This wasn’t your grandpa’s cheeky secret agent, winking his way through shaken Martinis and karate chopping cardboard villains with hammy aplomb – as so immortally parodied by Mike Myers in the category killing Austin Powers franchise. This was a Bond for our more cynical times: lean on the goofy gadgets and played straight by a robust gym rat in Daniel Craig who has the physicality to both blitz through parkour urban chase sequences and go hand-to-hand in brutal fight scenes that have a genuine violence.
Yet, 2008’s saggy sequel, Quantum of Solace, left fans cold and the Daniel detractors were out in force again. Skyfall, though, is the reboot’s redeeming third act – a strong enough sequel to solidify the latest Bond as one of the essentials. The film’s quick pace (despite a diabolically long 143 minute run time) and eerily sinister villain, in the almost incongruently brilliant Javier Bardem, is enough to spare Daniel Craig from the trivia question obscurity of the unfortunate George Lazenby. So, without further exposition, here are the top 5 reasons to see Skyfall.
#1) Javier Bardem: The Spanish born actor first made his mark in an Oscar winning turn as the floppy banged, air-gun carrying psyhcopath in No Country For Old Men. Admirers of that performance might have thought the actor couldn’t possibly find a comparable note of creepy evil – or a comparabley creepy haircut. Yet, Javier’s take on the Bond villain, as a menacingly bleach-blond cyberterrosist (with matching bushy blond eyebrows) and an aggressivley homoerotic crush on 007, is undoubtedly the most frightening thing on screen this fall.
Javier is Silva, a former MI6 agent out for veneance on the British spy agency – and Judy Dench‘s maternal M most of all. Silva’s less than cosmic aspirations (Bond villains usually want to take over the world, or at least destroy it) leave something to be desired. But at least if the script is going to boil down to an elaborate game of cat and mouse, Bardem delights as a deranged menace who is uncannily comfortable going both ways.
#2) The Bond Girl: I do unfortunately mean this in the singular. Bond generally has two affairs along the way: one with the button-down MI6 company girl who plays hard to get – until she doesn’t – and the second, a femme fatale type 007 seduces to get closer to the villain. Bond’s obligatory office romance with a woman who turns out to be an iconic recurring character (I’ll say no more) has about as much sexual intrigue as a TPS report. But the brief fling between Bond and newcomer Berenice Merlohe, playing Silva’s unsatisfied girlfriend, picks up the slack. Berencie is right out of Bond-girl central casting, in the best way: a dark and sumptuous bombshell who is inexplicably both lusciously curvaceous and deviously angular. The only problem with her role is the amount of steam obscuring the action in her shower scene with Craig. This is a plea to the Bond brain-trust for the next installment: please carve out a fuller role for a woman with such ample . . . talents.
#3) The opening chase!: If every action movie absolutely must start with a “spectacular” set-piece to hook your inner ten-year-old boy, then at least let’s pray its an inventive mashup of vehicles and violence. This summer’s Dark Knight Rises offered a completely original vision of a midair plane hijacking in which I dare any nitpicker to spot the green-screen seams. Skyfall, with reported cuts to less than half of Rises’ $300 million budget, couldn’t soar to those cinematic heights. But there is nonetheless a solid opening that crescendos to a steal-crunching union for two of the most base boyhood fetishes: trains and tractors. Oh, and machine guns. What else could you want?
#4) Daniel Craig: The man seems at times like he was born to reinvent 007. But there is something deeply sacrilegious about a fragile Bond. Most incarnations of the character have trucked along blithely well past their leading man’s physical best: Sean Connery was a grandfatherly 53 upon release of Never Say Never Again. Daniel’s predecessor, Pierce Brosnan, also saw his 50th year as his tenure came to a close. In comparison, Daniel Craig, a spry 44, could probably rip off more push-ups than all the previous Bonds combined. Skyfall, though, isn’t afraid to show the midlife cracks of a slightly craggy Craig. The actor sports a grey beard for the first act of the film and much of the story turns on the literal battle scars that have mounted to make the super spy just a little more human.
Yet, the movie never fully lets itself go down this path as the action unfolds. The result is the whole wounded warrior premise feels like a bit of a wilted attempt to deconstruct the Bond mythology, a-la batman in Christopher Nolan‘s Dark Knight trilogy. It’s a pleasing attempt, and Daniel has the range to go there, and much deeper – but that’s just not the way I want to take my 007. Another plea to the producers: if you want us to be stirred, give us a Bond who isn’t so badly shaken.
#5) Adele’s theme song: It’s hard to recall the last time a theme song written explicitly for a film was such a stylish and sultry ear worm. The amazing part of the singer’s ode to Bond (also called Skyfall) is the track is a completely realized treat you could imagine existing entirely without the film – while at the same time satisfying all the orchestral, hair-raising cool of the original music. The song even adds some of the surf guitar tones used to such great effect by Monty Normam, composer of the original theme. But the real attraction is the signer herself. If Adele’s haunting command of melody over a such a beautifully arranged track can’t seduce you, neither will Bond himself.
Don’t forget to check it out when it hits theaters Nov. 9!
— Gino Orlandini
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