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Monday, November 12, 2012

Skyfall (Release Date: 11-9-2012)

        The man who every man wants to be, and every woman wants to be with. A globe-trotting super-spy with elite physical skills, and seemingly unlimited technological resources. M, Q, a tux, a martini, a piercing stare, and countless close-calls with his life in the balance. Yes, we all know who James Bond is, and we have for the last 50 years. At this point, we need no further introduction to the Bond-verse, only a briefing on who the soon-to-be-dispatched baddie is, and a brush-up on the new gadgets. This rigid rhetoric can treat directors in a myriad of different ways, from hand-cuffing their creative talents and vision, to liberating them to focus on items other than character introduction... within the parameters, of course.

        The man behind Skyfall, American Beauty's Sam Mendes, finds himself somewhere in between these two polarities. While the helmer has his own unique fun with the proceedings, there remain a number of specific, rote hoops he's forced to jump through. Even James Bond (Daniel Craig) must be feeling a bit of déjà vu, once more haggling with iron-jawed M (Judi Dench), taking a few ladies to bed who then unceremoniously find their ways out of the plot (Naomie Harris and Bérénice Marlohe), and matching wits, fists, and bullet shells with a diabolical foreigner (Javier Bardem). These are not cliches; they are the immovable ingredients of the oldest, most prolific series in the history of film. While adhering to them nearly ensures that brilliance will not be attained, it also serves as a safe-guard against complete disaster, and ensures that Ian Fleming's pseudo fanboys stay happy.

        And to be sure, there's a lot to be ecstatic about. Mastermind cinematographer Roger Deakins, the Coen brothers' best-kept secret, isn't about to let all of this continent-hopping go to waste, capturing a sun-soaked Turkey, a Machu exploding with light and color, and an Irish countryside as ripe with beauty as it is mystery. He's no slouch when the action starts either, shooting many a duel with long, uncut takes, permitting eyeballs to soak in the whole battle, rather than editing them into fuzzy oblivion (*cough* Michael Bay movies *cough*). The actors on hand have an absolute ball as well, from Craig's suave, knowing calm, to Marlohe's unhinged tight-wire act between sensuality and insanity. But the cake goes to Bardem, who was apparently told to be as much of a ham as possible, and relishes every minute of it. Bleached blonde, tic-addled, and suffering from a truly massive, unmissable oedipal complex, his Silva might not haunt your dreams the way the best baddies do, but my god, will he slap a smile across your face.

        What's more, he hardly even has a damn script to work with! Penned by Neal Purvis and Robert Wade (and subsequently re-written by John Logan, who will take over solo scribe duties with the series' next installment), Skyfall's story-structure is the definition of herky-jerky, misplacing formerly important characters for extended stretches, and lacking any real narrative drive beyond that-guy's-bad-LET'S-GET-HIM! There are also some REAL eye-rollers coming from the dialogue department, but maybe I'm just being too hard on an unapologetic popcorn flick. Truth be told, I'm not the saga devotee that some are, and my opinion ought to be taken as such. Those who enter Skyfall looking for a James Bond movie will likely get more than their money's worth, knee-slapping in-jokes, and pulse-pounding action abounding. Taken as a movie like any other, however, Skyfall is notably above average, but I'm not exactly rushing to hand it Oscars.

Grade: B

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