By Bob Garver
James Bond has never been more vulnerable than he is in “Skyfall”. The opening of the film sees 007 (Daniel Craig, in his third performance as the world’s favorite secret agent) accidentally shot by his amateur partner (Naomie Harris). Bond blames the incident on the overly hasty orders of his superior M (Judi Dench), herself at her most vulnerable. He isn’t eager to go back to work for his careless boss, so he plays dead and takes a few months off. It isn’t like Bond to be lazy like this. Of course, he eventually gets pulled back into duty, but surprisingly fails the tests required for reinstatement. It definitely isn’t like James Bond to be out of shape like this. He even fails at marksmanship, and that really really isn’t like him.
M decides that there’s no time for Bond to go through the sloggy reinstatement process, she needs him in the field right now. Someone has stolen the files containing the identities of all of Britain’s secret agents. This person is also responsible for a bombing at MI-6 headquarters and has made it clear that they have a vendetta against her. On top of that, a government official named Mallory (Ralph Fiennes) is calling for her early retirement based on her recent performance. So she has Bond meet briefly with gadget guy Q (Ben Whishaw) and then sends him on a dangerous mission to Shanghai without being cleared. Bond fares pretty well in Shanghai, gathering necessary information, defeating some lower-level bad guys and hooking up with a girl named Severine (Berenice Lim Marlohe). But in typical Bond fashion, he gets captured and earns himself an audience with the villain.
After a gaggle of disappointing villains in recent Bond films, we finally get a real one in Silva (Javier Bardem). Silva is a cyber-terrorist who we assume is using his hard feelings toward M as a smoke screen for typical Bond villain aspirations: money, power, etc. It turns out that it’s the other way around; his plan begins and ends with revenge on M, though I can’t say I think much of his plan of simply shooting her. It also turns out that he’s extremely kinky. When was the last time you saw a Bond villain with more sexual energy than 007 himself? I have a crackpot theory that he’s secretly M’s son; watch the film and see if you agree with me.
The climax of the film takes place at Skyfall, a most unusual venue. I had imagined that Skyfall was an evil plan to knock a spacecraft out of the air. Turns out I was way off. Most Bond films come to a head either at the villain’s lair or as the villain is invading an unsuspecting locale. This time, the bad guys attack Bond on his own turf. It’s weird to see Bond enjoy such an advantage and even weirder to see him delve however briefly into his past. The Skyfall scenes also see the introduction of an old friend of Bond’s named Kincade (Albert Finney), a scene-stealer introduced far too late in the film.
“Skyfall” is the rare James Bond film defined by its performances. The action scenes are crisp but expected. We get a chase involving multiple modes of transportation, plenty of shooting and explosions, and henchmen fed to animals (I didn’t know komodo dragons were so vicious). The most interesting thing about the film is following the journeys of Bond and M, not just as agents, but as people. It reminds me of that memorable exchange from 1964’s “Goldfinger”. Bond could ask me if I really expect him to die. I would respond with “No, Mr. Bond. I expect you to grow”. And so he does in “Skyfall”.
Three Stars out of Five.
“Skyfall” is rated PG-13 for intense violent sequences throughout, some sexuality, language and smoking. Its running time is 143 minutes.