Thursday, November 15, 2012

And the latest Bond girl is ... Judi Dench?: "Skyfall"

So you know I don't get out to the cinema much these days. At all. Then what does it say that I not only saw the latest James Bond movie on opening day, but just after noon? Maybe that I still haven't forgiven that mechanic for not installing an ejector seat in my Mazda Protege.

Regular readers of this blog -- yes, all three of you -- know that I'm down with 007. I saw my first one, "The Spy Who Loved Me," on network TV at age 6 or 7. I've seen each movie multiple times, from "Goldfinger" more than a dozen to "You Only Live Twice" only a few. To say I have an unhealthy fixation on Fiona Volpe is not an understatement. So yeah ... when a new Bond comes out, it could have Susan Boyle as the love interest and Carrot Top as the villain, and I'll still see it in the theater.

The good news, of course, is that by all early indications "Skyfall" would deliver the goods. You've got Daniel Craig settling nicely into the role and desperately trying to make us look away from "Cowboys and Aliens." Javier "Heads or Tails" Bardem is the villain, and Sam Mendes, a Capital-D director, is at the helm. Throw in a solid trailer and evidence that the franchise is moving solidly ahead, and I was more pumped than Katanga at the end of "Live and Let Die."

Our story opens mid-intrigue, with Bond and a fellow agent on a mission to retrieve a very important list. A mind-boggling chase through various venues ensues and ends not well for Bond, and then we're back in England, where M (Judi "The Chronicles of Riddick" Dench) has to answer for the muck-up. Things get even worse, with MI6 under attack. That brings Bond back into the fold and after the culprit, whom we learn -- by way of Shanghai and Macau -- is a former MI6 agent with special cyberskills, a tortured past and some, ahem, sexual flexibility. (All together now ... not that there's anything wrong with that.) The action takes us back to London and ultimately north to Scotland, where we get insight into Bond's past before our grand finish. Don't worry ... no spoilers. OK, one: It does NOT involve a guillotine.

Woven throughout this tale is the theme of transition, evolution, adaptation ... or if people are simply past their prime. It starts with Bond being out of the game for a bit and continues when he comes back and, along with M, is accused more than once of being wrong for today's world. And that, frankly, is a GREAT idea for a character in his 50th year on the big screen. You can change up the guys playing Bond all you want, and each may work in his own way, but eventually you need to ask if the typical "secret agent" is even relevant anymore. Mendes and the three writers do that well, and Craig and Dench -- not to mention Bardem and M's new boss (Ralph "Starred in a British TV movie with a girl I almost hooked up with in Barcelona" Fiennes) reinforce this key question at all the right moments.

A little more on Bardem: After "No Country for Old Men," we all know what he's capable of. This performance isn't as good as that, but his entrance is without question one of the best by a Bond villain. And the MI6 backstory, not so different from "GoldenEye," always makes for good tension. Add his subtle flamboyance -- if that even makes sense -- and he does jump into the Top 10 of villains, and probably not just No. 10.

Let's see what else I liked. Three other characters/performances hold up well. The Bond girl, Berenice Marlohe, is gorgeous and balances confidence with terror. The female agent from the opening scene (Naomie Harris) pops up a couple of more times and keeps us guessing. And the new Q, a kid (Ben Whishaw), is refreshing, especially in his first brush with 007.

Of course, we get all sorts of international locales and action scenes. In short, they work. Between Mendes and the cinematographer, everything looks great and flows well. The jet-setting makes sense, and even the villain having his own island is adequately explained. I mean, this is 2012. People need answers.

In the end, I come back to what I recently told a friend who also saw "Skyfall" opening weekend: I think this cements Craig as the second-best Bond. But while I appreciate the greater depth given to the characters, I'm still not sure it's up to the best entries, which combined sweeping plots with grand fun. Things have gotten darker, and while that's not bad, it almost makes "Skyfall" seem like something that could better stand alone than be simply the latest in a series. That's neither bad nor good, but something to mull over ...

In other words, pretty good but not the best. But well done and one I'll see again, even if it eschews the exploding pen. Can we at least bring back the jet pack?


At 4:22 PM, Anonymous slumus lordicus said...

The only thing I could not absolutely get past was Q jacking into MI6 network with JB's computer. Hell, I think my father would know better than to do that(not really).


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