Thursday, November 15, 2012

Skyfall / ***½ (PG-13)

James Bond: Daniel Craig
M: Judi Dench
Silva: Javier Bardem
Gareth Mallory: Ralph Fiennes
Eve: Naomie Harris
Sévérine: Bérénice Lim Marlohe
Q: Ben Whishaw
Tanner: Rory Kinnear
Kincade: Albert Finney

MGM and Columbia Pictures present a film directed by Sam Mendes. Written by Neal Purvis & Robert Wade and John Logan. Based on the character created by Ian Fleming. Running time: 143 min. Rated PG-13 (for intense violent sequences throughout, some sexuality, language and smoking).

James Bond has now been thrilling audiences for 50 years. “Skyfall” marks the 23rd official Bond film and is the third starring Daniel Craig as the British secret agent, having been awarded the role for the redefining “Casino Royale” in 2006. In many ways this film is a kind of reconciliation between the Bond films that came out that redefinition of the character and the Bonds that came before it.

With 50 years of history, there’s a lot to acknowledge about the character and the series. “Skyfall” does so by reintroducing many of the aspects that have defined the series over that history but have been missing for the past couple of episodes. It also resolves some of the themes and aspects that have been at issue since Craig took over the role. In doing so, it plays as one of the most intimate and personal Bond films of the entire series.

As with every Bond film, the movie begins with a spectacular action sequence before the credits. This one ranks up there as one of the better ones. It involves about every major mode of motorized land transportation typically used in a James Bond action sequence. It goes from a car chase through the street bazaars of Istabul, to a motorcycle chase across the rooftops of that historic city, to finally a fistfight atop a moving train.

During this opening sequence we are introduced to another MI6 agent, whose name we eventually learn is Eve. No more should be said about that, however, as her full name involves one of the many secrets this Bond adventure holds. Eve follows Bond throughout his attempts to get a hard drive back from an assassin. The hard drive contains the names and covers of MI6 agents embedded in terrorist organizations. In communication with M, Eve is forced into a decision that has costly consequences for Bond.

The decision is really M’s, who has come under fire by British Parliament for the antiquated ways of the MI6 program. Much of the movie has to do with getting older and becoming out of touch with what is necessary to succeed as a superpower in the current world order. Is M tapped out? Do Bond’s ways betray a methodology that is no longer effective? Is Bond himself too old? Craig is no spring chicken but certainly isn’t as long in the tooth as Sean Connery or Roger Moore were before they made their final bows as Bond.

Screenwriters Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, and John Logan use these themes to meticulously play out a story that not only assures the world that Bond is just as viable an action hero as he ever was, but gives nod to Bond’s past, both for the character and series with a bevy of references for Bond fanatics to feast upon. Some old characters return, such as Q, now in a new younger computer nerd version, played wonderfully by Ben Whishaw. M’s old leather padded door office is brought out of retirement. Many lines from previous Bond films are repeated and reinterpreted. And of course, there are the Bond women, the Bond cars, and the Bond gadgets.

The story itself is an exemplary specimen of a typical Bond plot until about the halfway point. Then it becomes more personal. It turns from typical Bond into more of a revenge picture. It’s almost a western in the way Bond and the villain spar, once they’ve been introduced. Javier Bardem threatens to become one of the most iconic Bond villains with his slippery delivery of the character not coincidentally named Silva. That sounds like a snake of sorts. He’s a former agent of M’s, who wants revenge for being left to do his job as a secret agent. Heck even the plot sounds like a previous Bond film or two. The delivery is more original, however.

M’s role in this film is probably bigger than it has been in any Bond film. Ever since Judi Dench became the first female M—taking over the role in 1995’s “Goldeneye” and playing the MI6 head through the Pierce Brosnan Bonds and the Craig’s—M has become a stronger presence in the series. Her relationship with Bond has grown closer over the past couple of films, and this film serves to bring many of the motherly themes to resolution for the characters. It is a story of her two sons—one loved, the other rejected. Director Sam Mendes gives full weight to a character that has been a Bond anchor from “Dr. No” on. Here we get everything we have needed from M.

Mendes takes his time in his direction of this episode, forgoing the quick cutting action sequences that drew some critical ire with “Quantum of Solace”. He doesn’t unnecessarily queue the audience into the many past Bond references, allowing us to revel in our own love of the series without creating awkward moments for those who aren’t in on the whole series. The final confrontation takes place at one of the more unique locations in Bond history and takes advantage of an obscure reference to the place where Bond’s father supposedly grew up. Mendes may have let the oppressive nature of this Scotland location get the best of his direction, however, as this sequence seems a little long in developing and resolving.

“Skyfall” is a Bond film for the ages. The filmmakers put together one of the most unique Bond films of its entire 50-year run. At the same time, they pay homage to most of what has come before in this unprecedented film series. “Skyfall” contains the best aspects of the reimaging that has come with Daniel Craig’s tenure as the superspy while at once paying its respects to the long history of the series. There’s no doubt that Bond will be around for a long time to come. Another 50 years is certainly not out of the question.

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