James Bond goes home in every sense in this ravishingly entertaining entry in the series. Five decades later, it all of a sudden feels fresh, fun, and utterly engaging. This is the best Bond in decades.We are in the middle of the action almost before the lights go down in the theater. Two quick but unmistakable notes on the soundtrack as Bond (Daniel Craig in his third outing) enters a room with dead and dying agents. He looks like a million bucks. Or, I should say, a million pounds. Sterling.
A quick communication and then a chase, and what a chase. Not since “Raiders of the Lost Ark” has a movie begun with such a knowing shot of adrenaline. It’s action as ontology recapitulating phylogeny. On one level, it’s a world-class heart-thumper, brilliantly staged and paced. But it’s also a witty meta-take on chase scenes in general and Bond in particular, with everything from an exotic open market to a shootout and a motorcycle and hopping on a train. And by that I mean hopping ON a train. And a pretty girl. With a gun. And a missing hard drive. He also stops to adjust his cuffs.
So, we’re good to go, and it just keeps getting better.
Things are not going so well back at MI-6, where M (Dame Judi Dench) is in a meeting with a rather stiff government official (Ralph Feinnes) who is displeased about the way things are going. “Are we to call this civilian oversight?” she asks with asperity. “No, we’re calling this retirement planning,” he responds. MI-6 itself is attacked and this time, as they say, it’s personal.
Bond has had a tough time of it lately. The heightened stylization of the “Austin Powers” parodies made it more difficult to take Bond’s glossiness and the over-the-top total world domination-style bad guys seriously and the grittiness of the “Bourne” movies made the sophistication and brio of the series and its lead character seem superficial. The series was in danger of becoming a parody of itself, with its over-the-top plot twists and villains. And it was choking on product placement. “Skyfall” is forthright in confronting the challenges of our time, with both spies and bureaucrats well aware that our enemies are harder to identify than they were in the Cold War era, and more damage can be done with a laptop than a bomb.
“Skyfall” kicks it old school, with more heart, meaning, and character — and a more deliciously twisted villain (Javier Bardem) than the last dozen in the series combined. This is much more than the usual girl and a gun and a villain and only seconds to save the world from various exotic locations. The locations are fabulously chosen, however, from MI-6’s transplanted underground lair to a deserted island city with a toppled Ozymandias-style statue, a motorcycle chase along Istanbul rooftops, and an estate in Scotland. And Ben Wishaw (“Cloud Atlas”) makes a lovely young Q with mad computer skillz and madder hair.
Adele provides the best Bond theme song since the 60’s, her husky voice reminiscent of the Shirley Bassey era. Director Sam Mendes is not known for action or genre but he has a great eye and he is totally up to the task here, delivering a story that gives depth to the characters and moral complexity to the storyline. Mendes deftly explores variations on the themes of compromise, consequences, context, and choice, while never letting up on the action and glamour. It wouldn’t be a Bond movie without some reason for our hero to don black tie for a visit to a swanky gambling den that happens to have a pit with Komodo dragons, any more than it would without some doomed beauty with time for one last romantic encounter. “Skyfall” has tremendous understanding and affection for the legacy of Bond, but, more important, it makes us excited about the next 50 years.
Parents should know that this film has spy-type action and peril with chases, explosions, and guns, many characters injured and killed, sexual references and situations,some strong language,drinking, and smoking.
Family discussion: Characters in this film have to make some very tough choices that risk or sacrifice the lives of their colleagues. What factors do they consider? What are the consequences? How does what we learn about Bond and M change the way you think about them? Why does MI-6 like orphans?
If you like this, try: the 23 other Bond films, especially “Goldfinger,” “You Only Live Twice,” and “Goldeneye”