LONDON — James Bond is a powerfully nostalgic figure in our culture. There will forever be debates on which Bond is the best and struggles between old traditions and new forms with each film. It is a little strange to think that this generation is growing up with Daniel Craig as their image of James Bond. Unlike the Bonds of previous decades, Craig’s character has blond hair and an affinity for close-combat fighting, not to mention a more muscular personality.
While the first two installments of the Craig era arguably fell short, “Skyfall” lives up to the pedigree of the franchise. The story is fairly tame, following the trend of exploiting fears of terrorism and technological warfare. When Great Britain and MI6, the British secret intelligence agency, are under attack by an enigmatic terrorist group, Agent 007 is called up to investigate. After killing anonymous henchmen and indulging his libido, he meets the head of the terrorist group, Silva (Javier Bardem).
Craig continues his portrayal of a rough, gritty Bond, more reminiscent of Jason Bourne or Batman than past Bonds. The film delves slightly more into Bond’s broken soul and chaotic upbringing, but thankfully resists fully humanizing him. Craig looks more in-shape and confident than in previous performances, which makes the fight sequences and the one-liners more convincing.
Naomie Harris and Berenice Marlohe star as this film’s Bond girls. Harris plays a tough a
nd independent character, while Marlohe’s role in the film is little more than eye candy. Both are overshadowed, however, by the film’s true Bond girl, M, played by Judi Dench. In this installment, M is much more layered and complicated than in any previous film, and the audience sympathizes with her as she battles both physical danger and her inner demons.
Similarly, the introductions of Ben Whishaw’s Q and Ralph Fiennes’s Gareth Mallory are overshadowed by a heavyweight performance from Bardem, who brings the menace he had in “No Country for Old Men” to Silva. Bardem is a psychotic, deeply tortured character, and while Silva is also one of the few explicitly gay villains in recent cinema, he also manages to avoid stereotypes and ends up being the most multi-dimensional and interesting character in the film.
Most notable, however, is Sam Mendes’ brilliant directorial vision. Mendes’ storytelling ability and indulgent cinematic set pieces — a fight in a skyscraper in Shanghai and an epic finale in Scotland — finds the art-versus-entertainment equilibrium that nearly every film yearns for.
While the first two installments of Craig’s Bond films fell short, “Skyfall” finally gives the current generation a Bond they can grow up with and someday brag about.
A version of this article appeared in the Thursday, Nov. 8 print edition. Henry Hsiao is a foreign correspondent. Email him at email@example.com.
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