BOND: “Everybody needs a hobby.”
SUPERVILLAIN: “So what’s yours?”
Can we finally agree that 007 is back? Do we have to keep killing him off and then wondering whether he’s still “up for the job,” “not quite tip-top,” “a dinosaur of the Cold War,” “past his sell-by date,” yada yada yada? How many times do we have to reboot this thing — even with the same actor? He’s had more rebirths than the Dalai Lama already.
Skyfall, Bond 23, in case you’ve been living in an undisclosed location somewhere, starts with Bond’s end, only you don’t believe it for a minute, because the film just started and what are we going to do for the next 130 minutes if our beloved secret agent is floating face down in a ravine?
And things are going all pear-shaped for M (Judi Dench), what with some knucklehead having stolen a single list of every agent in MI6. (NOTE TO SELF: If I am offered General Petraeus’s old job, do not, repeat, DO NOT keep a single file with the name of every agent in the CIA on a laptop somewhere.)
So with Bond supposedly gone and M having lost control, it looks like the old regime’s time is up. (To add insult to injury, her office is blown to bits in a terror attack, and so MI6 headquarters must be relocated in an underground lair, as if thrown back in time, even though its time is up, which is what we call ironical.)
But wait! Bond’s back! It’s like a miracle! Even on his island paradise where he was recuperating from being dead, he still got CNN and watched reports of the terror blast back in London town. (Thank you, Wolf Blitzer!) So James is back to defend queen and country. But not so fast. Bond’s taken a couple of bullets to the whatever and he’s going to have to pass some tests to see if he still can cut it as a 00. (Even though he looks like an NFL running back, albeit, at 5’10”, on the shorter side.)
Oh good gravy. The first hour of this thing seems like it was cadged from an early draft of the last Connery outing, Never Say Never Again. The only thing missing was the toupee.
It’s not until Javier Bardem shows up that the film finally gets going in something resembling a forward direction. Bardem is “Silva,” a sexually ambiguous supervillain with mommy issues and a genius for hacking who has it in for M. And this time…it’s personal. You see, Silva was able to get inside MI6 because: he’s one of them. Yes, a Spanish national was one of the agency’s best men. Until he started revealing the names and faces of his former colleagues on YouTube and trying to blow up the secretary and much of central London. Which you know is not going to read well in your personal file.
Silva’s capture midway through the drama comes off a tad too easily, almost like he planned it or something. (Gee, ya think?) He’s kept isolated in a glass cube and no view, a Hannibal Lecter with a Castilian accent. Bardem certainly is having fun, and is infinitely more entertaining than anything that was going on in No Country for Old Men.
Don’t get me wrong, this frightfully overpraised action flick is just that — an action flick, with some beautiful set design and masterful chase sequences, but hardly one of the Best Bonds Ever. The whole tiresome business devolves into a rather pedestrian showdown, deliberately low-tech to show how they have to go backward before they can go sideways, back to where it all started for Jimmy, just so it can all start up again, because MI6 and the 00s are still needed in a world where the enemy is not a nation on a map but thugs hidden in the shadows.
The sentimental denouement with a teary Bond is as phony as Bardem’s blond mane. I’m glad to see that Ralph Fiennes’s character, Gareth Mallory, a former field agent who did time in an IRA prison, is going to be a regular in the series.
But can we please please finally have a real Bond movie, no apologies, no explanations — and where the villain has the underground lair, and maybe a shark with a frickin’ laser beam attached to its head?