On cue for his 50th anniversary as Her Majesty’s resident terrorist leg-breaker, third time James Bond, the hard-jawed, steely-eyed Daniel Craig, is both shaken and stirred in Skyfall — a level-headed, squeaky clean, nostalgia-prone enterprise designed on intentions to wow the audiences in one sprightly swoop.
Before we dive into the review, let’s sideline Skyfall’s story out of the way: Opening in old-Constantinople, Bond scuttles, jumps and drives over bazaars, shaky rooftops and visiting foreigners in one of those Bond-stamped pre-title action sequences. He’s after a baddie who runs with the MacGuffin that launched the first Mission: Impossible movie: a list of undercover Nato field agents.
Crunching a significant chunk of a nearly-amped train (as seen in the trailers), Bond, hugged in a rather skin-tight suit, gets shot by Eve (Naomi Harris), his mission-tagged rookie agent, on M’s (Judi Dench) unseen command. Wounded and half-spiteful (as Craig is these days on his Bond’s success), he goes AWOL on an island (in typical James Bond fashion he is rescued by a scuba-diving siren).
Living the white man’s carefree life becomes as deadened and detached as Craig’s portrayal of Bond — and then he sees Wolf Blitzer’s CNN bulletin that mysteriously compels him back to her Majesty’s Secret Service; Only his aim is a few centimeters off, and his body – still housing shrapnel from his near-death in Istanbul — is rusty.
Reinstated by M, who’s semi-bullied by Ralph Fiennes’ Minister of Intelligence, Bond is equipped by a new Q – this time, a slick nerd played by Ben Wishaw – whose ego pressgangs him to applaud his own omnipotence at hacking. Q hands Bond a petite, un-classily designed transmitter, and a fingerprint recognizing Walther PPK (“Were you expecting an exploding pen”, he quips), before packing him off to Shanghai. There Bond finds retribution, woos a villain-girl (the beautiful Berenice Marlohe), and meets the film’s honcho-baddie.
Skyfall is now at the 70 minute mark, and we finally meet Javier Bardem’s finely-crafted bi-sexual baddie, Raoul Silva – a former MI6 employee, now ace cyber-terrorist, also wronged by M; or as he likes to call her, mommy! (or as I’d like to call her, the film’s “real” Bond girl).
Bardem’s mommy-issues (a pathetic excuse, pathologically justified) fuel Skyfalls’ remaining screen-time; the nimbly paced build-up is nothing to the zipping amplification of the film’s last few confrontations. A hitch-less escape (and a runaway, derailed train), a flash of Bond history – and a return of a shiny old friend, and a familiar room with muffling a door is enough to bamboozle anyone into uncontrolled fits of frenzied fanboyishness.
And there’s good reason to, for Skyfall is Bond’s first time in 23 films and 50 years, where there’s a visible directorial signature – and not the producer’s insistence of an “of-the-times” style guide.
Mendes transitions Casino Royale’s un-passionate, antagonistic, secret spy into what may be a full-circle to Sean Connery’s heyday. There’s a wink here, a nudge there, as the screenplay by John Logan, and series regulars Neil Purvis and Robert Wade, Mendes – and Bardem – sling-shot an otherwise bland government assassin (since his reboot anyway), into *gasp!* 007.
The feat, and the lead-through, is roller-coaster stupendous – and so is Skyfall – and on a different, nostalgic scale, its opening song by Adele; it’s a pity Craig isn’t having as good a time as the rest of the world is.
The author is a film critic for Images on Sunday and Dawn.com.