After fifty years, the James Bond movies are doing a little time shuffling. The latest, and one of the greatest of these, “Skyfall,” introduces Moneypenny and a new juvenile Q. It tells us something surprising of the childhood of the most famous of secret agents, sends MI6 into Churchill’s World War II catacombs, pulls the old mid-60s Aston Martin out of a garage, and derives its conflict from that last years of the British Empire.
Oh. And Bond’s Bond Street suits threaten to take over the show. Maybe the teens are going to be like the sixties as far as men’s fashion is concerned. One can hope.
Steady Sam Mendes directed this two-hour and twenty minute movie of classic action. Judi Dench is back as M, British Secret Service boss responsible for fending off international dangers. As the film begins, Dench is somehow watching on TV as Bond—the perfectly cast Daniel Craig—tries to save her bacon.
He and an assistant are in Istanbul trying to catch the killer who has stolen the list of agents at work undercover in the East. The two men chase over clay-tiled roofs familiar to those seen in “Taken 2” a couple of months ago. But the difference between a Bond movie and another thriller is that Bond chases across the orange rooftops on a borrowed motorcycle.
007 is struggling atop a moving train when M orders a sniper to take a difficult shot at his opponent. Our hero is hit, and he falls off a tall bridge, into a river, and down over a steep waterfall. He is reported dead and his known Earthly possessions, including his parents’ Scottish estate, Skyfall, are sold.
But while M is fending off a bureaucratic supervisor (Ralph Fiennes) and a former MI6 spook named Silva (Javier Bardem) is blowing up the agency’s headquarters and web-posting five undercover agents’ names at a time, James Bond is actually just healing up, beachside on the Med. Shaken, not stirred.
He arrives back in London to find everything in disarray. Shrapnel from a wound leads him to Shanghai and then to Macau and then to a deserted urban island where he meets Silva. Now Bardem is playing the villain as a traditional Bond antagonist. In other words, he’s nuts. His bleached hair, mincing Castilian manner, and constant smile are all Goldfinger-goofy. But he has decent motivations.
Silva was an MI6 agent in Hong Kong. When he proved insubordinate, M traded him for six imprisoned British agents. Since then he has been using the web to accumulate sufficient power so that he can punish “Mama” for her misbehavior.
After the memorable island shoot-out and a great chase through London’s Underground, Bond lures Silva and his gunmen to the Highlands where he and M and the family’s old gamekeeper (Albert Finney) prepare their defense.
This nearly perfect movie has maybe four minor flaws. One is that Silva can get to talking too much. Bardem is fun to watch, but maybe we are offered a little too much of a good thing. One is that the script has Bond, with his Scotland estate, talking sentimentally about Britain as “England.” One is that the film twice uses TV news look-ins to convey simple information.
The last is a sartorial matter. Looking at Bond’s square-topped little display handkerchief, I was reminded of Tony Hawk’s one great piece of advice, which I’ll paraphrase here: “Lose the hanky.”
Otherwise “Skyfall” is a terrific, imaginative, fast-moving action picture. Anyone who likes movies at all will like it.