daniel Craig as the next James Bond in 2005, I was still nursing a broken heart about the ousting of my beloved Pierce Brosnan. There was no way Craig could be a good Bond. Much too blond, I thought.
"Casino Royale" rebooted the Bond series, with its parkour-laden opening, back-to-basics approach, a more physical hero, and the iconic scene with Craig in swim trunks.
… oh, sorry. Got a little distracted there.
Until "Casino Royale," I hadn't realized how much the Bond franchise had practically become a parody of itself. Austin Powers wasn't needed to poke fun at the series, as the Bond movies were ludicrously unbelievable on their own.
"Skyfall" is similarly pared down, and that's a positive asset. We start off with Bond and Eve (Naomie Harris) in Turkey pursuing a stolen hard drive that contains the names of agents embedded within terrorist organizations. Bond and the thief, Patrice, are duking it out atop a moving train. When faced with the choice between possibly harming Bond and letting the hard drive fall into enemy hands, M (Judi Dench) orders Eve to take the shot. She misses, and Bond is shot and presumed killed. A few months later, M's computer is hacked, the MI6 headquarters are bombed, and the names of the undercover agents are being released (via YouTube, naturally). Bond, enjoying retired life on a sun-soaked beach, returns to London to track down the person responsible for the treachery and bring him to justice.
In a way, "Skyfall" feels like a reboot of the rebooted series. It's a leaner, meaner, more modern Bond for modern times. Almost everything in the film seems like it could've been ripped from real-world headlines, such as the naming of undercover operatives. It's a good action film, but your expectations will determine whether you'll consider it to be a good Bond film.
Generally, you expect two things from a Bond flick: gadgets and memorable scenes of hot babes. Since the reboot, the gadgets haven't been as impressive or outlandish. He gets a gun that is programmed to his grip and a radio that transmits his location. "A gun and a radio. Not exactly Christmas, is it?" he quips. The only Bond nod is the vintage Aston Martin DB5, which features machine guns and an ejection seat. The vehicle is a very appropriate way of celebrating the Bond franchise's 50th anniversary. Séverine (Bérénice Marlohe) is beautiful and statuesque, but no Bond girl scenes stood out. (See: Dr. No.) Without these two vital elements, "Skyfall" could be any spy film, and you could almost swap out Bond for Jason Bourne.
Almost. While Bond has long been the star pupil of MI6 and it's implied that he is M's favorite agent, the rapport between Bond and M is brilliant in "Skyfall." There are notes of tenderness, trust and respect. I love Brosnan, but he could not have provided us with this Bond.
Perhaps it's because both Bond and M are getting … more mature. Craig was worried about the hiatus caused by MGM's Chapter 11 filing because he felt that he's starting to get too old for the physical demands of the role, and that wariness has seeped into the script. Throughout the film, Bond is reminded that he's no spring chicken. He has trouble passing the physical to be cleared for active duty, and he's told that being an MI6 agent is a young man's job. When he's introduced to young whippersnapper Q (Ben Whishaw), Bond feels the age in his bones.
Silva (Javier Bardem) is a creepy antagonist. As seems to be his MO, Bardem's hair is vile, and his performance vacillates from being intensely disquieting to eliciting chuckles from the screening audience. Most of the time, I found him to be more annoying than evil, and I wished Bond would hurry up and squash him like a bug on a windshield. Dench is superb as always, flatly refusing the order to retire and bravely defending her work to detractors while Silva is closing in.
The director, Sam Mendes, has primarily done slower, more character-driven and cerebral fare — or movies that are at least perceived as such ("American Beauty," "Jarhead," "Revolutionary Road"). He's done more stage directing than film, and given that this is his first action movie, "Skyfall" is a remarkable effort. The beginning action sequence is breathtaking, and the fiery conclusion ends the movie on a memorable note. What's in between may be suspenseful, but it doesn't provide much in the way of action. There are explosions and gunshots and fights carefully peppered throughout to make sure that you're still awake, but the middle of the movie certainly doesn't hold a candle to the rest of the film.
Critics have been praising "Skyfall" as the best Bond yet, but "Casino Royale" remains my favorite. (Sorry, Pierce.) Even though I found "Skyfall" to be the least Bond-like Bond movie, it's an excellent action film, and there's a dizzying number of Oscar winners in the cast. Action film fans and Bond die-hards should certainly queue up for "Skyfall." No footage was filmed in IMAX, though, so you should purchase a regular ticket and skip the surcharge.
"Skyfall" is rated PG-13 and has a running time of 2 hours and 23 minutes. It is showing in 2-D and IMAX.
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