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"Skyfall" Reflects and Reestablishes Fifty Years of Bond with Mixed Results

Michael Chasin |
November 9, 2012 | 1:35 p.m. PST


Javier Bardem's Silva gets intimate with 007.
Javier Bardem's Silva gets intimate with 007.

A scene about halfway through "Skyfall" (out now) finds James Bond chained to a chair in the lair of a malevolent psychopath (aka, just another day at work). The captive agent is asked whether he has any hobbies, to which he might very well answer “drinking” or “womanizing.” But 007 is in a more self-reflexive mood. “Resurrection” he says. It’s the most blatant of many such fourth wall-leaning moments that spell out the film’s ultimate intentions: Establish the modern day relevance of this ever-shifting cultural icon while still holding on to everything that’s made him what he his throughout the character’s half century of cinematic history.

Yes, it’s a tall order, and "Skyfall’s" opening scene has the ambition to match, sending Bond on a chase through Istanbul by way of jeep, motorbike, train and crane before a snap decision from Judi Dench’s M results in a supposedly fatal plunge into the gorgeous opening title sequence and Adele’s haunting theme.

Obviously Bond survives, and returns to MI6 when the organization comes under attack from someone with a serious grudge against M, whom Dench portrays as more vulnerable than we’ve previously seen. When she first took on the role she accused Bond of being a Cold War relic, but now it’s M who might be outdated. Yet she’s not the only one out of her depth. Daniel Craig’s 007 is more damaged than ever, to the point that he may no longer be physically or psychologically capable of fending off this new threat. But M sends him off regardless, because the two of them are from the world of old school espionage. Their relationship is something each of them can count on while the nature of their line of work goes through its inevitable changes.

These changes are at the forefront, making the film very much about the past versus the present. Embodying the cutting edge, Ben Wishaw shines as a younger than ever Q, who believes his technical prowess can do more damage in a morning than Bond could with a career of fieldwork. It’s a boast made real by the villain of the piece, bleached blonde hacker Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem), who unleashes a lot of techno babble mayhem on the British secret forces in his crusade of vengeance against M after she betrayed his trust in a crucial moment—kind of like how she almost got Bond killed in this film’s opening sequence. Silva plays up the parallel when he and 007 first meet, trying to turn him (in more than one way) in a tour de force scene that further establishes Bardem as one of the best actors working today.

It's a shame a major chunk of the film reduces him to “Joker Lite” in a cat and mouse chase through London that owes a lot to "The Dark Knight," while falling far short of Nolan’s high water mark. When accompanied with "Skyfall’s" notion of hacking—a ludicrously excessive display that’s so antiquated as to border on self-parody—it makes for the weakest and most awkward segment of the movie, which further stands out as the only bit that isn’t trying to explore a specific era of Bond’s history.

It’s a legacy "Skyfall" seems intent on deconstructing step-by-step: The opening chase nestles right in with the last couple of Craig outings, the Shanghai portion evokes the sleek globetrotting of the eighties and nineties, a bar scene has the over-the-top flair of the seventies, and Silva’s island is classic Connery stuff.

It all builds to a final location that predates anything that’s come before, a glimpse into Bond’s origins that serves as the final battleground on which the film’s three main players must escape the past as it burns down around them in a spectacular finale. By the end, Sam Mendes has solidified the future of the Bond franchise (for the next couple of installments at least) through either resurrection or death, which would have been a more impressive feat were the last couple minutes not so distractingly clunky.

But was this latest rejuvenation even necessary? "Casino Royale" was a thrilling and modern take on Bond that made 007 undeniably relevant. Though "Quantum of Solace" was something of a haphazard mess, it kept the same tone and continued building on what was already there. It would have been entirely possible to continue in that vein, but instead Sam Mendes along with writers John Logan, Neal Purvis, and Robert Wade jettisoned most of what the last couple films achieved in the interest of spiritually rebooting the franchise yet again. For those who wanted more of the borderline sociopath Craig portrayed in the past two installments, he’s largely absent, replaced by a more traditional, genuinely charming take on the character. His performance definitely works, but it’s hard not to miss the more grounded take when it worked so well in "Royale."

"Skyfall" is ultimately a mixed bag, and each person’s individual enjoyment will largely depend on how much they’re bothered by some of its more ridiculous elements. Yet its overall ambition, Roger Deakins’ breathtaking cinematography, and compelling performances from the entire cast make it well worth a look.

Reach Contributor Michael Chasin here. Follow him on Twitter here. For more movie reviews, isten to The Post Credits Podcast.



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