Friday, November 9, 2012

Skyfall [2012]

MPAA (PG-13)  CNS/USCCB (A-III)  Roger Ebert (4 Stars)  Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB review
Roger Ebert's review

Skyfall (directed by Sam Mendes, written by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and John Logan, characters based, of course, on the James Bond series of books by Ian Flemming [IMDb]) had much to live up to.  After all, this film comes out on the 50th anniversary year of the release of first James Bond [IMDb] movie, Dr. No [1962].

Over those five decades, the character, played by numerous actors [IMDb]-- Sean Connery (1962-1967, 1971, 1983), George Lazenby (1969), Roger Moore (1973-1985), Timothy Dalton (1987-89), Pierce Brosnan (1997-2002 ), and most recently Daniel Craig (2006-2012) -- has inspired the imagination of action film lovers the world over (heck even the CNS/USCCB routinely gives this certainly violent (he has a "license to kill" after all ...) and legendarily promiscuous character's films A-III ratings rather than the L's or O's that it would certainly give "lesser characters" ...), and endured several crises.  In the later Roger Moore years, the question was raised whether a womanizing James Bond could really work in a post-Feminist world of gender equality.  Part of what makes the current film, Skyfall, as good as it is, is that it confronts head-on another threat to James Bond's continued "relevance":  In a world of computer hacking / cyber terrorism and "signals intelligence" is there really a need for a British secret agent "out in the field" "with an exploding pen?" ;-).  This question is directly asked in the film by the film's new "Q" (played by Ben Whishaw as a "fresh out of college, computer whiz" ;-) who clearly still "kinda likes" James Bond but also appears to find him "a bit of a dinasaur" and certainly "a distraction" to following "the bad-guys" through computer hacks in the cyber shadows of the internet.

Indeed, the chief "bad guy" in this film, IMHO the _best_ in years, is an exotically accented, creepily bleached blond computer hacker named Silva (played by Javier Bardem) out to wreak personal revenge on "M" (played in fascinatingly "motherly" fashion over the past several James Bond films by Judy Dench).  Bardem's "Silva" obviously evokes the bleach blond, exotically accented wiki-leaks founder Julian Assange who the American comedy show Saturday Night Live has pegged _for years_ as a villain cut from a James Bond story but existing in real life ;-).

The film therefore begins with James Bond and a young protege' whose first name is Eve (played by Naomie Harris) involved in a spectacular chase scene on the streets and rooftops of Istanbul (It must have been rather chaotic in Istanbul in recent years as a similar chase scene was recently featured in Liam Neeson's Taken 2 ;-), with the two chasing (with real-time coordination with "M" and her advisers back at MI6 HQ in London) a man with a stolen hard-drive containing the names of all of British Intelligence's "embedded agents" across the Middle East.  The sequence ends with Eve on direction from "M" taking a shot that hits James Bond instead of the man with the hard drive and the villain gets away.  So how cut out is Eve for "field work" when she ends up shooting her partner instead of the bad guy?  That becomes one of the subplots that runs through the rest of the film ... ;-)

However, the main thread deals with following the hard drive (and its contents) to the villain who contracted it, and ... with some justification the story then treks to some stock/updated "James Bond worthy" exotic locations centered in China including Shanghai, Macao, Hong Kong.  China is of course notorious for its computer hacking and (by reputation) the home of all kinds of potentially murky criminal organizations that again would be worthy of a James Bond plot.  Then all three cities -- Shanghai, Macao and Hong Kong -- have enough ties to a not exactly savory colonialist past to offer plenty of fodder for conspiracies that are truly global in proportion.  (Remember SPECTRE of the Ian Flemming's original James Bond books which was made up of  creepy cat-petting "industrialists" hatching their dasterdly plots from spectacularly exotic, cliff-side chalets perched high in the Swiss Alps ;-).  The same exotic cat-petting creepiness could now be replicated in the upper tiers of some of the spectacularly tall and exotically shaped skyscrapers dotting the skylines of cities across all of East Asia).   

So of course, much ensues ... including a subplot involving James Bond and an exotic South Asian looking woman (Is she supposed to be Chinese, Indian, Malay, Franco-Vietnamese...? played by Bérénice Marlohe) who comes to make for a new interesting / poignant take on the series' "Bond Girl" phenomenon).

After a devastating cyber attack on MI6 itself, "M" finds herself under ever greater Parliamentary scrutiny led by "a civilian overseer" named interestingly "Garth Mallory" (played by Robert Finnes) who plays an increasing role as a the film progresses...

Finally in this film, released for the 50th anniversary of the anniversary of the release of the first James Bond movie, Dr. No [1962], we're treated to some of James Bond's "back story" during the course of the film.  Where did he come from?  What was some of his childhood like?  To be honest, I found this part of the film weak and rather unnecessary (and for this reason give the film 3 1/2 stars rather than the 4 that most critics do).  Still with Judy Dench playing the "M" character in a somewhat "motherly" fashion (NO she's _not_ his real mother ...) I suppose an exploration of James Bond's "early years" become fair (if IMHO unnecessary) game...

All in all, this is a very good James Bond film, that both excites and leaves one with a good deal to think about.  I would have played with the last 20 or so minutes of the film differently.  But that's just one person's opinion and I thought that the rest of the film was truly excellent and in any case _most worthy_ of the franchise's 50th anniversary!

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1 comment:

  1. In all honesty, as much as I love the film, I might have played the last 20 minutes or so differently as well. Not that I think it was bad per se, but you DO get the 1 2 punch of cliche (dying in someone's arms) and fan service (the old M's office returns) plus the "reveal" that I'm sure took no one by surprise with the "introductions". :D So, good point!

    Aside from that though, like you say, this is an excellent movie that delivers the action AND some food for thought, and thats a rare combination! :D Youre right, this was definitely a worthy outing for the 50th anniversary. Much better than Die Another Day did with being the 20th Bond film. LOL!! :D