Bond is back with a bang in 'Skyfall'
After a four-year hiatus following the convoluted and disappointing "Quantum of Solace," James Bond triumphantly returns in time for his 50th anniversary in "Skyfall."
As a spy movie, "Skyfall" shines with taut action sequences and a thrilling pace, but it's a true joy to watch as a fan of the James Bond mythos. It's a film that nails all the marks of a classic 007 film while staying fresh to the "new Bond" formula of the Daniel Craig era.
It's no secret that contemporary audiences have shaken off the campy, almost self-parodic action films of the '90s in favor of dark, gritty, flawed heroes, and Craig turns in his finest performance yet in his third outing as 007.
Proving that he's the best Bond since Sir Sean Connery, Craig plays a spy who is injured, aging, full of booze and apparently incapable of shaving. As ever, the Bond role requires an actor who can be in turns suave and sophisticated, yet brutal and relentless, and Craig owns every aspect of the superspy in a way that has seldom been seen throughout the 22 previous Bond flicks.
It's this theme of aging and obsoleteness that carries the film, as 007 and Dame Judi Dench's M fight to keep both their jobs and their lives against a government that doesn't trust them and an enemy who wants them dead. Rarely in a Bond film have the stakes been so high, and Dench sells the film with an icy-cold performance as the grizzled leader of MI6 who will do anything to accomplish a mission, even if it means sacrificing her best agent. For the first time, M and Bond get a substantial amount of screen time together, and the relationship between the two sets a great backdrop as Bond struggles to protect his surrogate mother figure from one of the best villains in Bond history.
Javier Bardem's Raoul Silva is a bad guy with a menacing charm that's as unsettling to Bond as it is to the audience. He's charismatic, yet frightening, and his monologue to a captive Bond shines as one of the best scenes in the film, if not the entire 007 collection.
Unfortunately, Silva's evil plot doesn't quite stand out as one of the more nefarious schemes Bond has foiled, but his ominously threatening delivery still marks a high point in film villainy.
As is to be expected from Oscar-winning director Sam Mendes and master cinematographer Roger Deakins, "Skyfall" is absolutely gorgeous.
The neon billboards of Shanghai and a mist-covered valley in Scotland are two of the more memorable backdrops on display, and the scenes centered around the two are hauntingly beautiful and masterfully composed. The classic "Bond intro," set to Adele and Paul Epworth's evocative theme, is one of the prettiest ever and will be hard to top for whoever takes the helm of Bond's next outing.
For all that "Skyfall" does right, there are a few minor complaints. The plot drags a bit in the third act, and Bond and Silva's final confrontation is somewhat anti-climactic.
The action builds to a fever pitch only to peter out in the final minutes, but it's still plenty solid in the thrill department. Naomie Harris and BÃ©rÃ©nice Marlohe are underused and expendable as the "Bond girls" this time around, serving as little more than eye-candy for Bond to woo, but the expanded role of M makes up for the gap in the femme-fatale department.
Ultimately, "Skyfall" is the quintessential Bond flick. Like "Casino Royale" and "Quantum of Solace" before it, it continues the gritty reboot of the franchise but maintains everything that makes Bond, well ... James Bond. Fans of the franchise will be delighted to see the return of Q, 007's trusty Walther PPK, and the exotic locales, sexy women and suave quips that have defined the character for 50 years.
Without feeling forced, "Skyfall" manages a few sly nods to ejection seats and exploding pens that pay homage to classic Bond without resorting to the invisible cars and laser watches that made the Brosnan era so campy.
Bond is back with a bang, and the bar has been set higher than ever for his next mission. n
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