Craig’s 007 shaken, yet stirring in ‘Skyfall’
What does Skyfall, the title of the new 007 movie, actually mean? Suffice it to say that “Skyfall” is James Bond’s “Rosebud,” an element from his deeply shrouded past revealed here for the first time—one of many “firsts” that make this 23rd outing for the legendary über-op so interesting.
For once, we see a more vulnerable Bond, a man who has himself been shaken and stirred a few too many times and is no longer in peak condition, a man who’s begun to question if it’s all worthwhile. This Bond even spends several scenes in rumpled clothes and with a beard. Most heretical of all, this is a Bond on the verge of becoming “irrelevant.”
All these factors, a dynamic performance from Daniel Craig, and sterling work from incoming director Sam Mendes (a filmmaker not generally known for action movies) conspire to make Skyfall one of the best Bond films ever. In this 50th year of the franchise that has itself often been deemed irrelevant (remember the punning innuendo and bloated fx of the Roger Moore era?), Craig’s and Mendes’ reinvented, revitalized Bond puts the series right back in the game. Factor in a mesmerizing performance of grinning dementia from the great Javier Bardem as the chief villain, and you’ve got a ripping E-Ticket of a movie that pretty much never lets up.
Skyfall was scripted by series veterans Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, in cahoots with John Logan (Hugo, Rango), who may have had a hand in the renewed humanism of 007. The film begins with a lengthy action sequence, in which Bond (Craig) and co-agent, Eve (the winsome and sassy Naomie Harris) pursue a miscreant in a chase that transitions from cars to motorcycles, driven up stairs, across rooftops, and through a teeming Turkish market, ending up in a fistfight on top of a speeding train. Following the action via radio transmission from M16 headquarters in London, spymaster M (Judi Dench), gives a fateful order that will alter her relationship with and test the loyalty of her Number One op.
After an exceptional underwater title sequence designed by Daniel Kleinman (accompanied by a smoky torch song crooned by Adele), the main narrative thread kicks in. M is under siege from the government for her “reckless,” old-fashioned methods, at the same time that a terrorist techno-genius has hacked into the M16 database and is rounding up agents in the field to execute. Out of commission for awhile, Bond has to retrain himself, physically and mentally, to get back in the fray; that he’s not operating at full capacity gives an extra edge to his escapades. This time, we see him sweat.
Detours to a glass high-rise in Shanghai and a deluxe casino in Macau lead 007 to his nemesis, Silva (Bardem), a rogue, former M16 op with a particular grudge against M. Electrifying in his purring vitriol, Bardem’s bleached-blond Silva (Bardem villains always have the worst hair) is a Frankenstein monster come back to haunt his creator. He also invites Bond to consider the consequences of unswerving loyalty to an organization that can “betray” so easily.
As terrorist attacks rock London, Bond removes M to a gloomy old manor house in Scotland once owned by his parents (complete with Harry Potter-like stag statue at the gate). There, they fend off an invasion of assassins the old-fashioned way: with cunning, an antique hunting rifle, and a canny, crotchety old groundskeeper (the delightful Albert Finney), whose term of endearment for Bond is “you jumped-up little shit.” (Wouldn’t it have been fun to see Sean Connery in this role?)
This tension between old and new runs throughout, with agents and their gadgetry considered costly and “irrelevant” in the cyber age. Most fun are Bond’s encounters with the new Q (the ever-watchable Ben Whishaw from Cloud Atlas), a ridiculously young techno-geek whose droll manner and skill earn 007’s grudging respect. (Sending Bond into the field with nothing but a
handprint-sensitive pistol and a tiny radio transmitter, Q cracks, “What were you expecting, an exploding pen?”)
Also on board is Ralph Fiennes as M’s new boss, Mallory, a seeming bureaucrat who has more to him than meets the eye. Well-acted at every level, this is a Bond film for non-believers: thoughtful, sinewy, smart, and loads of fun.
★★★1/2 (out of four)
With Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, and Javier Bardem.
Written by Neal Purvis & Robert Wade and John Logan. Directed by Sam Mendes.
A Columbia release. Rated PG-13. 143 minutes.