2 hours, 23 minutes
As my wife and I were leaving the theater at the end of the latest 007 adventure, “Skyfall,” I ran into the daughter of some close family friends also leaving, having just seen the movie as well.
“Well,” I said, “How did you like it?”
“Good!” she said, “really good!”
“Are you a big Bond fan?” I asked, already trying to frame my review for the film in relation to its many predecessors.
“Oh,” she said, “I’ve never seen one before.”
Wow. How is that possible? That was my first reaction, but after I thought about it for a while, it actually seems right. For a series of films that’s lasted 50 — count ’em, 50 — years, there has to be a way to reintroduce the character to a new generation of fans. That’s what “Skyfall” does. It reintroduces James Bond to a whole group of people who never knew Connery or Moore, never suffered through Timothy Dalton or rejoiced at the perfect casting of Pierce Brosnan, only to watch him get buried under an avalanche of bad puns.
What’s odd is not that we’re seeing a kind of glorious re-boot of Bond, but that it’s being done in the third film of the current Double-O Daniel Craig era. Shouldn’t “Casino Royale” or its sequel “Quantum of Solace” have filled that bill? Actually, in this case, no. I see those two films, good movies, exciting and entertaining, but not really as true James Bond movies. “Casino” and “Quantum” are actually two halves of the same movie, whose job was not to restart the series, but rather to introduce us to a new kind of Bond — rough, uncouth, and blond.
Daniel Craig was such a different kind of 007 than we were all used to, that those first two films of his act as almost an audition. “Skyfall” is the payoff, where bruiser Daniel Craig truly becomes James Bond and the series truly starts anew. What we regain is the series’ sense of fun. The humor, which has, at times, been unbearably bad, is back, but under the direction of classy Oscar-winner Sam Mendes, doesn’t get out of control. Mostly, though, it’s the dourness, the brooding that has finally been lifted, giving us one of the most entertaining Bond films in years.
In the film’s signature action-packed opener, Bond and partner Eve are in hot pursuit of an international terrorist who has just stolen the top-secret list of all of NATO’s undercover operatives around the world. After a thrilling fight featuring an excavator crushing VW bugs while driving on top of a speeding train, things go very bad for Bond, and we’re off.
Back in Britain, M, played again here with a comfortable grouchiness by Judi Dench, has troubles of her own. The theft of the aformentioned list has started to make the bureaucrats in London re-think the whole mission of MI6, and whether a supersecret spy organization is a good idea at all. If that weren’t bad enough, a shadowy figure from M’s past has reappeared causing no end of chaos.
Bond, presumed dead, but actually hiding out at the bottom of a bottle, is forced to reappear and present himself for reactivation. This is easier said than done, however, as Bond’s time out has left him significantly diminished. Fear not — duty calls and James Bond’s no shirker. The action takes our hero from South America to Shanghai, from London to the highlands of Scotland. There’re car chases, gun-fights, explosions, high-rise battles and even a Komodo dragon or two. There’s enough action to keep you on the edge of your seat, but, remaining true to one of the thematic elements to cross over from the last two films, almost nothing that makes you shake your head and say, “What?! No way!” There’s a sense of realism here, not overridden by the fun, but enough to keep the film from turning into a full-on comic book sci-fi movie.
Part of the lightened tone comes directly from the cast. Javier Bardem has great fun as the psychopathic Silva, and plays it far, far broader than do either of the villains from the previous films. He’s a gleefully crazy villain, and while he’s not trying to take over the world, exactly, isn’t at a loss for grandiose schemes.
Craig, as well, has eased up a bit, even smiling from time to time. Albert Finney shows up in a small role, but a fun one, and I was even excited to see the return of Q, here played by Ben Wishaw, a young British up-and-comer currently also starring in “Cloud Atlas.” During his scenes, I learned something from “Skyfall,” that had never even occurred to me to wonder about. “Q” stands for quartermaster. Of course! I wonder what “M” stands for ...
The real success of “Skyfall” is that it should be able to bridge the gap that was hewn by the gritty darkness of “Casino” and “Quantum.” People like my wife, big Bond fans, actually skipped “Quantum” because they were so disappointed in “Casino Royale.” This latest outing, however, had her thoroughly back in the fold, and even singing the praises of Daniel Craig.
And why not? He’s great in the role and “Skyfall” proves he can be all Bonds for all people. Let’s hope he doesn’t get tired of it, just as he’s getting in the swing of things.
“Skyfall” is rated PG-13 for violence, language, and scenes of sensuality.
Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.