Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Reel To Reel: Skyfall

License to kill renewed.

Going Rate: Worth full price
Starring: Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Javier Bardem, Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris
Rated: PG-13
Red Flags: Intense action scenes, explosions, mild language, some brief mild sex

The newest James Bond movie isn't so much another sequel as it is a reboot of the world's most famous spy series, but it doesn't become obvious until the film's closing minutes, when we realize what appeared to be a new chapter is actually a revision. In the process, it makes Bond a lot more human. To my relief, 007 also finds his wit again. He also gets the girls, although Daniel Craig's version is noticeably less obsessed with sex.

Skyfall opens with Bond in a monster of an action sequence to recover a stolen hard drive containing the true identities of several undercover agents. He's battling a baddie atop a moving train when M (Dench) orders Bond's fellow agent (Harris) to "take the bloody shot" from a long-range rifle and end it. She misses.

Bond vanishes, wounded but not dead, reminiscent of You Only Live Twice. While he's out boozing and healing and cavorting with the natives of some ocean paradise, MI6 is in upheaval. M is facing early retirement because of the hard drive theft. What's worse, the movie's proverbial Bond villain hacks into the service's computers and engineers a previously unthinkable act of terrorism.

M needs 007, but he's not quite back in the game. His aim is shaky and he's still carrying around shards of shrapnel in his chest from his last day on the job -- not quite the neatly invincible Bond we all know. With help from the colleague who nearly killed him, he tracks down master cyberterrorist Silva (Bardem), a former agent gone rogue with a face that's supposed to remind us of Julian Assange. Silva is no caricature heavy. Within him is a twisted genius that's more Hannibal Lecter than Dr. Evil, although I always wonder who bankrolls these Bond villains, and how they always manage to get so many toys.

About the toys: Q is back, in the form of a mildly annoying nerd (Ben Whishaw), but don't expect any massively innovative new gadgets. As Q points out, they don't make exploding pens. Bond's Aston Martin from Goldfinger also makes a guest appearance.

We also get a deeper glimpse into Bond's past as he returns to his boyhood home, Skyfall. Not surprisingly, it's a moldy, broken-down estate, much like Bond himself at this point, in need of remodeling. Nothing we can't solve with explosives.

I like how Skyfall embraces Bond's legacy while plugging into the world as we know it. Bond doesn't take on Russians or megalomaniac super-criminals anymore, nor should he, and this film makes it clear that those days are over. I also am relieved this film is not trying to remake 007 as a Jason Bourne clone, as was hinted in Casino Royale. (I skipped Quantum Of Solace, and I gather I won't regret it.)

Admittedly, Sean Connery's Bond remains my favorite. But I can learn to like Daniel Craig's version. Really, I can.

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