Thursday, December 13, 2012


The James Bond films starring Daniel Craig have instilled that 50-year-old movie franchise (the longest in movie-making history) with a new frisson of sexual energy and creative juices that have been surprising to many. The latest entry, Skyfall, is no exception. This is primarily due to the quality of the creative team brought to bear in its production. The director is Sam Mendes (Oscar winner for American Beauty) and Skyfall has the high-powered talents of Oscar winner Dame Judi Dench (Shakespeare in Love), Oscar winner Javier Bardem (No Country for Old Men) and Ralph Fiennes (Harry Potter films, The English Patient). Upcoming British actors like Naomie Harris (28 Days Later) and Ben Whishaw (Cloud Atlas) also have pivotal appearances. Even Sir Albert Finney (he’s not dead yet!) makes a significant contribution to the 3rd act.

The measure of the success of a Bond film is often about the quality of the villain, the beauty of the Bond girl(s) and the exoticism of the locales visited. Sometimes the Bond theme song can be the most memorable thing about the film (I defy you to tell me what Live and Let Die is about).

Skyfall has an excellent villain (played with just the right amount of quasi-homophobic creepiness to not go over the line by Bardem), an excellent theme song (by Adele of course) and some of the various locales visited by Bond are Istanbul, Shanghai, Macau and London.

One interesting aspect of the latest Bond films has been their willingness to explore the vulnerability and fallibility of James Bond himself. For example, in both Skyfall and Casino Royale Bond’s body undergoes substantial abuse (naked torture in the latter and a gun shot to the chest in the former) but Daniel Craig’s body is in clear and constant focus of the camera. Both clothed and unclothed, the camera’s eyes, and thus the audience is drawn to the sculpted nature of his frame. Even in a suit, the tight-fitting contours of Bond’s finely tailored suits leaves enough to the imagination to enthrall and excite. I’m not sure how much Bond’s straight male viewers react to another make being the subject of the camera’s gaze, but as a gay man this is something of a treat, especially in a mainstream, big budget Hollywood action movie ostensibly aimed at (and marketed to) pubescent boys. The general belief has always been that “women want to be with him and men want to be him” but does this still apply when James Bond’s antics can get you declared dead by your own government and your digging bullet fragments out of your own tautly muscled chest in front of a mirror? There is some clearly some subversion of the typical hero fantasy going on here.

One of Daniel Craig's best assets that he brings to the role of Bond are his eyes. Craig’s eyes are an almost unnatural cerulean blue, and the director uses all sorts of cinematographic tricks to get us to see them in various lights, exhibiting various emotions. Bond has the kind of eyes which can instantly suss out whether you are a threat to him or his mission and can also communicate to you that you better get out of his way because he has a license to kill. It almost is irrelevant to what Bond is doing, because just watching him doing it is so entertaining (and requires little or no cogitation by the audience).

That being said this time the story revolves around computer hacking of MI6 (the British equivalent of the Central Intelligence Agency) to obtain a list of secret NATO agents embedded in terrorist cells around the world, who will obviously be executed if they are exposed. The real attack is on whoever is at the head of an agency who has suffered such an egregious security failure, which in the case of MI6 is “M” (short for Minister, of course), played by Dench in every Bond film since Goldeneye in 1995 (the last 6 films). 

It becomes clear that the cyberterrorist is a former 00 agent named Silva, played by Bardem, who in a confrontation reveals his hatred for M because she traded his life away for 6 hostaged agents and when Silva tried to kill himself in captivity by activating a tooth with cynanide gas, the method did not kill him, but only grossly disfigured him. 

After another attack at the Houses of Parliament where M is testifying, Bond and M go off together to Scotland, to a safe house which turns out to be Bond's ancestral home, cleverly named "Skyfall."

I don't want to give a spoiler in this review so I will conclude the plot summary here. However, Skyfall is a well-directed, well-acted film with a very attractive lead who appears in almost every scene. The action is fast-paced and almost non-stop. The plot is irrelevant but relatively easy to follow if you decide to, and there is a somewhat surprising ending. You will leave the theater realizing that despite the fact the Bond franchise is 50 years old, it is still as fresh as ever and that they will be making these movies for a long, long time.

Director: Sam Mendes.
Running Time: 2 hours, 25 minutes.
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for intense violent sequences throughout, some sexuality, language  and smoking.
Release Date: November 9, 2012.
Viewing Date: November 21, 2012.

Writing: B+.
Acting: A.
Visuals: A.
Impact: B+.

Overall Grade: A- (3.67/4.0).

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