Following the disaster that was 2008’s “Quantum of Solace,” and a subsequent four-year hiatus brought upon by the MGM bankruptcy, James Bond is back in an action-packed new film much closer in quality to the outstanding “Casino Royale.” It’s a film worthy of the 007 name, as the series marks its 50th anniversary.
‘Solace,’ while it did well financially, was plagued by a totally forgettable plot and, even worse, totally incoherent action sequences. It was made by a director, Marc Forster, who has made some good movies but found himself totally in over his head directing a major action adventure film.
For “Skyfall,” the franchise has turned to another director, Sam Mendes, who’s not especially associated with the action genre either (his best known films are “American Beauty” and “Road to Perdition.”) But Mendes totally kills it, keeping the pace tight and assembling four or five tremendous action set pieces.
The film, Daniel Craig’s third in 007’s tuxedo, continues the dark, inward, non-campy tone from the previous two Craig outings. But without spoilers, I can state that the new movie re-introduces a couple of characters familiar to longtime devotees of the series.
The plot of “Skyfall” borrows from the first “Mission:Impossible,” as a hard drive containing a list of undercover agents’ identities falls is in danger of falling into enemy hands. As Bond chases the mysterious baddie- helped by new Bond girls Naomie Harris and Bérénice Lim Marlohe- the action jumps from Turkey to London to China to Macau and finally to Bond’s family estate in Scotland.
All but stealing the movie is Javier Bardem, as the series’ best villain in many years. He’s a rogue ex-agent who’s also a terrorist, as well as a Julian Assange-like hacker/leaker. Oh- and he’s also, implicitly at least, gay, leading to one scene that deconstructs Bond’s many flirtatious encounters with female villains in a way that no parody ever could.
The action scenes are just superlative, especially the opening blowout in Turkey as, like in every action movie of the ’90s, Bond and the bad guy have a fistfight on top of a moving train. There are also really great set pieces set both high in a Shanghai hotel and in the Scottish castle at the end. And best of all, Mendes brings some actual artistry to the proceedings, not to mention coherence. There’s none of the shaky-cam blur Forster used in ‘Solace,’ which seemed dedicated to ripping off the Jason Bourne films in multiple ways.
A few years ago, at the height of the MGM turmoil, multiple publications actually asked whether the James Bond franchise was dead for good. “Skyfall” thankfully puts those questions to rest, and represents a revitalization of the franchise- a reboot of the reboot, if you will.