Double-Oh-Seven hits the mark — again — in Daniel Craig’s third Bond outing

November 17, 2012

Director Sam Mendes’ new feature, Skyfallis a solid-verging-on-spectacular outing by everyone’s favorite 50-year-old British spy.

Actor Daniel Craig returns for his third outing as James Bond. Just as importantly, so does the writing duo of Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, who co-authored the scripts for the excellent Casino Royale (2006) and the fun but not quite as good Quantum of Solace (2008), Craig’s first two go-arounds as secret agent 007. The third member of Skyfall’s screenwriting triumvirate is John Logan, replacing Paul Haggis, who co-wrote the previous two Bond films.

The cinematography and the stunts are spectacular, the cast is easy on the eyes but fully capable of conveying human emotions when called upon to do so, and the plot is hard-driving. The overall tone remains hard-nosed, but there’s room for a few touches of humor as well as vulnerability on the part of both Bond and his unsentimental spymaster. Judi Dench reprises her role as M, the MI6 head, in what may be one of her last appearances due to her advanced age and uncertain health.

Javier Bardem makes a relatively late entrance as the requisite super-villain, a slightly campy but nonetheless menacing character with bleached-blond hair and unfortunate dental issues named Silva. The top-notch cast also features Ralph Fiennes as Gareth Mallory, a government official whose oversight M and Bond both quickly come to loathe; Naomie Harris as a spy whose ability, looks and style rival Bond’s; Albert Finney as Kincade, an old acquaintance of Bond’s; and Ben Whishaw as the young, new, quirky and occasionally impertinent quartermaster, Q.

The players also include Bérénice Lim Marlohe as a Bond girl (although this new trio of Bond pictures has manipulated that archetype in interesting ways); Rory Kinnear as M’s aide de camp, Tanner; and Bill Buckhurst in a short but moving cameo as a Bond compatriot.

The action takes place in Istanbul, Shanghai, Macao and the United Kingdom, all of which appear absolutely gorgeous as lensed by Mendes and cinematographer Roger Deakins. (I watched the film on an IMAX screen, and everything looked wonderful.)

I was not wild about the script, in part because the McGuffin — a stolen list identifying undercover spies embedded in terrorist organizations (shades of the Mission: Impossible “knock list”) — seemed to be dropped two-thirds of the way into the movie. (I did step out of the movie for a few minutes, so it’s possible the issue was resolved during that period.) I also never managed to figure out why Silva hired an assassin to conduct a complicated killing of a man visiting Silva’s own menacing employees.

Of course, overly complex plots seem to be de rigueur with espionage flicks these days, and the plot does little to interfere with the audience’s enjoyment of the action, so this is hardly a cardinal sin.

It will be interesting to see where this franchise goes next. One of the charms of the recent Bond films has been their gritty realism and avoidance of the campiness that marked many of the Roger Moore and Timothy Dalton pictures. Skyfall’s conclusion made me wonder whether the tone of future movies will change.

That’s a question for another time. At this moment, however, there should be no debate: Skyfall boasts beauty and thrills aplenty. Go see it!

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