Monday, November 12, 2012

Cinema 2012: Wooing Bond fans old and new

“Skyfall” is a worthy addition to the canon of James Bond cinema. This movie from 2012 builds upon and cements Bond tradition, based of course on author Ian Fleming's literary creation. It adds intimate backstory nuggets while resurrecting perhaps the franchise’s most iconic prop. Indeed, in one scene Bond (Daniel Craig) quips that his hobby is “resurrection.”

Director Sam Mendes never falters, except perhaps for one scene, if only a “quickie,” when we are reintroduced to a brooding Bond who was thought to have been killed in action. Jaded James is of course alive. He is busy channeling his libido and putting service to Queen and country out of his mind. It is a sullen portrait of a battle-scarred and guilt-ridden 007 trying to come to grips with the ugly side of the spy game where brothers in arms are indeed left behind.

When MI6 offices in England are bombed by terrorists, Bond abandons his hedonistic jag, where he has been wowing the tiki bar crowd with his sangfroid and sacrée descente. Reawakened patriotism drives his efforts to regain his earlier prowess. Bond must struggle to overcome serious wounds and the pernicious effects of age. Here the 44-year-old Craig does a fine job of carrying the torch for all of us who have outgrown our “spots,” thanks to the actor’s impressive physique and the intelligent dialog in a script that probes issues of aging, whether of persons, civilizations, or movie franchises – this one is 50 years old.

Behind the attacks in London is former British agent Silva (Javier Bardem), who did not overcome his own bout of bitterness and self-pity. Instead Silva launched a junior jihad against ex-boss M (Dame Judi Dench). A Goldilocked Bardem hams it up in the trite role of the fey yet brutal evil genius. Silva’s lair is a private island full of crumbling tenements and colossal computer power, a thought-provoking contrast that foreshadows Silva’s warped ambitions and also serves as metaphor for the bad guy’s broken brain.

“Skyfall” is thoroughly entertaining and visually brilliant, a testament both to Mendes and to that most amazing of veteran cinematographers, Roger Deakins. The plot, however, does not hold up to logical scrutiny. No problem. This thriller barrels ahead without leaving viewers much opportunity to scratch their heads about how an evil genius, for example, is able during London rush hour to find an empty commuter train to derail. England’s capital city, by the way, comes off as positively provincial and worn at the heels following images of Shanghai that spotlight the modernity of that vast and vertical Chinese metropolis.

After Silva’s savagery erupts a second time in the halls of government, the narrative simplifies matters by kidnapping the action to the deserted moors of Scotland for a final showdown. It is for this detour of a denouement that Bond’s classic ride and riffs from the signature musical score are taken out of storage. The music gives the action a beloved boost and builds anticipation for a quintessential Bond showdown. As concerns the car, sadly, the ejector button serves only as comic relief, while the Aston Martin’s awesome firepower tellingly only erupts while the classic ride is parked with its motor off.

The powerful, empty landscape of the moors serves as an essential counterbalance to the teeming locales of earlier scenes in world cities.

After Bond’s motley team repels an initial assault using an unlikely array of improvised weaponry, the showdown breaks down into a more elemental struggle. Finally, the villain, whose ability to kill and destroy was predicated on his computer hacking skills, is ultimately dispatched old school.

“Skyfall” is bookended with collateral damage. The death of one of Bond’s colleagues in the opening scenes and Bond’s own travails fuel his deep disgust for MI6 in the first reel and explain his overproof soul searching. By the final credits, fans might not be driven to drink but will no doubt be inclined to contemplate a loss as well.

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