By Rob Lowman Staff Writer
It starts with the familiar two quick musical blasts that sound like gunshots. Then suddenly we're thrust into the latest James Bond film, "Skyfall." The superspy is in hot pursuit of a villain - never mind why, this is a Bond film. There he goes careening through the streets and over the red-tiled rooftops of the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, with a motorcycle no less. It is a marvelously breathtaking choreographed chase that ends up atop a train headed out of the city.
But if you think you know where this 23rd installment of a 007 film is going, you have underestimated the resiliency of the 50-year-old franchise and the appeal and adaptability of the character.
Directed by Sam Mendes, "Skyfall" is simply the best Bond film ever. While the last two installments, which also starred Daniel Craig, tried to humanize the spy with mixed success, this is the movie where James Bond finally grows up. Oh, don't worry, he's still as much the lovable rogue as ever, and "Skyfall" cleverly hits all the right notes and more for aficionados of the series.
Even Adele's lush theme song, though not a classic, is coolly effective.
There is plenty of gunplay, verbal foreplay and bedroom action (a steamy shower scene, really), and an old favorite from the 1960s even shows up looking cooler than ever. But when Bond takes a fall, literally, it leaves him shaken and, finally, stirred - if not exactly the man he was.
"Shocking," quipped 007 (then played by Sean Connery) after electrifying a bad guy in a bathtub in 1964's "Goldfinger." Throughout the years, Bond was ever the cheeky British public schoolboy, but after 50 years such quips no longer have their value.
In "Skyfall" it's a scene with 007's mysterious boss, M - played for the seventh time by the inestimable Judi Dench - in which she sadly surveys a room full of coffins draped in Union Jacks where we begin to understand that this is a Bond movie that deals with life-and-death consequences.
At first, the plot revolves around the theft of a list of MI6's undercover agents and the fear that their identities would be revealed, leaving them in danger, but there then proves a deeper motive to the crime. Not to give too much away, but Mendes and screenwriters Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and John Logan have populated "Skyfall" with some terrific actors and memorable characters, starting with Oscar winner Javier Bardem's Silva, the most psychologically twisted of Bond villains.
With his blond hair and slightly effeminate manner, Silva is first seen in the distance. He is almost tranquil as he begins to deliver a creepy monologue about "rats." Drawing closer and closer - cinematographer Roger Deakins' work is brilliant in the film - Silva is in your face before you know it, unhinged and unsettling. His problem, let's say, is mother issues.
There are also a number of new additions to the cast - as you may have heard, a 24th Bond film already has been promised.
Ralph Fiennes provides weight as the buttoned-down Gareth Mallory, M's new superior in Parliament who seems to be pushing the old girl into retirement. But he turns out to be more than a simple bureaucrat. Ben Whishaw, bringing a slightly mischievous quality to the role, becomes the new quartermaster, more familiarly known as Q. He's a high-tech guy whose specialty is computer hacking. Amusingly, when he meets Bond in an art museum, of all places - admiring paintings and quoting Tennyson - he issues him a decidedly low-tech gadget. This is the new world, 007 wonders?
And there are pretty women, starting with fellow agent Eve (the always lively Naomie Harris), Bond's partner in the chase through the Grand Bazaar. The two don't exactly get off to a great start. Tensions, though, aren't all work related. Berenice Marlohe plays Severine, the requisite exotic beauty. She might be good, she might be bad, but we know immediately that Bond will find the naked truth.
The exotic isn't confined to women. Besides Istanbul, there are spectacular massive set pieces in the Chinese cities of Shanghai - among the otherworldly-lit glass skyscrapers - and Macau. There is also a battle through the city streets and Underground of London, and the eerie countryside of Scotland becomes a hot spot. And in one of those classic 007 impossible escapes, Bond finds himself fighting a powerful baddie in a pit with a Komodo dragon ready to pounce.
With all due respect to the others who have played Bond, Craig is the best of the 007s because he is the least smooth of the lot. He comes across as someone who can be bruised, which is rather evident in "Skyfall." In the past, there has always been a bit of a psychopath to the character, someone who underneath seems to enjoy killing too much. Craig's Bond is more human - though he still can be brutal when he has to. He's more of a soldier who understands the toll that war, even a covert one, takes and is tied to his duty.
Give credit to Mendes, who has reinvigorated the franchise while keeping it wildly entertaining. It's not a complete reimagining as Christopher Nolan did with Batman (always the benchmark), but "Skyfall" is anything but just another James Bond film.
Rob Lowman 818-713-3687 email@example.com
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