Age is Just a Number

BY VINCENT ABBATECOLA

Review of the new James Bond film “Skyfall”

Fifty years after the first James Bond film, “Dr. No,” the next chapter in the series, “Skyfall,” brings back the thrilling force that made “Casino Royale” unexpectedly powerful.  Directed by Sam Mendes, the film completely diverges from the story line created by the last two movies, but the intensity of the atmosphere and the amount that’s at stake is as present as ever in this new story line. This isn’t just Bond’s most important mission yet, but also his most personal, and there is a lot more than his life on the line.

While on a mission to retrieve a stolen computer hard drive with details of undercover agents, James Bond is accidentally shot by his partner, Eve Moneypenny (Naomie Harris), and presumed dead. Meanwhile, the MI6 headquarters suffers a terrorist attack that may be linked to the stolen hard drive.

After Bond returns, the head of MI6, M (Judi Dench), reluctantly puts him back in the field to find out who is responsible for the surprise attack and who is targeting the agents. Bond’s search will lead him to Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem), a man who has past connections to MI6 and an appetite for revenge against M for reasons of his own.

Daniel Craig gives what could be his most vulnerable performance so far in his time with the James Bond character. Throughout the film, he is reminded about how he isn’t as fit to do the job of an MI6 agent as he used to. In some ways, he’s not the agent he was in the last two films; he suffers gunshot wounds and mental anguish from his childhood, which heightens his exposure to suffering.

And yet, he can still run, jump, climb, and shoot his way through henchmen, constantly defying expectations of his job capability.  But, Bond’s on-the-job energy isn’t his only interesting characteristic; he has a secretive past that seems to be a mental torture for him.  He’s still the ladies man we know him as, expressing his sense of wit and whispering intimately to his new love interest.

However, his relationships with his Bond girls take a backseat to his boss-subordinate relationship with M, and it is with this that we see a different side of Bond.  Craig’s Bond is more than a rough ‘n’ tough secret agent; he’s an action hero with surprising emotional depth.

Javier Bardem submerges into the villainous nature of Raoul Silva as deeply as he did five years ago in “No Country for Old Men.” However, his character this time around isn’t a completely cold, emotionless and sadistic killing machine. In this film, he tends to have a sense of fun when he’s in the middle of his committing his evil deeds.

Without question, his best scene is his first, where he enters and speaks a monologue to Bond that reveals everything we need to know about his character, an individual with nothing but revenge on his mind. Silva is one of the more intriguing of Bond’s adversaries because Silva isn’t just one of his typical villains; he’s an anti-Bond. This is emphasized by the strong contrast in their suit colors; Bond’s is black, and Silva’s is white, a night-and-day difference.  He has a troubled past with the MI6 agency, and he is everything that Bond is not.

The screenplay by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and John Logan is appropriately linked to the 50th anniversary of the James Bond series, in that characters often talk about changes being made to the agency, such as whether or not MI6 agents are still effective, the possibility of M being replaced by someone younger, Gareth Mallory (Ralph Fiennes) and more.

The notion of “out with the old, in with the new” is highlighted by the presence of MI6 quartermaster Q (Ben Whishaw). The scene of the introduction between him and Bond is a witty exchange of ideas of youth vs. experience and ways-things-used-to-be-done vs. ways-things-are-done-today: “Age is no guarantee of efficiency,” says Q. “And youth is no guarantee of innovation,” replies Bond. “Well, I’ll hazard I can do more damage on my laptop sitting in my pajamas before my first cup of Earl Grey than you can do in a year in the field,” retorts Q. Bond learns to get used to these new gadgets, while the writers put in pieces of nostalgia from some of the older Bond films.

Director Sam Mendes doesn’t make the usual James Bond film; this one isn’t all about the action and high-tech gizmos. With “Skyfall,” he puts in the deep human relationships that he’s so talented at capturing, as seen in his films “American Beauty” and “Revolutionary Road.”

The scenes with the main characters interacting can carry as much weight and tension as the action scenes. That’s not to say that the action scenes aren’t impressive. This being Mendes’ first Bond film, he stages the action very well. The climactic showdown between Bond and Silva doesn’t just have an abundance of thrills, but emotional resonance as well.

“Skyfall” makes the four-year wait for it worth our time, and cleans out whatever bad taste you still have from “Quantum of Solace.” If future James Bond films can be like “Skyfall,” then I will accept the changes that Bond learns to accept, and will eagerly anticipate his further worldly missions.

Final grade: A

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