Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Genre: Action, Adventure
Run Time: 2 hours 23 minutes, Rated PG-13
Starring: Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Ralph Fiennes, Javier Bardem, Naomie Harris, Ben Whishaw, Berenice Marlohe
Directed by Sam Mendes (American Beauty, Road to Perdition, Revolutionary Road)
In an intense, fun and wildly inventive opening chase sequence, the car that James Bond is speeding along in clips a building, knocking off the rear-view mirror. "We weren't using that anyways," says Bond. Fitting that with Skyfall - the 23rd James Bond film and the third starring Daniel Craig - there is no need for rear-view windows, metaphorically speaking. Here, the franchise plows full steam ahead and never looks back, with a movie that is everything a James Bond fan could hope for.
But for as much as this is business as usual for 007 and the gang, there are some surprising new developments. Directed by Sam Mendes (American Beauty, Revolutionary Road), we see James Bond in a way that we've never seen him before, while at the same time we are comforted by the familiarities that we have come to expect from the series.
These familiarities include the action-packed pacing of the film, where we once again find Bond doing the unthinkable, usually to perfection. Judi Dench is back as M, the leader of Bond's British Secret Service agency and his mentor. For the first time in the Daniel Craig films, we meet Q (Ben Whishaw) who is still the one responsible for equipping Bond with cool gadgets, but this time he is a younger, up-and-comer as opposed to how he has been portrayed in the past. We still hear our hero utter the line: "Bond. James Bond." We don't actually hear him order the "shaken, not stirred" Martini - his favorite drink - but we do see a bartender prepare this drink for him. "Ah, just the way I like it," he tells her.
No Bond movie can be considered "great" without a lasting Bond villain. Filling that role with much aplomb is Javier Bardem as Silva...who better than to play a Bond villain than the actor who has given us one of the past decade's most memorable screen villains, that of Anton Chigurh in 2007's No Country for Old Men? Here, he is a flamboyant, skilled computer hacker who manages to uncover the hidden identities of several British spies, threatening their discovery and endangering their lives.
The first two-thirds of the film go along as one would expect, but it is the last portion of the film that can be considered "breaking new ground" as far as Bond films go. On the run, Bond retreats back to a Scottish manor called "Skyfall." Here, we get glimpses at Bond's back story and childhood. An actual attempt to flesh out the character of James Bond? It would be a bold attempt if it wasn't an origin that seems eerily similar to that of Batman's Bruce Wayne, complete with dead parents and an underground tunnel built under the luxurious mansion.
Even still, it is at this moment in Skyfall when we understand that we are not just on track for "another Bond film." Some shocking things happen towards the end that set up the franchise in a new direction. To spoil them now would be to spoil the fun.
In trying to re-invent the character of James Bond, the film also deals with the reality of outstaying one's welcome. Bond - and M - in this film, are questioning their abilities after years in the field. Can James Bond get old? Can he not be as good as he once was? Wait...James Bond is actually human? These are all concerns moving forward, in a new Bond universe where anything is possible.
By trying to do something a bit fresh, director Sam Mendes and the talented writing crew of Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and John Logan, hone in on what has made Bond the most popular film franchise of all time. Skyfall gives us everything you can ask for, but it also acts as a love-letter to Bond films and fans, past and present. Look for inside winks and nods to beloved characters and cars of the past, such as Bond's Aston Martin DB5 - the vehicle his character used in Goldfinger. Even his gadgets this time around harken for nostalgia: His super-inventive, high-tech gadgets this time around include a...radio transmitter and a pistol that only he can pull the trigger. Not exactly cutting edge stuff these days, but it'll do the trick.
On a side note, this was one of the most thrilling action films in quite a while, on its own, and I credit this to how Mendes chose to shoot these scenes. Modern day filmmakers have fallen in love with the "shaky cam" experience, where action and suspense is created in the editing room by quickly cutting dizzying clips together. Skyfall pays homage to Bond films of the past not only in substance, but in this simplistic visual style that - crazy, I know - actually gives us room to breathe and allows for us to follow the action with our own eyes.
Never having been a huge fan of the James Bond franchise, I am not the right one to ask where Skyfall ranks withing the 007 filmography. What I can say though, is Skyfall doesn't mail it in. Forget Quantum of Solace, Skyfall forges ahead. It isn't rocket science, but it is everything that a James Bond film should be.
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