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Thursday, Nov. 8, 2012 05:32 am

Skyfall returns Bond to solid ground

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Daniel Craig as James Bond in Skyfall.

In a recent interview, director Sam Mendes stated that Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight “gave me the confidence to take Skyfall in directions that might not have been possible before it had been released.” The second Batman movie was a wake-up call for the filmmaker and producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson as far as the stature of the James Bond character is concerned. Having successfully recast the role with Daniel Craig in Casino Royale but stumbling badly with the misguided Quantum of Solace those charged with making Bond relevant knew they had their work cut out for them.

With the release of Skyfall, the 23rd Bond feature, it’s obvious that Mendes and company have risen to the challenge in a major way. The best film in the series in the last 20 years and one of the top five since its inception 50 years ago, this movie is a turning point for the franchise as it dares to reimagine many of its key elements setting the character and series on a firm path for the future, yet takes the time to recognize its storied past.

While the film sticks to the basic template that every feature in the series has adhered to since 1962’s Dr. No, screenwriters John Logan, Neal Purvis and Robert Wade make sure to include no shortage of innovations where character development and shaking up the Bond universe is concerned. This time out, Bond is charged with retrieving a stolen hard drive that contains the names of every British agent who’s become embedded in numerous international terrorist organizations. It becomes obvious early on that the man with the plan to create all sorts of havoc for MI-6 is Silva (Javier Bardem), a charming maniac who has the intention of shaking the agency to its very core. That he has a past with M (Judi Dench), the head of this espionage agency, only adds to the intrigue.

In watching the film unfold you get the sense that everyone involved in its making was intent on improving the series in every conceivable way and that a great deal of thought and imagination was put into each plot point and action sequence. From the pre-credit sequence that finds Bond destroying a Turkish bazaar as well as a train in pursuit of a ruthless assassin to an astonishing hand-to-hand combat sequence done completely in silhouette, each moment is set to impress and they all succeed.

Equally impressive is the way in which the film delves into Bond’s past. Though not a full-fledged origin story, we find out a bit about where he comes from during the film’s third act, which takes place in the Scottish Highlands in a location that’s haunted by a past better left forgotten. Time and history are two of the film’s major themes as Bond is referred to as a “dinosaur” throughout, what with his pre-21st century methods, the fact that his skills have diminished after an unexpected hiatus and his unflinching loyalty to MI-6 and M. Giving the character feet of clay adds a dimension of peril and realism to the film. Bond now rarely walks away unscathed from the various precarious situations he finds himself in. We know that the physical and psychological wounds he suffers will have a permanent effect that will carry over to other adventures.

Silva ends up being one of the agent’s more intriguing enemies as he’s everything Bond is not. Primarily using cyberterrorism in order to wound MI-6, in his mind he’s been wronged by M and is intent on making Bond see the error in being loyal to her. Bardem is having great fun here, yet though it’s an outsized role, he doesn’t overplay things too much, though he does have his moments, especially during an interrogation scene with 007 in which he questions his sexuality.

This is one of the many highlights in the film and while it does run a bit long, it manages to raise the bar for future episodes.

Contact Chuck Koplinski at ckoplinski@usd116.org.

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