Sunday, November 25, 2012


The thrill and wonder of a great chase sequence is that spontaneous charge that the action is all being made up on the spot.  A kinetic improvisation that can send a chill and shiver down your spine without ever being aware of the highly choreographed pyrotechnics involved.  There's a feeling like that at the beginning of Skyfall, the twenty-third James Bond outing, as Bond runs and leaps, rides and bounces in a sequence that's heart-poundingly good.  The mission, if one bothers to care, is in order to retrieve a British-intelligence ruining flash drive, but the fun is seeing the team jettison from car to train in a such a pulsating and nervy way-- one that's also thankfully and elegantly straightforward.  The start-up is a beaut, and director Sam Mendes, rightfully begins on a high note, sticking to formula, but bristling with energy.  Of course, as formula dictates, the action sequences is but a prelude for the second prelude, the grand musical title sequence-- this time courtesy of Adele's already winning hit.  There's a tricky task to come into a Bond film, even after all these years, as there's such a well-greased machine to it that the audience expects, necessitates and argues about until the next round.  For Skyfall, which enters cinemas the same year as Bond is celebrating its 50th anniversary as a cinematic franchise, there appears great measures to get this one exactly right.  Starting with bringing aboard Mendes, an Oscar-winning director and respected man from the theater, along with a far more illustrious team on and off camera.  Yes, Skyfall is fun entertainment, and a benchmark for the series, but the formula need not be forgotten either, and it isn't.

Six years ago when Daniel Craig started his turn as 007, he brought an icy cool resurgence to not just the series, but to character himself.  A formidable and a broodingly charismatic star-- Bond's first blonde--Craig rejuvenated a hipness that the series perhaps never really had before.  While beckoning on the classic mold, his come-on was tighter and the series raised its stakes ever more to keep up with his intensity.  2006's Casino Royale seemed to please not just the loyalists, but a newer generation more in tune to the grooves of the Bourne films.  While his second feature, Quantum of Solace wasn't quite as successful, Craig and team are definitely on the rebound.  Skyfall is notable for embarking on a slightly more weathered look at Bond-- a little more unraveled, morally ambiguous and physically drained.  Craig embodies all these elements wonderfully, while still maintaining the essence of Bond.  He's still a master spy, an impeccable dresser and charming cad with the ladies.  The best subversion Craig has imbued in his Bond, is he's more the sexpot than his comely conquests.

The fullest, most complete arc to Skyfall comes at further cementing the push and pull, mother and child relationship with Bond and his MI6 superior M (again played by Judi Dench.)  Typically sidelined, distilling orders and light judgements, Skyfall is the first film to truly dive into their complicated narrative.  It's also the first film where the villain of the piece has motives directly targeted at them, and more specifically, her.  There's a nod, as M is caught under fire over the her division's current failures that ought to put her old school ways of espionage out to pasture as they connect to a cinematic franchise that is legendary for it's starts and finishes.  And while there are those among the Bond-o-sphere that will proclaim Skyfall the heartiest of escapist entertainment to the level of near exhaustion and thunderous chatter when the film fails to sway the hard to please members of Academy, there is reason to cheer for Skyfall and its fun, but it's also important to remember that this is a Bond movie first and forever.  Mendes and team have made an excitingly diverting film, and through their effort they are simultaneously paying homage to and subverting the routine Bond formula, without ever quite transcending it.

Silva (playing with a bouncy chill of menace by a to the rafters Javier Bardem) is a cunning devil of a villain.  He has old school ties to M and knows exactly the kind of maternal protection that 007 shows for her.  He comes around, not with typical bombastic worldwide takeover plans, but instead with a vendetta.  And he's sharply and sickly threatening.  His chilling entrance begins with a teasing and slightly flirtatious tet-a-tet with a tied up Bond-- it's a grandiose and flamboyantly alive scene merely because of Bardem's tenacity.  Silva is frightening and certainly capable of extreme devastation, but the problem with Silva, and main problem with Skyfall, is that he remains at heart a one-dimensional figure of destruction.  The model for Mendes and teams appears to be slightly from Christopher Nolan's revision of The Dark Knight tale, with a darker mood and more unsettling volcanic and vengeful baddie, but instead it sometimes plays too self-serious, and Silva is no Joker-- he's all flash, zero substance despite the actorly massaging Bardem artfully employs.  The mayhem is again just playing lip service to the firmly cemented formula of Bond.

Skyfall is, in the end, blockbuster eye candy.  But it is sublimely concocted eye candy.  Aesthetically, this may be the most accomplished Bond film ever made, with Mendes, a newbie at franchise for hire work, adept at the challenges.  One of his smartest moves was bringing in cinematographer\poet Roger Deakins to photograph the action and mayhem.  The camera work is sizzling, stark and potent, and the action sequences have a visual clarity (courtesy of editor Stuart Baird) that seems nearly forgotten in the jump-cut-to-death styling of now.  Skyfall is certainly the best acted Bond feature, likely to date, with Craig firmly at its center, Dench given more to chew on, Bardem hamming about, and a supporting cast that includes Ralph Fiennes, Noamie Harris, Albert Finney, and a delicious Ben Whishaw as a young Q.  The formula is tried and true, and now for fifty years strong.  B 

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