Bond remembers the past, lives for today
James Bond is back. Not just for the 23rd time as the longest-running continuous movie series (which indeed it is), but “Skyfall,” the latest chapter in the 50-year-old franchise feels refreshed and reinvigorated. Perhaps it’s the third-time-charm effect for star Daniel Craig, whose detractors, ironically, feel is a quality the British actor sorely lacks. But it’s time to get over whatever deficiencies Craig may have compared to previous Bonds. As “Skyfall” so convincingly proves, there is much more to this beloved franchise than just the man in the tuxedo.
The exotic locations, (Shanghai, Istanbul, Macao), the high energy chase sequences (on rooftops, in the London underground), thrilling fight sequences (high up a glass-enveloped skyscraper or on a breakneck train), the beautiful women, (one of whom must die, per tradition).
“Skyfall” has them all.
But this go ‘round there is an emotional complexity rarely found in previous films. For starters, as the trailers imply, Bond looks to be killed off early on, and he’s not exactly in a rush to get back to work. Death grants him anonymity, which he uses to rehab in bars, and by dropping pain pills in an unnamed tropic locale, his bloodshot eyes implying unemployment has not been good for 007. And it’s an ugly, even vulnerable side of Bond with which fans aren’t familiar.
Nevertheless, a bombing at M16, the British intelligence headquarters, serves as a call to action. A meeting with M—Bond’s stern, aging boss played with typical frosty frankness by Judi Dench. Eventually, M will play a central role in “Skyfall,” lending the film a unique exploration of her relationship with Bond along with heretofore unknown backstory details of our hero’s childhood.
Clearly the most memorable role is that of former agent turned cyber-mastermind Silva, played with a creepy, effeminate, outrageous villainy by Javier Bardem. There have been plenty of nut job bad guys in the Bond franchise but none with quite the same power to seduce as well as repel. Could Bardem be the first Oscar-nominated Bond baddie?
While director Sam Mendes’ previous work (“Road to Perdition,” “American Beauty”) suggested an inclination toward occasional heavy melodrama, here he handles a variety of tension-soaked relationships without losing sight of why Bond fans have turned out for half a century.
“Skyfall’s” sentimental touches underscore the fun and frivolity of the past while relishing the brutal landscape of the modern day super-spy. Both shaken and stirred, “Skyfall” succeeds, smashingly.
Rated PG-13 for intense, violent scenes throughout, some sexuality, language and smoking.