By Tim Posada, 11/15/2012
James Bond’s never risen as high or gone deeper than in “Skyfall”. Since the franchise’s reboot with “Casino Royale”, we’ve seen a darker side of modernism’s most one-dimensional hero, and the third time finally sets a splendid path worth replicating for films to come. With Sam Mendes (“American Beauty” and “Revolutionary Road”) at the helm, the world’s top secret agent, created by spy novelist Ian Fleming back in 1952, is finally ready for an Oscar nod.
Ignoring the all-guts-no-story of “Quantum of Solace”, this is a Bond in turmoil post-“Royale”. Emasculated, James’ (Daniel Craig) espionage career turns sour after a mission gone awry. Unfortunately, villainy awaits no man’s recovery, as a new threat specifically targets MI6, namely its leader, M (Judi Dench), forcing our cocktail-lovin’ protagonist back into the field to shoot his way through the breadcrumbs to a Joker-esque nemesis, Silva (Javier Bardem).
As a reboot on its third cinematic installment, “Skyfall” also functions as an origin story for many other characters in the Bond-verse, like a young Euro-hipster Q (Ben Whishaw), who provides Bond with some handy gadgets. But don’t expect any grappling hook watches or Steve Maddens with hidden longswords in the sole; Q’s toys are a bit more practical and far less campy. We meet a few more familiar faces, but why spoil the surprise?
For over 50 years and 24 films, Bond’s latest installment is better than it should be (I know, “Never Say Never Again” was a remake of “Thunderball”, so it doesn’t count; but it happened, so let’s just move on and count it for the sake of organization). Bond long ago cornered the market on good fun, while “Skyfall” questions the glitz and glamour of this international man of mystery. When he seduces women, there are consequences –– even worse when he falls in love. And nobody becomes an agent like Bond without a unique past, and for the first time, we’re allowed a glimpse of that troubled period known as his youth. Finally, we learn something about Bond’s tragic past and the rather questionable decisions M made for the sake of “God and country.” Fans of the golden era of heroes won’t find “Skyfall’s” confused ethics exhilarating, but for newer audiences and those of us ready for Bond to grow up, this one’s the stellar climax “Royale’s” tone foresaw.
Agent 007 reaches new emotional heights. I’ve said it before, Craig out-Bonds the rest. Roger Moore was fun, and Timothy Dalton and Pierce Brosnan took the character to darker depths, and how can I even compare Craig to Sean Connery’s sensational portrayals? (Sorry, I could care less about George Lazenby). Alas, Craig eclipses them all taking the character to vulnerable locales. His confidence is but a facade for the pain beneath, and Craig knows how to capitalize on such complexities.
Goldfinger, Ernst Stavro Blofeld, Oddjob and, now, Silva: Bardem’s performance as the maniacal antihero hellbent on hurting M tops the average world-domination formula of other flicks. He might be just as crazy as the rest, but he’s methodical and moves with great purpose. Equally sadistic and enthralling, Bardem finds a way to top his depiction of Anton in “No Country For Old Men”.
Along with Ben Whishaw’s refreshing spin to Q, replacing gadgets with digital skills, we meet several other memorable characters. Coming down from the Voldemort high, Ralph Fiennes settles for Gareth Mallory, a government lackey who just might be a friend of the agency. And then there’s Eve (Naomie Harris from “28 Days Later”), Bond’s right hand gal in the field. But don’t start undressing this attractive agentress; there’s more to her than the usual Bond-girl one-night stand.
Prior to “Skyfall”, Mendes rarely dabbled with action. His two attempts (“Jarhead” and “Road to Perdition”) back-seated explosions for the sake of compelling characters. No such subtlety occurs here: the action sequences are just as grandiose as the performances. “Solace” showed us the numbing power of overkill (plane, boat, motorcycle and car chases are but a few of the grand spectacles included), while “Skyfall” turns high speed thrills and shootouts into combat choreography –– a dance to the death starring spies and mercenaries.
“Skyfall” isn’t just fun, it’s inspiring –– an actioner with more dimensions than the average arthouse flick. This just might be the best Bond film ever, and it’s easily one of the top movies, dramatic and action-based, of the year.