SKYFALL. Starring: Daniel Craig,  Judi Dench, Javier Bardem, Helen McCrory, and Ralph Fiennes. Directed by Sam Mendes. Rated M. (Violence and infrequent coarse language). 143 min.

This film’s release coincides with the 50th. Anniversary of the James Bond series, which is the longest continuing film series in movie history. The movie was filmed in Turkey, China, and the United Kingdom. It is the 23rd. film in the series, and the third time for Daniel Craig as James Bond. 

To be a good Bond film, there are traditions to respect, such as droll scripting, the appearance of modern relevance, and loads of atmosphere. Another one of the special earmarks of a successful James Bond movie is the choice of villain. In this film, that challenge is taken up stirringly by Javier Bardem. He is creepy, charming, violent, and thoroughly ambiguous in the sexual identity that he projects as a psychopathic killer. He brings a sinister complexity to the role of a computer-hacker that is reminiscent of Heath Ledger’s performance as the Joker in “The Dark Knight” (2008), with something of the look of Julian Assange thrown in for good measure.

James Bond is shot on a failed mission in Istanbul, and he is presumed dead, killed in action. Ever since the classic opening maze sequence of “From Russia With Love” in 1963, in which a fake James Bond is stalked and killed, the films of James Bond have set the trend for startling prologue sequences, and this film is no exception. Lasting a full 16 minutes, the opening action sequence in Istanbul, where Bond supposedly dies in the chase, thrills you before the credits start rolling. The film ends with an exciting climax on Scotland’s bleak-looking moors, where Bond’s “Skyfall” home used to be, and there is little doubt that more Bond movies with Daniel Craig are on their way.

As a result of the Istanbul fiasco, the names of every active undercover MI6 agent start appearing on the Internet. Five names each week appear, and are exposed for annihilation. M’s (Judi Dench) ability to run the Secret Service is placed under scrutiny, and she becomes the subject of a government review for her inability to handle the situation. An ambitious M-to-be (Ralph Fiennes) is anxious to replace her.

MI6 itself is attacked, and Bond, older and wiser, surfaces in London after he takes time-out to enjoy himself because others have assumed he is dead. After 69 min. into the movie, Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem) enters in a staged attention-getting sequence that is truly memorable. Silva has a personal connection to both Bond and M. In the past, he was a MI6 agent who has turned his skills to cyber-terrorism, and he wants revenge against those he thinks are responsible for betraying him, especially M.

In targeting M, Silva reveals secrets from M’s past which begin to haunt Bond, and they raise questions in his mind about why he should remain loyal to the woman he has always served. Everything is set for multiple doubts, feelings of betrayal, and action to recover lost confidences. The Director of the movie, Sam Mendes makes sure that action never occurs just for its own sake, however. He takes immense pains to make it dramatically relevant. Both character development and action highlight the insidious nature of betrayal and revenge in the twisting interactions among Bond, M, and Silva. This is the first film in the series that explores the relationship between M and Bond so intensely, so well, and so movingly.

Daniel Craig acts with depth and style, and Judi Dench plays M, under threat, with dignity. All the elements of a Bond movie are present in this movie, including glamorous locations, sexual teasing (given a new twist by Bardem), a genuine love interest (Helen McCrory), personal-killing guns, action-thrills, seductive women, and violence. But all of them take second place to stunning visuals that move the plot forward coherently and maintain its tension.  

The film is directed superbly by Mendes, who respects and appreciates the history of the Bond genre, and he has Bond looking cool and glamorous, though maturity is beginning to settle in for Daniel Craig. Mendes’ special ability is to take the Bond series to a new level of sophistication, and, in doing that, he also manages to give the series a very fresh look.

Peter W. Sheehan is associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting. 

Columbia Pictures.

Out November 22nd. 2012.

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