Monday, November 12, 2012
The 23rd installment of the James Bond series, the crowd-pleasing "Skyfall" brings back a sense of sophisticated and stylish fun that's been missing in such forlorn recent entries as "Quantum of Solace." Daniel Craig may not live up to your memories of the better Bonds of the past, but he's settled into the role and gives us a 007 to match the current mood: a bit drawn, a bit dour, ever stoic and taciturn - all business. There's an almost puffy solidity to the prematurely grey Craig that's part masculine and part cyborg. You get the sense that for his Bond girls, sex with him is a joyless if technically effective enterprise.
"Skyfall" starts with an enjoyably campy extended chase scene, fruit carts and all, culminating with Bond's apparent death by drowning. This leads into a terrific deep-water opening credit sequence worthy of classic Bond, with a cool, jazzy, soulful rendition of the title track by Adele. Needless to say, death doesn't particularly suit Bond, and after drinking himself to an incognito fare-thee-well, he's back on the trail of a former MI6 agent who's remote-bombed headquarters and begun posting YouTube videos outing the identities and aliases of key agency operatives.
Javier Bardem plays the traitorous agent, Silva, and while it's laughable to think of a platinum-blonde Bardem as a top undercover man, there's amusement in watching Javier just being Javier. Director Sam Mendes obviously told him to let it all hang out, and there's a glint in Bardem's eye that lets you know he gets the joke. Silva has never gotten over what he perceived as M's favoring of Bond over him. Judi Dench reprises the role of M, and gets to toss off several clever one-liners at the men below (and above) her (including a wasted Ralph Fiennes). This movie's just smarter than the last few. Mendes understands that winky self-reference is not enough; there must be genuine wit and humor.
"Skyfall" looks great as it circumnavigates the globe. Some of the images in Shanghai and Macau are strikingly beautiful. Mendes films a gunshot between the hundredth floors of two skyscrapers against the neon-swathed night skyline of Shanghai that took my breath away. (Ridley Scott gave the same alluring menace to the neon of Osaka in 1989's "Black Rain.") Even the draggy last half hour of "Skyfall," set at Bond's eponymous childhood estate, is gorgeously lit, fiery oranges and yellows against a cold, slate sky. (You just won't want to think too hard about why Bond would put himself and M in the undermanned situation of the finale.)