007, action, adele, austin powers, ben winshaw, berenice marlohe, daniel craig, dr. evil, from russia with love, halle berry, james bond, javier bardem, madonna, naomie harris, octopussy, ola rapace, pierce brosnan, ralph fiennes, robert shaw, roger deakins, roger moore, sam mendes, sean connery, skyfall, spy, timothy dalton, ursula andress
Grade: A-/B+ (SEE IT)
VAMPIRES, LINDSAY LOHAN, AGENT 007: some things never die. After the franchise flatliner that was 2008’s “Quantum of Solace,” James Bond bounces back to life in the Sam Mendes-directed “Skyfall.” It’s staggering to think that 45 years ago, the fifth Bond film appeared under the title “You Only Live Twice,” starring its originator: the incomparable, martini-swilling Sean Connery. He set the gold standard for a Bond as slyly confident undercover as he was under the covers. “Skyfall,” starring the sixth actor (Daniel Craig) to embody Ian Fleming’s hero of the British Secret Service, proves that Bond has more lives than that white cat on the lap of Dr. Evil. “You expect me to talk? Connery asked Goldfinger in the eponymous 1964 film. “No. . .” replies Auric Goldfinger – all together now! – “I expect you to die.”
Not going to happen. The twenty-fourth Bond installment, “Skyfall” marks Craig’s third turn as 007 and the role, like his tailored silver suit, fits him like a glove. The action sequence that opens “Skyfall” – followed closely by the opening credits in which Adele belts the title song over an opus of a music video – plunges the viewer back into that world of improbable but entertaining stunts. Set in Turkey, a fight atop a high-speed passenger train recalls the iconic fight scene of “From Russia with Love,” and Bond, like Bourne, appears to plunge to his death after Eve (Naomie Harris) takes a shot but misses. The order comes from the all-seeing Judi Dench (as M) who won’t see her beloved Bond again until the offices of the MI6 are incinerated in a terrorist attack. Ralph Fiennes, likely to serve a larger role in the forthcoming Bond films – Craig is contracted for two more – and Ben Winshaw (as the gadget-geek Q) are superb supporting cast members. Behind the camera, the cinematography of Roger (“No Country for Old Men”) Deakins is opulently lush, notably in the Macau chapter.
“Skyfall” could be the best Bondarama since Pierce Brosnan hang up his hat in 2002’s “Die Another Day.” That’s when Halle Berry rose, Ursula Andress-style, like a bikini’d nymph from the sea and Madonna offered a bizarre cameo as a lesbian fencing coach. Ah, the Bondian world is a strange world indeed. Recall the goofiness of the Roger Moore years when, in “Octopussy,” circus clowns were killed for smuggling Fabregé eggs and, in “Moonraker,” Bond orbited the earth in a space capsule. Bond’s world is basically a hetero-male’s fantasy world designed for his pleasure. Pussy Galore, Holly Goodhead; need we say more? That’s why the queering of Javier Bardem’s villainous Silva gives “Skyfall” a much-needed edge. When Silva interrogates the agent, he draws in close, strokes Craig’s chiseled face and legs, and tells him not to be nervous as it’s his first time. “What makes you think it’s my first time?” Bond shoots back. The scene made the woman seated to my left uncomfortable – or was it the bottle of champagne she and her husband had stashed under the seat? – but the audience erupted in laughter. Clearly, Mendes and screenwriters Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, and John Logan are having some fun with Bond’s archetypal straightness and forcing him (and us) to loosen up a little.
“Skyfall” also succeeds in large part because it looks back to the Cold War days – the reappearance of that classic chrome Aston Martin DB5 is a welcomed one – and because the conflict between Silva and MI6 is personally motivated. Bardem, whose yellowy wig is reminiscent of Robert Shaw’s peroxide coif in “From Russia with Love” (1963), was disfigured by another reckless call made by M and he’s out for revenge. Could Silva be based on Wiki-leaker Julian Assange? He essentially duplicates the role of the killing machine he played in “No Country,” but he’s the right actor to simultaneously titillate and terrify.
Ever since Timothy Dalton took over as Bond in 1987’s “The Living Daylights,” an air of artificiality has hung over many of the later Bond films. Product placement, mannequin-like models come (barely) to life, gadgets that are more Sky-Mall than “Skyfall” – many Bond flicks are like the golden corpses that litter 1964’s “Goldfinger,” roundly considered the best of the lot. There is still no escaping some of these conventionalities. Silva forces Bond to shoot a shot-glass, William Tell-style, off the head of a bleeding and bound Berenice Marlohe – a misogynistic spectacle indeed – and the final show-down at the Skyfall estate, where a young Bond grew up, is overlong and ultimately tedious. Still, the backstory opens up some new territory for the franchise as it could continue to peer into Bond’s early years as an orphan in Scotland.
“Skyfall” is proof that a solid Bond – like a diamond – is forever.