Bond matures

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Sony Pictures
James Bond (Daniel Craig, left) faces the nefarious Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem) in Skyfall.

Value added as Craig plays an older 007 and Mendes crafts a smarter action film

The past comes back to haunt James Bond in Skyfall, the 23rd entry in moviedom’s most successful franchise. Daniel Craig returns for the third time as 007, Her Majesty’s secret agent who now feels his age catching up with his increasingly fragile body.

Skyfall marks a departure for formulaic Bond films. This one is more talky, with less action, and more prone to self-analysis — not what you would expect from the infamous ladies’ man with a license to kill.

Although Skyfall might not be a typical Bond action-adventure, it is a better movie for its bold venture into new territory. But the film also represents how, in general, Bond films have progressed to becoming recognized as quality works and not just cheesy action flicks.

This upgrade of the Bond films can be found in the A-list cast of fresh faces, from the young (Ben Whishaw as the new Q) to the old (Albert Finney as a Bond family retainer) to the in-between (Ralph Fiennes as a government bureaucrat who looks slated to return in future Bond films). In addition, Judi Dench returns as M, and Javier Bardem makes a chilling blond villain.

Sam Mendes, who’s not known for action films, directed Skyfall, bringing his expertise for handling actors and dialogue to the story and script from three prominent scribes, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and John Logan. Cinematographer Roger Deakins, the best at his craft, provided the crisp and perfectly composed photography. And, not to overload the superlatives, but the opening credit sequence, always a Bond attribute, is the most creative seen this year.

The story itself revolves around Britain’s foreign service, MI6, coming under attack by an unknown assailant. The perpetrator seems to hold a grudge against M, levying a series of disasters aimed to embarrass her while killing scores of people and causing immense damage. After an opening sequence in which it looks like Bond has died (fat chance), he returns to duty, a little more disheveled and perhaps drinking too much.

He eventually finds and apprehends the bad guy, Silva (Bardem), a garrulous ex-agent-turned-criminal-mastermind who seems more in the vein of earlier, more reflective Bond bad guys, like Dr. No or Blofeld. But Silva’s capture only brings about more trademark Bond diversions: chases, face-offs, explosions and, of course, beautiful women.

But director Mendes detours long enough to go retro, bringing out Bond’s shelved Aston Martin and returning to the Bond ancestral home in Scotland, Skyfall.

During it all, Bond and M indulge in enough soul-searching conversations to create a real personal drama, and that alone might make this a different and, in some ways, better Bond film.

MOVIE RATING

Skyfall

*** 1/2

Rated PG-13, 143 minutes.

Opens Friday.

 


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