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posted Friday, November 9, 2012 - Volume 40 Issue 45

Super spy
Bond is battered but unbowed in explosive Skyfall

by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

SKYFALL Opens November 9
After a four-year hiatus, Daniel Craig returns as Ian Fleming's iconic British secret agent James Bond in Skyfall. Directed by Academy Award-winner Sam Mendes (American Beauty, Revolutionary Road), with a script partially written by John Logan (Gladiator, Hugo), the movie celebrates the 50th anniversary of the films while also confidently launching the franchise into the future. The pair pay homage to the cinematic and cultural significance of the series utilizing modern themes, allowing the picture to take on immediate emotional significance no other Bond can claim and raising the game to a level further 007 adventures will have trouble reaching.

The story begins with Bond weary from service and unsure if MI6 still has his (and England's) best interests at heart, seemingly plunging to his death after his effort to retrieve a top-secret encrypted list of undercover agents stolen by a nameless adversary goes awry. But when the man behind the theft, a psychotic cybercriminal going by the name of Silva (Javier Bardem), challenges M (Judi Dench) to a sadistic game of cat-and-mouse potentially littered with collateral damage, 007 returns to the fight, unsure if his heart is still in it even though he knows putting his life on the line and stopping this madman is the right thing to do.

BATMAN-INSPIRED SCRIPT
The plot is way more convoluted and complex than that, Bond traipsing around the globe getting into various scrapes, uncovering a multitude of clues and, of course, meeting a bevy of sexy women (most notably the seductive Sévérine, portrayed with stoically fragile elegance by French actress Bérénice Marlohe), but that's not what makes Skyfall significant. Mendes, Logan, and returning scribes Neal Purvis and Robert Wade have taken a page out of Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight playbook, giving the proceedings an undeniable real-world weightiness. Bond's story, his fight, his complicated relationship with M, all of it comes to a head in the form of Silva, a Joker-like adversary who wants nothing more than to see the world, and those within it he holds responsible for his current plight, burn.

I love the layers present in this film, the way it bevels back and forth between its characters' conflicting emotional states. Like the tragic finale of On Her Majesty's Secret Service there is a poignant authenticity to Bond, his job, and those he comes into contact with that is absolutely undeniable. The fiery finale taps into Fleming's character in a way I don't think any other iteration of 007 ever has, and as someone who has watched all 22 previous adventures multiple times (yes, even the 'bad' ones like Moonraker, A View to a Kill, and Die Another Day) I feel relatively safe in that assessment.

AWESOME ACTION
Not that Skyfall is all touch-feely emotional sacrificial sentimental sturm und drang. Mendes does remember he is making an action-adventure, after all, littering the picture with the type of adrenaline-fueled theatrics we've come to expect from the series. A motorcycle chase across the rooftops of Istanbul is positively heart-stopping, while a mid-movie pursuit through the streets and subways of London is a glorious pulse-pounding treat I didn't want to see end. As for the climax, Mendes stages the bullet-riddled pyrotechnics with remarkable confidence, never losing sight of the ultimate endgame allowing the characters and their complexities to retain center stage even when the explosions themselves grow in strength, size, and significance.

It helps that this Bond looks and sounds like none before it, Mendes upping the ante by bringing in technical heavyweights like cinematographer Roger Deakins (There Will Be Blood), editor Stuart Baird (The Fugitive), and composer Thomas Newman (Flesh and Bone) to help behind the scenes. Deakins' work, in particular, is downright awesome, his camera catching angles and burrowing into corners that are immersive as they are mesmerizing. He gives the film a look and a feel that is consistently seductive, one that continually hints at unseen menace. His work is an intoxicating mélange of substance and style consistently working in tandem with the story itself.

At almost 150 minutes the movie is a little on the long side, and as is Mendes' usual modis operandi, he does tend to hold some scenes a bit longer than necessary. Additionally, some of his callbacks to previous Bond films, while admittedly amusing, aren't particularly necessary. Yet none of this is a very big deal, and by and large everything going on is character-driven, all the pieces propelling the story forward without pointless fodder added just for show.

CRAIG, CO-STARS SHINE
Which brings us to the actors. While Craig will never erase the ghost of Sean Connery, he's grown into the role nicely, adding elements to Bond's psyche that heretofore had remained unexplored. As for Dench, she's made a wonderful M for almost two decades now, but other than being put into mortal peril in The World Is Not Enough she hasn't been used nearly as effectively as she could have been. Mendes and Logan change that and Dench is unsurprisingly up for the challenge, her relationship with her most trusted spy taking on a significance more akin to John le Carré than to Fleming (which is a very, very good thing indeed).

Then there is Bardem. He doesn't even appear until almost an hour into the film, and yet once he materializes you can't imagine Skyfall without him. His is the dominating presence around which everything, including Bond, revolves, the unshakable menace following in his wake difficult to shrug off. This isn't a reproduction of his Oscar-winning No Country for Old Men villain, no. Instead, his Silva is a different sort of animal, a cagey creature unafraid to gets his hands dirty but weeping for the days when he could walk in the sunlight clean. He's an ambiguous chameleon who knows how to subvert the game even when insisting that everyone else play by the rules, in the process becoming the type of danger 007 would almost be smart to avoid.

Does this make Bond's 23rd outing the greatest of them all? It's too early to say - From Russia With Love, Goldfinger, On Her Majesty's Secret Service, and For Your Eyes Only still reign at near the top of any list. But without question - and this is from someone who put Casino Royale on her 2006 top-ten list - this is the best of the Craig outings, Mendes bringing the character full-circle in a way no other filmmaker before him ever has. For 50 years Bond has stirred our imaginations and shaken our emotional defenses to the core, and based on Skyfall, it wouldn't surprise me if he keeps on doing it for 50 more.



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