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5 reviews, 23 user ratings

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by Peter Sobczynski

"And Away We Go. . ."
5 stars

When most people think about the James Bond film franchise, they often tend to gravitate towards the giddy spectacles they have provided over the years with their cheerfully overblown offerings of gorgeous women, hissable villains, exotic locales, elaborate sets, goofy gadgets and elaborate chase scenes, shoot-outs, fistfights and other such action set-pieces. However, if one looks back on the best and most memorable Bond movies--and I assume that few will argue if I cite "Goldfinger," "On Her Majesty's Secret Service," "From Russia With Love," "Casino Royale" and either "For Your Eyes Only" or "The Spy Who Loved Me" as the top-rank titles--the funny thing is that, with the exception of the first and last of the ones I have cited, the best ones have been those that have shown a certain amount of restraint in regards to the potentially cartoonish overkill in order to supply deeper characterizations and storylines that involve more than attacking and destroying impregnable fortresses amidst the delivery of hacky one-liners and double-entendres. The producers of the films themselves haven't always recognized this themselves--after reigniting the franchise both commercially and creatively with the 2006 reboot "Casino Royale," they then proceeded to squander much of that momentum with the listless "Quantum of Solace," a narrative that felt more suited to a tie-in video game than a full-fledged Bond tale--but with "Skyfall," the 23rd entry in the series, all the pieces have fallen into place for once and the result is an absolute knockout piece of pop-culture perfection that is as viscerally exciting, dramatically sound and emotionally strong as one could possibly hope it to be and then some.

The film certainly kicks off in typical Bond fashion as our hero races through the streets, marketplaces, and mass-transit systems of Istanbul--at least the parts not already reduced to rubble thanks to Liam Neeson's particular set of navigational skills--in pursuit of a bad guy who has nabbed a hard drive belonging to MI6 containing the names and locations of NATO agents who have successfully infiltrated terrorist cells across the world. Like most such sequences, it climaxes with Bond and his opponent in a life-or-death battle atop a speeding train but unlike most of them, it ends with Bond plummeting over the side to his certain death after being inadvertently shot by fellow agent Eve (Naomie Harris) on the orders of boss M (Judi Dench), desperately trying to contain the situation from hundreds of miles away back in London, and the bad guy getting away with the goods. Fret not, Bond is not really dead and when the story picks up three months later, he is living it up in a remote paradise filled with fabulous babes and scorpion-based drinking games while stewing with resentment over M's apparent lack of faith in his abilities and her willingness to sacrifice him in an instant.

Back in London, M is facing the end of her own career as a result of the bungled mission as she prepares for a formal inquiry of the incident while facing off against Gareth Malloy (Ralph Fiennes), an ambitious rival government official is clearly gunning for a job that he believes will soon be vacant. After an attack on MI6 and the release of the names of some of the NATO agents online, Bond returns to London and goes through the usual battery of physical and psychological tests designed to prove that he is fit for duty. He fails them all but M still sends him back out into the field, with Eve along for support, to track down the person responsible before more agents have their covers blown. This turns out to be Silva (Javier Bardem), a former agent with serious grievances of his own against M who has turned to cyberterrorism as a way of settling scores. Recognizing Bond as a kindred spirit because of his own issues with M, Silva tries to turn him over to his side while cunningly using him as a way to help pull off a bolder and more potentially devastating attack. Also along for the ride is Severine (Berenice Marlohe), a femme fatale willing to betray Silva to Bond if need be, and Kincaide (Albert Finney), whose precise identity and relevance to the story shall not be noted here in order to preserve the genuinely surprising developments in the third act.

For most of its half-century existence, the 007 film franchise developed a series of rites and rituals that were adhered to with the tenacity of a religious ceremony and oftentimes with the same amount of surprise. There were attempts here and there to change things up from time to time, often in conjunction with the arrival of a new actor in the central role, but when things have tipped too far in one direction or the other (ranging from the silliness of the later entries with Roger Moore and Pierce Brosnan to the grimness of the two featuring Timothy Dalton), audiences have tended to reject them. In recent years, however, the series has undergone a Reformation of sorts by reshuffling those elements in new and unexpected ways. For example, "Casino Royale," the series received a risky reboot that did away with the glitz and goofiness for a more serious-minded take that attempted to provide psychological shadings to a character whose deepest thoughts tended to revolve around his beverage orders. This was a gamble that paid off wonderfully and supercharged the franchise but when "Quantum of Solace" tried to make additional changes to the formula, the results just didn't click and while the film made tons of money, one would be extremely hard-pressed to find someone who actually liked it.

What makes "Skyfall" such a great film, both on its own and as a part of the entire franchise, is that, even more so than "Casino Royale," it finds a happy balance between the traditions of the past and its attempts to chart a new future. For example, the film does admittedly include a few specific plot points that have cropped up in previous installments--the opening death fake-out appeared in "You Only Live Twice" and the notion of the bad guy being a former MI6 agent gone rogue was explored in "Goldeneye"--along with more general elements but the difference this time around is that they have been reworked and reshuffled in such unique and interesting ways that they miraculously feel fresh and exciting once again. The plot by Silva is as crafty and complicated as ever but for one of the few times in the series, both the details and the psychological motivations are plausible without any evident reduction in the excitement factor. Instead of building to a final confrontation at the elaborate lair of the evil genius featuring hundreds of identically-garbed minions eating lead and plummeting off of catwalks, the plot takes numerous twists and turns before delivering up a final act that will thrill ordinary moviegoers while giving the hard-core fan base something that allows them to get a new fix on the character of James Bond, specifically his origins and how they continue to shape and affect his behavior and actions. Instead of the usual expository banter between Bond and the other characters, there are real conversations that are based on behavior and nuance as much as they are in moving the plot from point A to point B. Of the past films, only the generally underrated "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" and "Casino Royale"--two of the very best in the history of the franchise--have even attempted to offer viewers a Bond tale as dramatically deep as "Skyfall" and this one is at least the equal to both of them. With this film, along with "Casino Royale," the James Bond series has received a dramatic revamp akin to the one that Christopher Nolan gave to the Batman films both in terms of scope and effectiveness.

This is not to suggest, however, that "Skyfall" is some kind of purely intellectual exercise that is more interesting to contemplate than it is fun to watch. In fact, it is, with the possible exception of "The Dark Knight Returns," the most thrilling piece of cinematic pop entertainment to hit theaters this year. Speaking frankly, this came as a bit of a shock to me because director Sam Mendes has never much of a facility for genre filmmaking in the past--his oeuvre has been pretty much evenly divided between films that didn't quite hold up on a second viewing ("American Beauty" and "Away We Go" ) and those that didn't even stand up to the initial screening ("Road to Perdition," "Jarhead" and "Revolutionary Road"). And yet, this is as flawless a cinematic experience as I can recall having this year. The big action beats are intense without being sadistic, amusing without becoming silly and filled with nifty touches that keep them from feeling like simply more of the same. From a technical standpoint, everything from Roger Deakins' ultra-stylish cinematography to the kick-ass theme song from Adele (which manages to work wonderfully both as an Adele tune and as a Bond song) is aces. As for the actors, the women are breathtakingly beautiful, the old pros like Dench, Fiennes and Finney bring a little more gravitas to their parts than is ordinarily seen in these films (the only flaw with the appearance of the latter is the inescapable sense that his role was clearly written with someone else in mind to play it) and Craig once again demonstrates himself to be the first post-Connery Bond performer to make the role truly his own. Of course, one element that the best Bond films all share is a great villain and Javier Bardem makes Silva one of the very best of the bunch--his Silva combines many of the nastiest elements of the Joker and Hannibal Lecter into one devious package and yet, he still brings a weird form of humanity to the part that makes it all the more memorable.

For practically my entire moviegoing existence, I been watching the James Bond films and even if some of them have been painfully dumb along the way, even the worst of them still sort of work on some fundamental level in the same way that there is no such thing as a bad hot dog at a baseball game. However, the series did lose its luster for a while, partly because the movies got lazy and partly because jumbo-sized cinematic spectacles of the type that it used to represent started to become increasingly commonplace at the multiplexes and there were times in which it seemed as if they they had passed irretrievably from the cool to the passé. "Skyfall" is a great movie but one of the best things about it is that it helps reinstate the series to true Event Movie status. As a state-of-the-art action epic and as a character drama, it more than delivers the goods and if the final scene doesn't have you cheering and thirsting for more, I honestly have no idea about what could.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=23934&reviewer=389
originally posted: 11/06/12 17:18:01
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User Comments

9/14/17 morris campbell killer bond movie 4 stars
6/12/17 Anne Selby I tried to like bond films...spectacular photography 2 stars
7/26/14 Simon why you go to the movies- fresh yet familiar, fun yet with depth. James Bond has returned 5 stars
6/03/14 george not one of the best--2 long 2 stars
3/20/14 Jack So many flaws in this film to list. Just awful. One of the worst Bond Pics ever. 1 stars
7/22/13 Annie G It's no "Casino Royale", but not too bad overall. Worth owning. 4 stars
5/25/13 Monday Morning A bit long but great overall. Old school is back & it works. 4 stars
5/19/13 richard the performances were great but i found the film dragged - IMHO it needed to be half an hou 2 stars
3/03/13 Nicole Davis I love all the Bond movies. Loved it! 4 stars
2/25/13 Geraldine Fantastic! 5 stars
2/19/13 austin one of my favorite movies of the year 5 stars
12/16/12 Martin Z Absolute pointless rubbish. Overrated to a fault. Demented plot, demented dialogues. 1 stars
12/07/12 Helene Forcier Loved it! Great acting- a plausible, believable, vulnerable Bond. Most like the books! 5 stars
12/02/12 action movie fan dull first hour exciting second hour overall decent unbond like bond film 3 stars
11/30/12 KingNeutron YOU HAD TIME FOR ANOTHER SHOT, MONEYPENNY!!!11ONE! 3 stars
11/17/12 mr.mike Among the best of the Bonds. 4 stars
11/14/12 cooler most overrated bond movie ever. Hardly any action and lame plot. 1 stars
11/14/12 Marty Just OK. Bardem's character needed more. Kincaid random. Weak new actors 3 stars
11/13/12 The Big D It needed Mr. Kidd and Mr. Wint! 1 stars
11/11/12 GLC great movie. Bond is back.Very entertaining. 5 stars
11/11/12 Koitus Bond as a vehicle for cool sh!t; ^ this. Great story; needed more "meat." 4 stars
11/08/12 Abigail Great film! 5 stars
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  09-Nov-2012 (PG-13)
  DVD: 12-Feb-2013


  DVD: 12-Feb-2013

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