2012, PG-13, 143 min. Directed by Sam Mendes. Starring Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Javier Bardem, Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris, Bérénice Marlohe, Albert Finney, Ben Whishaw, Rory Kinnear, Ola Rapace.

REVIEWED By Kimberley Jones, Fri., Nov. 9, 2012

What’s in a name? Lately, less and less. With Daniel Craig’s third go at 007, I’m not sure there’s much left that distinguishes Bond from Bourne from Batman. They’re all slurping from the same soup – think: death-haunted, self-righteous, tight-lipped and -quipped, parkour enthusiast. That isn’t to say there isn’t entertainment to be had in Skyfall – there’s giddy gobs of it, in fact – but whither the insouciance, huh? That unflappable cool? In a terror-obsessed geopolitical landscape, perhaps it’s inevitable that we see the 21st century Bond sweat. And yet: This guy’s even grim about getting laid.

Noted killjoy Sam Mendes (Revolutionary Road, Road to Perdition) might seem like a counterintuitive addition to the series, but it turns out he’s aces with action staging and set-pieces soaked in local flavor – a rooftop motorbike race above a Turkish bazaar, and a Shanghai skyscraper that makes clever use of that city’s scrolling neon advertisements. More predictable is that Mendes, working from a script by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, and John Logan, would make the film top-heavy with character psychology. Though there’s much to applaud in the promotion of MI6 chief M (Dench) to leading player and plot engine, the filmmakers’ belabored emphasis on oedipal issues does a disservice to Dench’s steely turn as the head of Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service. Then again, it’s just about an even trade for the sheer pleasure of Javier Bardem – the franchise’s international baddie du jour, a blond-coiffed rogue agent seeking revenge on M – murmuring “Mommy’s been very bad” with his sibilant, snake’s flicking tongue. Other supporting players – Naomie Harris’ junior agent Eve, Ben Whishaw as gadget-whiz Q, and Ralph Fiennes’ security minister Mallory – further goose the glum, and there’s real gleam and wit to the film when they’re around.

There is also the contribution of cinematographer Roger Deakins, the regular right-hand man with a camera of both Mendes and the Coen brothers. Not to undersell the originality of his vision, but the sentimental heart of a cinephile can’t help but swell at a late-in-the-film shot that recalls the flame licks and sparks of Days of Heaven and the otherworldly chiaroscuro of Murnau’s Sunrise. Deakins’ visuals make startling artistry of even the so-called “shoe leather” – the getting from here to there transitionals – as when the camera holds on Bond as he takes a long (very long) gondola ride to a Macao casino. Bond stands ramrod, all-business, for the duration of the water-crossing, and the effect is at once silly and emblematic of the film’s humorlessness about its hero. Would it kill him to just sit back and enjoy the ride?

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Skyfall, Sam Mendes, Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Javier Bardem, Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris, Bérénice Marlohe, Albert Finney, Ben Whishaw, Rory Kinnear, Ola Rapace

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