Happy Anniversary, Mr. Bond (“Skyfall”)

James Bond shares a few things with that other British import, Dr. Who: they both are characters who routinely save the word (or the universe/existence itself in Who’s case) using incredible gadgets, accompanied by attractive, plucky women who help them fight improbable villains bent on total domination (or destruction). And, over the last half century, they’ve both be played by a succession of different actors with no break in the character’s continuity.

There was Bond the suave bruiser (Sean Connery), the introspective agent (George Lazenby), the spy so campy you half expected to see POW! OOF! flash on the screen every time he threw a punch (Roger Moore), the brooding “blunt instrument” (Timothy Dalton), the lightweight pretty boy (Pierce Brosnan) and in his current incarnation, the loose cannon (Daniel Craig).

Casino Royale, Craig’s first outing as Bond, was a reboot of the series which had stiff competition from the newly launched Mission: Impossible and Bourne franchises—and Austin Powers. (In You Only Live Twice, Bond’s cover was a sales rep offering the Japanese a new type of MSG—I mean, Seriously?) His second Quantum of Solace was actually a quite compelling story but not sufficiently “Bondian,” and much less flashy than his competitors. So we come to his third outing, Skyfall, which is essentially a reboot of a series that was just rebooted two films ago.

The filmmakers said they wanted to get back to the “classic Bond;” they wanted most of all to bring back the humor. The jokes are there, not as forced or lame (yeah, I said it) as in the past. (From License to Kill: Henchman (referring to a bag of (literally) blood-stained drug money: “What should I do with this?” Bad Guy: “Launder it.”) There are winks and nods to the earlier films, with the set-ups un- or understated (a bartender decants a shaken drink into a martini glass), but for all the grace notes and gravitas, there are a number of WTF?. moments that should be instructional to novice screenwriters: it’s okay to put something cool in your script just because it’s cool, but remember, it should also make sense.

So, is Skyfall with the price of admission? On the Bond Scale, with Goldfinger anchoring one end and The Man with the Golden Gun anchoring the other, it’s much closer to the finger than the gun. Is it as good as Mission: Impossible—Ghost Protocol? No. Is it better than the Bourne Whatever the Last One Was? A qualified “yes.” But bottom line, it’s like spending a couple of hours at somebody’s 50th Anniversary Party: a good time with familiar faces who still get around pretty good well despite their age. Except there’s no cake and ice cream.

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