Skyfall ★★★½

Starting with the first Daniel Craig Bond, Casino Royal, the franchise has made a shift in tone to a more “real” and less glossy Bond. I find it interesting that in the new millennium the filmgoers have embraced this more human Bond (as two of the three films have been critically acclaimed as well as box office winners), whereas when the more gritty and less gimmick Bond was first trotted out years ago by Timothy Dalton, the effort got slammed even though I thought both his performance and the film itself to be excellent.

The entire story here is a more personal one. The main antagonist, in a performance that for me somehow resonated John Malkovich weirdness as portrayed by Javier Bardem, has a much more personal agenda than the usual megalomaniac Bond villain – even though his rationale leaves a bit to be desired.

The story also gets more personal in exploring the relationship between 007 and M, as well as diving into previously untapped territory in giving Bond a back story and, heaven forbid, allows Bond to be human in that he is…. Ageing!!! That the script gets a bit too heavy handed in this regard is unfortunate (in a service test, Bond is written up for having an alcohol and substance abuse dependency).

Sam Mendes does a nice job in directing traffic here, straddling the line between action film and character study, and even giving us a bit of humor (there is some catty interplay between M and 007, as well as some well delivered lines by the great Albert Finney.

All the main characters deliver the goods (as to be expected with Craig and Dench), and I enjoyed the addition of Ben Wishaw as the new Q (a Q for the new millennium – as he points out to Bond – “we don’t do exploding pens anymore”). Yes, this is a newer, slimmed down version of Bond – the gimmicks are for the most part gone (although the hand print coded Walter PPK is used to good advantage) – so Bond must rely on his wits and his fists (and the help of an old, old friend).

This re-inventing of Bond has been good for the franchise, but I’m glad that they decided to keep the usual Bond film traditions of the elaborate chase scene intro, as well as the cool opening credits sequence. Overall Skyfall has a more involved and realistic plot (which, typical of just about all action type films has some serious holes that most viewers will simply ignore as the action is pretty compelling regardless), and is certainly a nice rebound from the moribund Quantum of Solace. It is beautifully filmed, with some terrific sequences and vistas, typical of the franchise which, when it began, acted as a kind of travel log to distant and exotic places. Mindless entertainment – of course, but it does entertain… something that Quantum didn’t do.

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