This is the 23rd installment of the Bond franchise, which is showing its age – at least as a plot point. The major theme of playing the old school vs. the new school runs long and deep throughout 007’s adventure; at times, too long. For all that lingering ageism, the third offering from the Craig era of Bond films performs most of tricks of its trade with success.
In Skyfall, Bond’s loyalty to M is tested as her past comes back to haunt her. As MI6 comes under attack, 007 must track down and destroy the threat, no matter how personal the cost. (Synopsis by the Official Site)
That the traditional world of Bond—bullets, babes, and fights on top of trains—surpasses the modern hacker type of espionage is a multifaceted theme director Sam Mendes beats into the audience early and often. Almost every aspect of the film, from replacing Q with a much younger, hipster-type to sub-plotting M’s attempted forced retirement is a continued attempt to remind us of this duality. A series that has run this long either needs to completely reinvent itself or accept the status quo and relish in it. Somewhere between those two points lies this film. The introduction of Craig as the leading man began a major revamp of the series, turning it darker and more violent. This time around, those ideas are backed off in an attempt to capture the thematic elements that made predecessors successful.
That works within the vacuum of this film, but doesn’t help the series or future films. In a world where you are competing against the “Bourne” and “Taken” franchises, which are much slicker action films, you either need to embrace or totally reject that style. Meeting it in the middle doesn’t do justice to either type. That isn’t to say that the action sequences aren’t great; the opening credit throwback chase scene is edge-of-your-seat good, as are the stylish choreographed fights later in the film.
Bringing back old elements isn’t always a bad idea. A high point is the introduction of an actual villain, played by Javier Bardem as a homoerotic, ex-pet spy of M, a Marlon Brando down-the-jungle-river-type. Both the character and Bardem’s performance are exactly what the franchise has lacked in the last few efforts. Add in a far more complete script, one that is outright funny at times, and you are set up for success.
For a large part of the movie, the story follows a familiar path around the globe with few surprises. There is another attempt at fleshing out Bond’s back story, this time his childhood home where the final confrontation occurs, that is never fully developed. But mostly we are treated to a comfort food reminder of the Bond of yesteryear. Classic characters (and cars) are introduced with varying impact on the current story. At the end, we are set up for the next installment just as expected.
That said, there is something about this Bond film that is personal. Much more is made about Bond’s relationship with M, with its nuanced mother/boss oedipal state. This is an oddly vulnerable 007 that is not a clear-cut caricature spy. Whether this is a better Bond depends on whether you like tradition or modernization.
“See It/ Rent It/ Skip It”: See it if you are a fan of Craig/Bond. Wait for TNT to buy the rights and play it insistently every Sunday afternoon if you are not.
THREE STARS out of four.
Directed by Sam Mendes.
Rated PG-13 for intense violent sequences throughout, some sexuality, language and smoking.
Runtime: 2 hr. and 25 min.