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Review: ‘Skyfall’ a successful no-tech slugfest, doesn’t trump ‘Casino Royale’

Courtesy of Sony Pictures

“Skyfall” is an unhappy film, centering on what happens when intelligence fails while hacker-centric, electronic attacks collide with the world of the humans behind secret intelligence agency MI6. Cold War-era secret agents try to fight off a modern cyber warrior, something James Bond’s (Daniel Craig) training hasn’t quite prepared him for. At one point in the film, Bond kidnaps M (Judi Dench).

“Where are we going?” she asks.

“Back in time,” Bond replies. “The only place we have an advantage.”

“Skyfall” is set up as a return to the classic Bond films. At the end of the film, we’re reintroduced to M’s secretary Miss Moneypenny, then to M’s classic office suite with the padded leather door and Bill Tanner (Rory Kinnear) calling Bond inside. This scene feels incredibly out of place.

Humor is threaded throughout the story as well, but the jokes are usually morbid one-liners. The lightest gag is a quip by gadget master Q (Ben Whishaw) when he asks Bond, “Were you expecting an exploding pen? We really don’t go in for that anymore.” The film boils down to no-tech slugfests instead of last-minute escapes with laser watches or space shuttles. When there’s a fight, it’s personal.

“Skyfall” is also an intensely personal film, focusing on the relationship between Bond, M and the antagonist Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem), a character from M’s past. Bond’s own orphan past is explored as well, but as a counterpoint to the exploration and revelation of Silva’s own dark past and M’s mistakes. She hopes that Bond will not turn out like the antagonist, but it’s a close shave.

There are a number of candidates to be a Bond girl in “Skyfall,” but the most obvious character is Sévérine (Bérénice Marlohe). Bond meets her at a casino after winning a surprising amount of money in curious circumstances. Although she’s only onscreen for a little while, Marlohe’s portrayal of the fragile, yet courageous Sévérine is pitch-perfect.

Naomie Harris’ acting as Eve is spot-on, but she can’t help that her character loses coherence from a curiously-written script. At first a field operative, Eve is pulled back to London, then becomes a field operative again before finally settling on a desk job at MI6. Her character develops, but no right-minded case officer would put an agent in the field who didn’t belong there.

The MI6 of this film is also oddly written. Q seems incompetent, without any notion of cyber security, unable to defend his systems against his own ineptitude. The MI6 building itself is hacked multiple times, causing chaos and destruction, and enforcing the idea that MI6 is not able to deal with modern threats.

Yet M and Bond persevere. M’s address to members of Parliament during a public inquiry meeting is excellently-written, Dench perfectly portrayed the reserved, angry M as she chastises the civilian government for its lack of knowledge, understanding and faith in MI6.

“Skyfall” is a different breed of film than the 2006 “Casino Royale,”  which focused more on bluffs, counter-bluffs and betrayals of trust. “Skyfall” focuses on the hunt, and hunter chasing its prey until their roles are reversed. It’s about the inevitability of progress, and how people cope with it.

And audiences will have to cope with it – some media outlets have reported Craig is signed for two more Bond films, and Dench is maybe as well.

Director Sam Mendes has created a film that is excellent in its own right, but doesn’t quite reach the lofty bar set by Craig’s first Bond film “Casino Royale.”  

Grade: A-

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