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11 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of Bond's Very Best; A Brilliant Mix of Old and New., November 18, 2012
This review is from: Skyfall (Blu-ray/ DVD + Digital Copy) (Blu-ray)
When MGM/UA/Columbia made the decision to reboot one of their most important but faltering franchises with 2006's CASINO ROYALE, James Bond had become vital again. A decidedly more modern storytelling approach to the character with a whole new and edgier Bond (Daniel Craig) in the mix helped to create possibly the best Bond film of all time. It set a new standard that future Bond films would have to live up to. Gone were the super-duper futuristic gadgetry and groan-inducing double entendres and one-liners. Bond was finally ready to exit the realm of self-parody that the series had embraced readily since the Roger Moore days and even more firmly with the last few Pierce Brosnan films, and present us with a much grittier and deadlier, but alternately more human Bond; a Bond more comfortable with the assassin aspects of having a Double-O rating, but carrying with him something deeper behind those icy blue eyes. The series seemed to become more of a character study rather than the usual cavalcade of Bond Girls, cars that turn into submarines, boom boxes that became rocket launchers and massive underground volcano bases. This was now a Bond for the 21st Century. Sadly, the potential for this new direction felt somewhat squandered when it came to Craig's second Bond film QUANTUM OF SOLACE, which had the dubious honor of being the only Bond film that was a direct sequel to the previous film. Suddenly, the fact that it was a Bond film felt incidental and it just didn't work. Then the powers that be behind the franchise decided, much to their great benefit, that getting an Academy Award-winning filmmaker, Sam Mendes, to helm their next adventure was a good idea, and this gave us, on the 50th anniversary of Bond's cinematic career, SKYFALL, which is pretty much the quintessential Bond film that blends the new sensibilities of the character and storytelling combined with a great affection for many of the things that make Bond... James Bond the icon he is.

The film opens with a pre-credits sequence that is heart-pounding and heart-stopping as Bond, along with fellow MI-6 agent Eve (Naomie Harris), pursue a man with a stolen computer hard drive, the contents of which are unknown to us at this time. The pursuit goes from car chase to rooftop motorcycle chase to on top of a moving train where a judgment call by M (Judi Dench, reprising her role for the seventh time) gets Bond shot, plummetting to his presumed death, and allows the bad guy to get away. Back at MI-6, M gets caught up in a bureaucratic nightmare as Gareth Mallory (Ralph Fiennes), a seeming stuffed shirt for The Ministry of Defence steps in to announce that the drive that was stolen not only contained the list of every NATO deep cover agent in the world, but that the contents of that drive could be released and that this will all fall on M's head. In another part of the world, Bond is still alive, spending his time "enjoying death" as he beds women, engages in dangerous behavior, but he seems amused really by none of it. Soon, an explosion rocks MI-6 headquarters, resulting in the deaths of several agents and Bond decides that it's time to return home. After a series of rigorous physical and psychological tests seem to show that perhaps Bond is no longer fit for duty, M announces that he's clear and assigns him to find whoever's responsible for this attack, but one more thing is needed to complete the package: Bond needs to meet the new Quartermaster (or just "Q", if you prefer), a maybe-too-young moppy-haired computer genius (Ben Whishaw). The trail leads him to a number of exotic locales, a few battles, and then finally into the clutches of Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem), a former agent and expert hacker with a VERY serious grudge against M. The tensions mount as Bond desperately fights the machinations of Silva and races to save and protect M, which then leads to a final showdown at a mysterious but very important place called Skyfall.

The most unusual thing about this film is that, while watching it, I felt there were moments that dragged a bit at the beginning of the second act, but when revisiting it in my mind, I realized that these were moments we normally don't get in Bond films; moments of character development. The arc that Bond is given here is something that shows part of who he really is, partly in his lack of purpose during periods of inaction, his fear of losing his identity as a Double-O, and particularly in his relationship to M. To that end, Craig gives possibly his best performance to date, and firmly owns the character of James Bond. Dench again brings wit, humanity and gravitas to M, and also gives her best outing in this series. Fiennes sadly doesn't have a great deal to do, but when he does, he gives Mallory a refined pragmatic exterior but still a dangerous edge and is a welcome addition to the franchise. Whishaw is not quite the meta geek that one might expect in the post-modern self-referential age we live in, but in the scenes he has, he plays them with enthusiasm, some playfulness, but a surprising seriousness for someone of his age, demonstrating that he is definitely not too young to be Q. Harris as Eve and Berenice Lim Marlohe as Severine are the beautiful Bond Girls this time around, and they both put in considerable work despite the somewhat limited screentime they may have. The great Albert Finney comes in kind of late to the proceedings, but is great fun to watch.

The absolute star (from an acting standpoint, anyway) of the film though is Bardem, a famously chameleonic actor, and he slips into the somewhat tragic evil of Silva with the ease of a master actor deeply at home. His introduction is something of legend and is unlike that of any Bond villain I could recall. With his dyed blonde hair and eyebrows and his effeminate affectations and demonically playful humor, Bardem makes another case for being one of the best actors working today. The best comparison that I can make to his performance and the character is that of Heath Ledger's Joker in THE DARK KNIGHT. His plan is so many steps ahead of everyone else, but everything he does, no matter how destructive, has this hint of sick humor and glee to it. Silva is less of a villain as he is an agent of fate.

But it could be argued that the most important ingredient of this brilliant mix is Sam Mendes. From doing more "high-brow" films such as AMERICAN BEAUTY to ROAD TO PERDITION (ironically, Daniel Craig's first American film) to REVOLUTIONARY ROAD, he seemed like a very unlikely choice to helm a major franchise action/adventure film, but as it turns out, like Brad Bird on the MISSION IMPOSSIBLE franchise, J.J. Abrams on STAR TREK and Christopher Nolan on the BATMAN films, Mendes could not have been more right to make this film. Taking the script by mainstays Neal Purvis and Robert Wade (who have been working on the series together since THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH), but bringing in new blood in writer John Logan (GLADIATOR, THE LAST SAMURAI, as well as Fiennes' directorial debut COROLANIUS), they bring an old-school feel with simple things like giving Bond back his Walther PPK (with the new twist of being coded to Bond's palmprint so that only he can fire it) to a reveal of an absolute classic Bond car. But perhaps the most important thing that Mendes brings is the sensibilty of being an actor's director. He understands that in order to make a great film, you have to have great characters, and here, he gets to play with many of the most iconic characters of the Bond mythology, and is able to make all of them seem fully fleshed out. With a key assist from cinematographer Roger Deakins, this team created what will more than likely come to be viewed as the archetype for what a great Bond film should be: High-flying, globe-trotting adventure with luscious landscapes and some extraordinary set pieces, but keeping the characters grounded in real human motivations that allow the audience to truly relate to their heroes (as well as the villains, in this film's case).

SKYFALL has entered into the arena of the greatest of the Bond films by being very smart, extraordinarily well-made, extremely well-acted, but packed with enough of the charm and joy and excitement that only James Bond can bring.

I also kinda liked the Adele song, too. That's saying a lot.
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Dec 2, 2012 10:14:01 PM PST
Todd R. says:
u must be joking

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 2, 2012 11:02:43 PM PST
What do you think I'm joking about?
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