Editors' pick

Skyfall

Critic rating:
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MPAA rating: PG-13
Genre: Action/Adventure
Marking 50 years of James Bond, the latest film reinvigorates the series with just the right proportions of legacy and novelty.
Starring: Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Ralph Fiennes, Javier Bardem, Helen McCrory, Ben Whishaw, Santi Scinelli, Naomie Harris, Albert Finney, Ola Rapace
Director: Sam Mendes
Running time: 2:23
Release: Opened Nov 9, 2012
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Editorial Review

Bond elegantly goes back and forth
By Ann Hornaday
Friday, November 9, 2012

One of the marks of a good director is the taste and judgment with which he deploys the most cherished tropes of the franchise he’s in charge of extending. With “Skyfall,” Sam Mendes proves to be just that adept, reinvigorating the James Bond series with a sleek, crisp, classy installment exhibiting just the right proportion of respect for legacy and embrace of novelty. From the first smoky notes of a theme song sung by Adele, it’s clear that “Skyfall” will be both classic and of-the-moment.

Thanks to Mendes and the crackerjack team he has assembled, James Bond proves once again that he can survive anything -- even “Quantum of Solace.”

To succeed, of course, a James Bond movie must traffic in equal parts sophistication and pure preposterousness, a winking willingness not to take itself so very seriously, but with writing, acting and production values of the highest order. All of those elements are on hand in “Skyfall,” which at the outset finds James (Daniel Craig) in Istanbul, pursuing a bad guy through bazaars and over rooftops in a ludicrous motorcycle chase that at one point finds Bond making a wittily blase entrance into a moving train car. (He’s as good at nonchalantly shooting his cuffs as he is at shooting his Walther PPK.)

That episode will somehow go all pear-shaped, though, sending Bond into something of an existential spiral, bringing him alongside Jason Bourne and other au courant secret agents as people who are fighting not just shadowy forces of mass destruction but also their own inner demons. Eventually, Bond’s struggle will reach his relationship with M (Judi Dench), whose initial in “Skyfall” might as well stand for Martinet, Mistress of All She Surveys and, most of all, Mother. When Bond flies into action after a self-imposed hiatus, he’s an Oedipal wreck, bleary-eyed, out of shape and visibly aging. (After 50 years and 22 films, he has earned those creases and crevices.)

Craig, who made such a promising Bond debut in 2006’s “Casino Royale,” ably embodies a man feeling his age but still capable of looking awesome in a perfectly fitted tux.

The not-so-sub-subtext of “Skyfall” is the ongoing dialogue between past and future, whether it’s youth vs. age, computers vs. analog or point-and-click terrorism vs. old-school geopolitics. There even seems to be an argument over the depiction of screen violence itself: With its tidy bullet holes and pools of blood that look about as menacing as spilled milk, “Skyfall” often plays like a reassuring rebuke against the graphic sadism that has invaded its cousins within the genre.

That the visual language of “Skyfall” is so eloquent, so readable, can surely be credited at least in part to Roger Deakins, the great cinematographer whose unerring eye gives the entire enterprise a cool, subdued sheen. (London looks especially alluring through Deakins’s silky lens.) That’s another welcome return to earlier, adamantly un-frenetic style, as are performances that hark back to the classic Bonds of yore, when the villain inevitably greeted James with an understated “Hello, James” and everyone delivered their dialogue with a perpetually arched eyebrow. Particularly good here are Craig and Dench (as always), but also Ralph Fiennes, Javier Bardem, the enchanting Naomie Harris as one of Bond’s comelier MI6 colleagues and Ben Whishaw (currently on view in several roles in “Cloud Atlas”) as Q, who, when he gives Bond a standard-issue gun and radio, delivers one of several self-referential jokes. “You were expecting an exploding pen?” he quips. “We don’t really go in for that anymore.”

Like everything else in “Skyfall,” Whishaw’s new version of Q is both refreshing and comforting, an ineffable mix that makes this piece of well-executed popcorn fluff satisfying on every level. Somehow, Mendes and his writers (Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and John Logan) have managed to make a movie that is your father’s Bond, but your teenaged kids’, too, as he invites fans to bid goodbye to one or two beloved characters while making way for one or two new ones (or at least new old ones). As both an advance and a throwback, “Skyfall” shows why good bones and artisanal values tend to endure.

As one of “Skyfall’s” most benevolent characters wisely opines, just before he tries his hand at making a bespoke explosive device: Sometimes the old ways are the best.