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With: Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Javier Bardem, Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris, Bérénice Marlohe, Albert Finney, Ben Whishaw, Rory Kinnear, Ola Rapace, Helen McCrory, Nicholas Woodeson
Written by: Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, John Logan, based on characters created by Ian Fleming
Directed by: Sam Mendes
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for intense violent sequences throughout, some sexuality, language and smoking
Running Time: 143
Date: 23/10/2012

Skyfall (2012)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

The Word Is Bond

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

After the pathetic Quantum of Solace (2008), Skyfall is the worthy follow-up that Casino Royale (2006) deserved. While the previous film was saddled with what appeared to be an unfinished screenplay and a less-than-qualified director, the new one has stepped up its game with a solid script, first-class director (Oscar-winner Sam Mendes) an all-time great cinematographer, Roger Deakins, and some set design and art direction that would make all of this year's literary adaptations dry up and blow away.

As with some of the more recent Bond films, the opening teaser -- co-starring Naomie Harris -- actually ties into the story, and it ends with a shock, before going into Adele's much-celebrated title song. From there, the plot has to do with a stolen hard drive containing the names of all the undercover MI6 agents implanted in terrorist cells around the world. James Bond (Daniel Craig) finds a suspect, and collects a gambling chip that leads him to a fancy casino (of course!). There he drinks his requisite martini (and not the Heinekin an early report led us to believe), and chats with a beautiful girl (Bérénice Marlohe). She has ties to the bad guy, Silva (Javier Bardem). After a brawl with some bodyguards, Bond is off to save the day. Unfortunately, Silva is one of his most challenging foes.

In addition, Ralph Fiennes joins the cast as a new bureaucrat in the MI6 office, and Ben Whishaw is the new "Q," complete with a series of "young vs. old" jokes. Albert Finney also stars, though his role comes in later in the story and is best left undisclosed.

For this entry, director Mendes tends to slow things down, allows the mix to thicken. Rather than faster and louder chase/fight scenes, he now allows them to be snappy and clever. One fight scene takes place in an astonishing setting: an upper floor of a Shanghai high-rise, with glass walls everywhere, multi-colored city lights reflected in every one of them. Mendes shoots a quick brawl in one shot, with the players in silhouette, culminating in a breaking window.

Another fight takes place in a casino/nightclub; Bond and his assailant fall into a decorative pit filled with giant Gila Monsters. The fight is over rather shortly.

Even the Bond girls in this one don't hang around for long. They serve their purpose, which is sometimes rather dark, and then they move on. This Bond is too brooding and self-centered to get too cuddly with any one woman. Indeed, a couple of well-placed lines of dialogue reveal more about Bond's character than in any other previous movie. He now seems sadder than ever before, trapped and damaged, rather than just cool and aloof.

To be sure, the movie gets a bit ridiculous during its final showdown, but that's to be expected. Mendes doesn't mess too much with the formula, overall, and it goes to show that he's probably better with unpretentious material than he is trying to get important on us (see Revolutionary Road). Skyfall happens to arrive very near the 50th anniversary of Dr. No (1962), the very first James Bond movie, and it suggests an exciting, mature new direction for the series. These movies don't have to be trashy and cheap. They can be exciting and exotic, to be sure. But now they're also relevant.
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