Skyfall (2012)

Rating: ***
Release Date: 11/10/12
Director: Sam Mendes
Cast: Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Javier Bardem, Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris, Bérénice Marlohe, Albert Finney

A bland and uninteresting attempt to tear down and rebuild the James Bond legacy that fails to find its footing. In its defense, the film opens with a superb action/chase scene, followed by a very nice opening credits sequence. The film remains intriguing until the villain (Javier Bardem) is revealed, and then it devolves into an increasingly disappointing farce. In a nutshell, Bardem holds a grudge against MI6 and M (Judi Dench) in particular, and concocts an outrageous scheme to get back at her and undermine her entire organization. A mentally and physically imbalanced Bond (Daniel Craig) is put back on active duty to track down the bad guys, learn who they work for, and terminate them. Some nods and winks to earlier films bring Bond back to Skyfall, his childhood home, which serves as the final battleground and metaphorically represents Bond's life, death, and rebirth. The film ends with a sense of everything old is new again.

First of all, my heart sank when I saw Alexander Witt's name come up as the second unit director, since he has an annoying habit of ruining action films. Thankfully, this one fares pretty well, but with the exception of the opening sequence, the action tends to be sparse and lacking. The film opens with a bang and features some excellent chase scenes and vehicular mayhem, and Bond's partner (pretty Naomie Harris) is a welcome sight who puts up a good fight. The sequence in Shanghai is beautifully filmed and introduces us to the insanely pretty Bérénice Marlohe. Unfortunately, she is short-lived and woefully underutilized. After that, the film slows to a crawl and trades physical action for verbal sparring, mind games, and cyber warfare, which is horribly uninteresting and unrealistic on film. Watching people stare at computer monitors and tap keyboards is not a good recipe for edge-of-your-seat tension and drama. The film's attempts at cleverness backfire, and the awkward dialog is more wince-worthy than nostalgic.

On the plus side, the film is gorgeous and features some excellent cinematography and composition. The only annoyance in the visual effects department is the dreaded digital steam effect, which ruins several scenes. While I appreciate it for the sake of continuity, I'd much prefer if they'd left it out. The music is serviceable, but not particularly memorable. By the end, the film has positioned itself as a new beginning for Agent 007, but there's no hint as to what the franchise's new direction is going to be. Overall, it feels like a pointless bridge episode rather than a stand-alone adventure. Call me old fashioned, but I'd much rather see Bond on an actual mission rather than deal with the restructuring and repositioning of the global intelligence community in today's political climate.