“Skyfall” is far and away the best, and the most British of the Daniel Craig-James Bond movies. Director Sam Mendes (“Road to Perdition”) gets Bond back to the basics — bullets, babes, big time bad guys and bawdy humor. And the result is an entertaining romp, an old spy school Bond film that reigns in the more violent and Germanic Bond of Marc Forster’s CHECK films.
In the film’s opening gambit, Bond bites the bullet. He’s accidentally shot while wrestling with a generic villain on the roof of a train speeding through Turkey.
Since he’s chased this guy, by car and motorbike through the crowded bazaars and narrow streets of Istanbul (and “Taken 2”), M (Judi Dench) is willing to risk a trigger-happy fellow agent, played with a sexy pizazz by Naomie Harris, best known as the less sexy witch of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies.
What Bond was trying to nab was a compuer hard drive with a “list” on it. Some supervillain with Wikileaks tendencies wants to expose spies. Bond getting “killed” means that he’s failed. And that M has failed, too. The fallout for 007 is an obituary. For M, it’s a political raking-over-the-coals, where she’s called an “old fashioned” relic of a bygone era, “the golden age of espionage.”
“We can’t keep living in the shadows,” her new boss, the intelligence minister (Ralph Fiennes) tells her. “There are no more shadows.”
We, of course, know better. When MI-6 is hacked and bombed, Bond comes back from his babe-and-beers and drinking games (very Indiana Jones) to save the day. Except he’s gotten old. He’s lost a step. And he couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn with a Walther PPK. No matter, M won’t have anybody else.
The biggest problem with the first two Craig Bonds — both films were huge hits — was the villains. This time, Oscar winner Javier Bardem shows up as a murderous hacker with a Julian Assange blond mop top. And he brings the pain — and the homoerotic undertones — OK, OVER-tones.
The writing — three screenwriters pitched in — is jokier, crisper. The “Bond Girl” is played by the ultra-exotic Bérénice Marlohe
And there’s a new quartermaster, “Q” — played by waif-thin Ben Whishaw in a radical re-interpretation of a witty role that has been beloved by fans of the series for nearly 50 years.
Yes, this year marks 50 years of James Bond films, and Mendes & Co. use the film as an excuse to joke about age and trot out old props and older actors (Albert Finney). So much of it works that it’s as if Craig’s been dying to give this guy a lighter touch, and makes the most of it.]
The finale is straight out of John Wayne’s “Rio Bravo,” and the violent set pieces — ranging from Shanghai and Macao to Parliament and the bunkers of London — are blandly predictable.
But that’s kind of the point here. This is action comfort food, from the brand of gun and martini recipe to the quips and coital interluds. It’s all good, clean, British fun. “Skyfall” — the bloody title means little within the context of all this — ensures continuity in that comfort food, that as long as there’s a Britain, there will be a Bond, James Bond, to look after her interests.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for intense violent sequences throughout, some sexuality, language and smoking
Cast: Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Javier Bardem, Naomie Harris, Ben Whishaw, Ralph Fiennes.
Credits: Directed by Sam Mendes, written by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and John Logan, based on Ian Fleming’s characters. An MGM-Columbia release.
Running time: 2:23