SKYFALL (2012)

Director: Sam Mendes

Writers: Neal Purvis & Robert Wade and John Logan
(Based on the character of Ian Fleming)

Cast: Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Ralph Fiennes, Javier Bardem, Naomie Harris, Rory Kinnear, Ola Rapace, Albert Finney, Ben Wishaw...

Running time: 143 minutes

Motion Picture Rating (MPAA): PG-13 for violence, language, sexuality, and smoking.

Genres: Action/Adventure/Thriller

Reviewed by Larry Jung

Review contains spoilers.

SKYFALL, the latest James Bond film, has breathed new life into the long running franchise. By the time of the Bond films starring Roger Moore, the formula of the Bond films had become shopworn. Old wine in new bottles, as it were. Lazenby and Timothy Dalton had too few films to be any more than understudies until a "real" Bond could be found. Pierce Brosnan was to be the real deal. Brosnan's films made money only by living off the Bond legacy. Bond was still making throwaway remarks after bouts of mayhem. It was painful to hear, like someone asking "what's your sign?" or "what's your bag?" Brosnan was unfavorably compared to the series of Bourne movies starring Matt Damon. Bourne was the spy thriller for the 21st century. Bourne was filmed in the style of music videos and commercials. Bourne was MTV; Bond was American Bandstand of the 1960s.

Then came Daniel Craig as James Bond. Here was supposed to be the real deal. CASINO ROYALE was advertised as the James Bond franchise reboot. Craig played the secret agent as a matter-of-fact killing machine. Gone was the obvious tongue-in-cheek and heavy handed humor. Gone were the secret gadgets. But the film makers had to keep the throw away remarks. Craig was going in the right direction with his performance, but the film makers couldn't break from thinking that a Bond film needed huge special effects to satisfy the audience. They wouldn't trust Daniel Craig's version of James Bond to carry the film. CASINO ROYALE was a box office success, but the film makers played it safe with Craig's second Bond movie QUANTUM OF SOLACE. It was two steps backwards after CASINO ROYALE's three steps forward. QUANTUM OF SOLACE was a mish-mash of two Ian Fleming short stories that were incorporated into an original script. They reverted back to the old plot formula: travelogue, pretty girls, tuxedoes, big action scenes, explosions, and Bond waltzing through invincible.

I think in SKYFALL, the Bond franchise is getting back to the promise of CASINO ROYALE. The film makers of SKYFALL were not afraid to let Daniel Craig carry the movie. At the film's core is Bond's loss of faith and trust in M. Like the villain Silva points out, M deliberately sacrificed Bond's life in Istanbul just as she betrayed Silva years earlier.

Bond decides to come back to MI6 and to M. But there is a price to pay for Bond returning to duty. The lesser cost is the destruction of Bond's ancestral home, Skyfall, and the destruction of the iconic Aston Martin DB5. The true cost that strikes deeper is M's death. It is the balancing of the scales: M's absolute faith in Bond vs. Bond's loss of trust in M.

That said, the rest of SKYFALL adds up to a high-gloss contemporary action blockbuster. The gun fights and unarmed combat are up to par with the best of this genre. The stylized visuals are occasionally stunning when they should be. For example the aerial shots of the brightly lit Shanghai nightscape. The ultramodern super buildings and sweeping freeways are neon sculptures that convey the dynamic energy and wealth of this city. Sam Mendes, the director, follows this a little later with an impressionistic image of Bond standing on the bow of a boat crossing a mythical lake inhabited by luminous oriental dragons. Bond, the legendary hero, going into the demon's lair. Two other visual set pieces remind me of the influences of current graphic novels by Marvel and D.C. Comics: Bond on a yacht at full sail approaching Silva's island hideout and Bond on a roof overlooking the London skyline with Union Jacks snapping in the wind.

For me this is Daniel Craig's best Bond film to date and holds promise for the franchise. As in the lyrics of the theme song in THE SPY WHO LOVED ME, when the Bond franchise gets it right, "nobody does it better."

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