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Friday, November 9, 2012

Skyfall

SKYFALL

** SPOILERS **

Think On Your Sins

Skyfall is the best James Bond movie made in my lifetime. An exhilarating and joyous celebration of the very best aspects of the James Bond franchise - proudly sealed at the end with "50 Years - James Bond Will Return" emblazoned on the screen - Skyfall galvanizes 007 with confidence, wit, violence, and style to spare. Skyfall respectfully embraces the franchise's past while firmly casting its gaze towards James Bond's cinematic future and his next half-century on movie screens to come. As a lifelong James Bond fan, fumbling out of the theater in a state of giddy delirium after over two hours of grinning ear to ear while gazing, enraptured, at the screen, I realized with sheer delight that Skyfall is the Bond movie I've waited for my whole life. 

Watching Skyfall unfold was as if writers Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and John Logan and director Sam Mendes (helming his finest film) somehow delved into my subconscious and emerged with my personal James Bond Wish List lock, stock and barrel: Design a deeply personal story about Bond instead of a wacky cartoon about Bond foiling a fiendish plot for world domination? Check. Bring Bond back to Asia? (Shanghai and Macau gorgeously photographed.) Check. Bring back Q? Check. Bring back Miss Moneypenny? Check. Bring back the Aston Martin DB5? Check. (Bond even fights his enemies with the Aston Martin's weaponry and threatens to use the Ejector Seat on M. When the car is destroyed, Bond is understandably furious.) Finally include the gun barrel sequence with Daniel Craig's 007? Check. No more ridiculous gadgetry like the invisible car? Check. Address my personal dissatisfaction with Judi Dench's M and replace the grand old Dame as Bond's boss? Check. Deliberate 007 and MI-6's role in the world, post-Cold War and post-9/11? Check. Delve into Bond's origin and explain his childhood and the death of his parents? Check. Give Bond an enemy equal to and worthy of him? Check. Skyfall was like my personal James Bond Christmas morning - I got everything I ever wanted all at once.

Skyfall is a Best Of Hit Parade. The Best Train Sequence since the classic battle of wits in From Russia With Love opens the picture, with Bond battling for and nearly losing his life in Istanbul.  Adele performs the Best Opening Credits Song and Sequence since the late Maurice Binder used to design the movies' montages with silhouettes of sexy girls somersaulting across the screen. Javier Bardem as Silva is The Best Bond Villain since Sean Bean served as the scarred side of Bond's coin as 006 in Goldeneye, and Bardem blows Bean away in terms of impact and malevolence. The thrilling, ultra violent finale in Scotland - as we discover what and where is "Skyfall" - is one of the Best Finales of the franchise, as Bond and M fight for their lives against an all-out assault by Silva. Taken in all, Skyfall comes together as one of the Best Bond Films Ever. It deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as Sean Connery's classics.

As traditionally occurs for an actor playing James Bond, third time's the charm for Daniel Craig as 007. Sean Connery got Goldfinger as his third outing as Bond, generally accepted as his best. Roger Moore got The Spy Who Loved Me as his third Bond, easily his best. Daniel Craig fully becomes James Bond in Skyfall, at long last integrating the "blunt instrument" he was in Casino Royale with the finer aspects of 007, right down to shaving his face smooth after spending the first hour of Skyfall with unsightly stubble. The feeling out process of Casino Royale and the sophomore slump of Quantum of Solace are past him. Craig is truly Bond now; sleeping with every Bond Girl he comes across and exercising his license to kill at every opportunity while mining new psychological depths of 007. Like Christian Bale's Bruce Wayne in The Dark Knight Rises, Craig's Bond is past his peak form after injuries and years of toil and battery. (Bond is shot in this movie! And so is M!) No longer a crack shot and nursing severe physical and psychological wounds - the villainous Silva even taunts Bond, calling him "a physical wreck" - Craig is unfit for duty after the opening mission goes sideways. As Skyfall progresses, Bond goes back to basics - back to the very beginning of who he is - to once again earn his status as 007. Earn it, Craig does. 

MI-6 and M herself find themselves explosively under attack by Silva, a cyber terrorist and former 00-agent with a personal vendetta against M. For the second time under Dench's watch, MI-6 headquarters is leveled by an explosion. (It also happened in The World Is Not Enough.) She is taunted by Silva repeatedly: "Think on your sins". In a meta-way, the James Bond franchise is addressing itself and its own sins: ludicrous amounts of excess, minimal character development, abhorrent sexual innuendo and puns in place of genuine dialogue, stunt casting, and the greatest sin of all from the Bond films of the 90's and early 2000's, thinking that "bigger is better". With Skyfall, the Bond franchise resets itself from "bigger is better" to simply "better", but still "big" and no less thrilling or spectacular. 

Skyfall does so via Judi Dench's M, the sole cast member who spans the Pierce Brosnan Bonds of the 1990s into the Daniel Craig Bonds of today. Respectfully addressed as "Mum" by her subordinates, M is called to answer for her seventeen years running the British Secret Service, overseeing two James Bonds over the course of seven films. As Adele sings in the movie's theme song, "This is the end", for Dench's M, and for her era as James Bond's supervisor and ersatz mother figure. Bond must grow up once more. Those who've endured my 007-related rants know I've been one of Dench's incarnation of M's great detractors. But with M's passing of the torch in Skyfall, foreshadowed by a meeting by Bond and Q discussing a painting of a grand old warship being hauled out of service, one must pay their solemn respects and give sincere thanks to the old bird.

Javier Bardem is a revelation as Silva. In a stroke of genius, Skyfall gives Bond the kind of adversary he's been sorely lacking, a twisted mirror image of what he could become. James Bond's own personal version of The Joker. As Silva, Bardem has a ball playing a loquacious, dangerous, flamboyant dandy, simultaneously mesmerizing and terrifying. A tormented former agent who fancied himself "M's favorite" and fixated on her abandoning and betraying him when he has tortured by the Chinese after the handover of Hong Kong by the British in 1997, Silva is hellbent on vengeance. Like The Joker, Silva is deformed and when he reveals his "true face", it's a truly Hannibal Lecter-like moment. As a forward-thinking cyber terrorist mastermind with complete control over computer networks, Silva is a truly modern Bond villain. And also modern in other ways, as Bond learns when he meets Silva for the first time and finds himself at the mercy of Silva's busy hands. Bond's quip, "What makes you think this is my first time?" even took Silva aback. Unlike The Joker, Silva is no chaos-bringer. He is after M for very specific reasons. As a Bond villain, Silva is unforgettable. And for all of Silva's M-hating rants of how she betrayed him, Bond dispatches him how? By stabbing Silva in the back! Brilliant.

Skyfall thankfully reunites the old British Secret Service gang in all-new incarnations. Ben Whishaw is a welcome new Q, young, brash, modern and adept at computer programming, networking and hacking. Q's new presents for Bond are amusingly old school, a radio and a new Walther PPK coded to Bond's DNA (which Bond promptly loses). Naomi Harris charms as Eve, who should be Bond's enemy after she accidentally shoots him at the start of the film, but Bond is easy-going and non-plussed about it. Eve doesn't belong in the field after all, and the reveal of her last name is cause for applause. Skulking about the background is Ralph Fiennes as Mallory, an old war hound whose first initial belies his ultimate role in Bond's life. Meanwhile, in Scotland, we meet Kincaid, the shotgun-toting groundskeeper of Bond's old childhood home, and while Albert Finney is terrific, this was a role that would have brought the house down had it been filled by a certain Scotsman named Connery.

"This is the end," purred Adele repeatedly in the theme song, but as Bond himself tells Silva, his hobby is "resurrection". Casino Royale brought us Craig as Bond, but Skyfall resurrects all of James Bond's key players, ready to meet the threats of the 21st century. For the first time since Timothy Dalton was Bond in The Living Daylights, Daniel Craig's James Bond confidently strides into the old office Connery and Moore sauntered through decades ago, past the desk where Moneypenny sits, through the padded double doors, into the office of old man M for his next assignment "For Your Eyes Only", and everything old is new again. Skyfall, reaching back and lovingly grasping James Bond's legacy to bring it into the present, is a wondrous new beginning for 007. This is not the end for James Bond. The future for 007 looks very bright, indeed. Because James Bond faced it all at Skyfall.

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