Look Out Below: Delicious villainy, Daniel Craig sexuality make for a thrilling Bond adventure in Skyfall.
Thursday, November 8, 2012
Ah, finally we understand the masterplan that has been quietly ticking over since Casino Royale. That movie was not, in fact, the 007 reboot – it merely set the stage for the reboot. It introduced us to Daniel Craig and raised him up from a pup to a supercool secret agent rockin’ a tux and a forever-broken heart. But though it hinted at the new global mess of ideological terrorism and financial supervillainy that supplanted the Cold War, it kinda avoided delving into such matters more than it had to. How does a relic like James Bond fit into the world today? The sneaky cleverness of Skyfall is that, at last, it is going to tell us why Bond still matters.
It is not going to make it easy on itself, though, nosiree. Bond is taunted by his villain, Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem), who likes himself some cybercrime, with a hearty “Chasing spies: so old-fashioned!” M (Judi Dench) is grilled by an MP who accuses her and her agency of lingering in a lost “golden age of espionage.” But Skyfall is confident enough to face the Cold War legacy of Bond head-on, and with the sort of glee that comes from knowing it has a wicked riposte up its sleeve.
Everything that makes Bond Bond is challenged here, in fact, and if that sounds kinda depressing, kinda like it’s beating up on our fantasies… well, it isn’t. There’s an astonishing cool elegance to Skyfall, as if director Sam Mendes had stumbled over the idea of The Action Movie itself, and so was compelled to lay it all out for us with an air of wondrous discovery: Look what the movies can do! (Mendes hasn’t made a film quite like this before, but the grimly graceful Road to Perdition perhaps comes closest.) I felt like I’d never seen a motorcycle chase before, or fisticuffs on top of a train: Mendes makes them glossy without seeming slick, and suave without seeming glib. Gosh, and Skyfall just plain looks gorgeous, too: I’m not sure that skylines either neon-slick (Shanghai’s) or stone-gray (London’s) have ever looked so beautiful onscreen; thank you, Roger Deakins, secret agent of cinematography.
The action gave me delicious chills; the rest of it is even more thrillingly witty and classy. The plot revolves around the hunt for a stolen hard drive containing some very sensitive information – it’s less of a Macguffin than it sounds – and revolving around the plot is some toe-curlingly mischievous play with motifs of fear and aging and gulp even death. Honestly, Bond looks like hell through much of Skyfall (in, never fear, a still scrumptiously sexy way), and much is made of how perhaps he’s getting too old for this shit. That’s reflected in the brand-new Q (Ben Whishaw), younger enough than Bond to haul 007 and MI6 and this universe into the Matrix-y futureworld of cyber warfare that is already occurring around them. It’s reflected in another agent, Eve (Naomie Harris), who is fully Bond’s equal in the field and is a clear slap in the face to the notion of the “Bond girl” who exists to be only his bed partner, not a professional partner – she’s also younger than him.
But on the flip side, there’s M being challenged by her political boss (Ralph Fiennes), who sees her as no longer able to do the job required of her; she is a remnant of the almost-swept-away past that he would like to be rid of. Woven through it all is a frisson of worry: Just how far are they going to go in re-creating James Bond? Could it actually involve getting rid of James Bond? What the heck does “Skyfall” refer to, anyway, and why does it sound so damn ominous?
Madness! Or is it? This is no spy fantasy but a slice of pragmatic reality just barely wrapped up in something that looks escapist. This is a Bond flick that is haunted by the past and deals with that in, ahem, explosive ways. What we witness here is the destruction of the old Bond mystique, and the creation of a new one. Welcome to the brave new Bond world, fueled by the catharsis of a clean break. It is a wild ride that has only just begun by the time it’s over.
SKYFALL (4) •Directed by Sam Mendes •Starring Daniel Craig, Javier Bardem, Naomie Harris, Judi Dench, Ralph Fiennes • Rated PG-13 • 143 min. • Century Cinemas Del Monte, Maya Cinemas, Northridge Cinemas, Cinemark Cannery Row XD, Lighthouse Cinemas.