The one dynamic Skyfall finally takes advantage of more than ever before is the relationship between Bond and M (Judi Dench, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel). It’s always been one of both respect and conflict, with strong maternal undertones. Those tensions and affections are heightened as Silva’s schemes would make Bond and M  obsolete (and MI6 along with them), putting the pair’s fidelity to the test. In a job where each often has to put mission and country before the other (even to the point of being pitted against one another), they end up being all the other’s got – not just out of necessity, but loyalty.

The film’s other strength is in how, despite feeling like a regression, it plays as a respectful homage to its history. The working philosophy for director Sam Mendes (Away We Go) is literally verbalized in the line “Sometimes the old ways are the best.” From an ingenious resurrection of the original Aston Martin DB5 to the timing of when we first hear the full original Bond theme, and even in establishing Bond’s roots in Scotland (a nod to original 007 Sean Connery’s birthplace), this isn’t a lazy regression but rather a very intentional and at times adroit one. By film’s end the reconstruction is complete, forming a 21st century carbon copy of the MI6 core we first saw in 1962’s series debut Dr. No.

As preferrential as it would’ve been for Mendes to stay on the recent reboot’s more complex and modern trajectory, it’s hard to imagine an embrace of the familiar being done in a more classy fashion. It may make for the most widely appealing Bond yet.

Still, as the tongue-in-cheek tone increases, it broaches all-out kitsch. The problem with that is how it reduces the integrity of what’s at stake. Sure, it’s entertaining to hear a witty and well-timed one-liner now and then, but a reliance on them starts to wear. Worse yet, when they’re delivered in the midst of actual life-and-death scenarios, tension is severly undercut. Some of the traps laid for Bond also seem impossibly set.

The cumulative effect of each verbal and circumstantial contrivance is one where everything, no matter the scale of danger, seems safely inevitable. That may be a given for a long-running action series, but the previous shift to seriousness helped create a dramatic veracity – even mortality – that a Bond film inherently has no right orchestrating, and that’s impressive. But here, not so much.

Skyfall is a good movie, with a classic Bond. It’s just not a great one. Indeed, at a very fundamental level, the character and his 23rd film are exactly alike: each has lost a step, but both still get the job done.

CAUTIONS:

  • Drugs/Alcohol Content: Occasional drinking and smoking. One brief scene of a drinking contest with shots.
  • Language/Profanity: Five uses of the S-word. One F-word. One B-word. Vulgarity for men’s genital. One use of the Lord’s name in vain.
  • Sexual Content/Nudity: Man unbuttons the top button of a woman’s blouse. A man and woman shower together, and kiss passionately (no nudity). Another instance of man and woman kissing passionately up against a wall. Man and woman lay in bed together. A few scenes of flirtatious exchanges between man and woman. A suggestion of homosexuality as man caresses Bond’s leg.
  • Violence/Other: A great deal of gunplay, multiple people shot and killed in various scenes. Some bloody wounds seen, though not terribly graphic. Two instances of point-blank killings of unarmed people. A man falls to his death from a high-rise building. A fight takes place in silhouette. A man removes a jaw apparatus that reveals a disfigured face. A fight to the death underwater. A woman is shot and severely injured. Lots of destruction, mayhem, explosions.

Publication date: November 8, 2012