Skyfall (M) — 4 stars
Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Javier Bardem
DIRECTOR: SAM MENDES
REVIEW: MARK NAGLAZAS
You'll like this if you liked The Daniel Craig 007 films (Casino Royale, The Quantum of Solace), Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, the Jason Bourne series.
The truth is finally out about James Bond. The world’s most famous secret agent swings both ways. In the queerest torture scene in the history of the franchise, Skyfall’s amusingly camp villain Raoul Silva (No Country For Old Men Oscar winner Javier Bardem with another creepy hairstyle) slides his hand up Bond’s thigh and asks if he’d like to try something a little different.
“How do you know I haven’t already,” replies Bond (or is that James Bondage).
It’s a very funny scene that updates on the old Bond sexual banter but it is also emblematic of the whole film, which is itself something of a double agent.
One moment we’re in the brutal, realistic post-Casino Royale universe in which a gadget-deprived, battle-scarred Bond must use his fists, his fast thinking and his sheer ruthlessness to fight a new kind of enemy, one who has stepped out of the shadows to strike at the heart of capitalism and democracy.
The next moment, Skyfall tumbles back in time to the world of Sean Connery and co. with the impeccably attired, witty superspy slipping as effortlessly into a dinner jacket as he does another beautiful woman, jetting from one to-die-for setting to the next and doing battle with a cartoonish villain who has turned an island off China into his private lair.
Even the famed Aston Martin is dusted off and taken for a spin.
Certainly, Bond is dealing with the very contemporary issue of cyberterrorism, which has prompted some critics to laud it for being up-to-the minute. (Indeed, Bardem’s blonde coif and threat to release the names of MI6’s embedded agents has a conscious echo of Julian Assange.)
But wait until you get a load of 007 leaping on the back of a komodo dragon who has just gobbled up one of the villain’s hapless henchmen and using the vicious creature as a stepladder to safety.
Roger Moore would be raising an eyebrow in approval.
For the most part this bringing together of both Bond traditions — the glam and swagger of the old and the blood, sweat and tears of the new — is nicely handled by incoming director, Sam Mendes, an Oscar winner (American Beauty) as comfortable with intense one-on-one dialogue scenes as he is with the large-scale action sequences that are the hallmark of the franchise.
Astutely, past and present is also the theme of Skyfall, as Daniel Craig’s bruised, battered Bond struggles to keep up the pace after being left for dead at the end of the signature spectacular opening, and has difficulty reconciling his famed “blunt instrument” approach with the reality of espionage in the digital age —represented by the geeky new Q (a terrifically amusing Ben Whishaw).
And Bardem’s Silva, a one-time MI6 operative who is out to take revenge on M (Judi Dench in fine form) for betraying him, is symbolic of this new breed of terrorist.
He’s a computer genius who, from the safety of a deserted island on the other side of the world, is able to wreak havoc on the world’s financial markets.
However, Silva turns out not to be a nerd with a chip on his shoulder (a macro not micro chip) but an old-style full- blooded psycho-villain in the mould of Heath Ledger’s Joker. He’s a madcap puller of deadly pranks, in command of a large army, who has no qualms about marching into a parliamentary hearing shooting the hell out of the politicians.
While this melding of the old with the new methods of villainy and espionage jars time and again and makes little sense — are not cyberterrorists as much in “the shadows” as the traditional enemy — overall Skyfall is a sleek, entertaining package, with the always compelling Craig lightening up a little, but never allowing his Bond to get cheesy, and Bardem having a ball with his seriously screwed-up Silva.
And Mendes and his top-flight cast, which also includes Ralph Fiennes as a bureaucrat leaning on the embattled M to clean up the mess she created when she allowed MI6 to be penetrated by Silva, work up scene after scene of genuine adult drama that is light-years from the old Bond movies and in keeping with the wonderful Casino Royale reboot.
Astutely, Mendes breaks with the pulsating Bourne-inspired aesthetic of the previous two movies and imposes his own visual style that owes something to the classicism of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight franchise or Michael Mann,(with a series of sweeping cityscapes that take the breath away and a thrilling mano-a-mano fight in the shadows atop a tower in Shanghai.
What will survive longest from Skyfall, however, is the relationship between 007 and M, who turns out to be the Bond girl for whom he has the deepest feelings even though she ordered the shot that sent him tumbling to his presumed death and wouldn’t look as good as Ursula Andress in a bikini.
Indeed, this is a new world and James Bond is armed and fabulous