By Mike Wilmington Wilmington@moviecitynews.com
Wilmington on DVDs: Skyfall
PICK OF THE WEEK: NEW
SKYFALL (Also Blu-ray/DVD/Digital Copy) (Two Discs) (Three and a Half Stars)
U.K.-U.S.: Sam Mendes, 2012 (MGM)
Skyfall may be a James Bond movie for both the masses and the cognoscenti, but it begins with something as old as The Perils of Pauline — a chase and a battle on a train. In this case, the chase is in Istanbul, through a bazaar, over the streets, up to the roofs and on a speeding train, and it ends with what seems to be the end of Agent 007 himself. Thanks to a decision by his boss M (Judi Dench, at her most regal), Bond — played for the third time by Daniel Craig — is shot and plunged into the drink and into another set of flashy Bond credits, and another catchy Bond pop credits song (this time written and sung by recent Grammy-winner Adele).
He’s not dead of course. Not yet. He’ll be back before long, fighting another sadistic Bond villain (Javier Bardem as the brilliantly nefarious Silva), romancing some stunning Bond girls (including Berenice Marlohe’s sleek Severine), trading cracks with fellow agent and trigger-puller Eva (Naomie Harris), and playing with some new gadgets from a new Q (Ben Whishaw) as well as getting snared in the politics of his M16 secret service employers and combating what seems a campaign to replace M. He’ll never die, it seems, no matter who’s playing him or what the stakes are, or how many times they repeat the old Monty Norman Bond theme.
But Skyfall does have a few surprises and intimations of mortality for us, many of them involving Dench as M, who‘s had her agent files hacked and stolen by the latest super-villain, Silva (Javier Bardem, tops), and is under lots of pressure from her own bad boss, Gareth Mallory (Ralph Fiennes, at his most sullen). By the end of the show, which takes place in Scotland (Sean Connery‘s homeland), and involves Bond, M, Silva, Silva’s thugs, and a rustic and feisty gamekeeper named Kincade (Albert Finney, though Connery would have been a good choice here), most of the audience should feel they’ve had at least part of their money’s worth.
They have, Skyfall is easily one of the best Bonds — certainly better than the last outing, the sometimes dreary Quantum of Solace, and better, I think, than the deservedly much-hailed 2006 Craig debut outing, Casino Royale. If you split the movie into its elements, one way of judging the separate Bonds (since they’re all so repetitive), it usually comes out a winner. The villain. (Bardem a snaky delight as Silva.) The action scenes. (That Istanbul express. a London M16 bust-up. A high tech Chinese cliffhanger. And a final showdown on the Scottish moors, that — probably deliberately — suggests the thrills of Hitchcock’s Scottish-set The 39 Steps gone techno-happy.) And the ending of Skyfall has enough raw emotion for any three average Bonds.
Skyfall is one of the classiest of the Bonds, with one of the classiest companies.. The director is Oscar winner Sam Mendes, usually found in Oscar territory (an American Beauty on the Revolutionary Road to Perdition ), The writers include Bond veterans Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, abetted by the imaginative John Logan (Hugo). The cinematographer is the Coen brothers‘ indispensable eye, Roger Deakins. And the rest of the cast includes Whishaw, Ralph Fiennes, Helen McCrory, Rory Kinnear and CNN’s Wolf Blitzer (as himself) Like the Harry Potter movies, the Bond series likes to load it up with top Brits and others. Starting with Craig.
Did I like it? Sure. Has it lost some or all of its Ian-Flemingish savoir faire and pizzazz, it’s sense of fun and immaculate violence? Not yet, Any movie with Javier Bardem as a villain (or as a non-villain for that matter), has my vote. And Skyfall is not only a classy production on every level — well-acted, well-written, well-shot –but a rip-roaring action movie too. That puts it in a class with the prime Bonds, like Goldfinger, From Russia with Love, The Spy Who Loved Me and Casino Royale (the 2006 movie, not the entertaining but crazy 1967 version).And it certainly gives Skyfall enough juice to make it both commercially and critically. The movie is nicely sentimental too. It has touching moments, even bringing back the most wondrous of all the Bond gadgets, the Aston-Martin.
So why has Bond lasted so long (50 years and 23 movies)? Why does he kept returning and reviving? Why does he survive everything from Goldfinger’s laser to Silva’s leer? Sean Connery was the best cast 007 — and he hasn’t been Bond (the series Bond that is) since Diamonds are Forever in 1971 (or if you count non-series films, since Never Say Never Again in 1983). No subsequent 007 — not Roger Moore, George Lazenby, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan and now Craig (very good, but overrated by some) — has ever really replaced Connery, and the series had been missing something essential ever since he left. The sardonic, slightly wicked Bond humor, a crucial part of the movies after From Russia With Love in 1963, has never really returned in full force, though there are some dry martini jokes in this one. The action is still top-notch, but then most of the Bond imitators and most of the other expensive actioners have high-level action too. So do a lot of big expesive dumb movies that have almost nothing else
What Skyfall does have to offer is a deeper cast, and better acting, and more focus on drama and psychology than the series has often accustomed us to. (That seems to be the new target for longtime producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson.) Judi Dench, in particular, gets a fine, deep bow. That’s welcome. So is Bond, no matter how many time he keeps returning. Is the old spy ready to come in from the cold? Or the hot? Or even the luke-warm? Not yet.