Don't you hate it when you're clinging to the bottom of an elevator soaring up 100 stories and your hand cramps up? It's tough to get old. That's a theme repeated in this, the 23rd installment in the half-century-long Bond dynasty, until the refrain, too, gets a little old. But by the end of its perhaps overlong 145 minutes Skyfall has earned the franchise the right to yet another sequel, if not another 50 years. It combines the traditional and the newfangled, offering a sly commentary on the urgency of the future and the inescapability of the past; and it's a rip-snorting good time, with action equal to the series' best.
It's kind of like Red, 2010's star-studded action comedy about retired secret agents, though with fewer laughs. In the Helen Mirren role, Judi Dench as M proves to be more than a flinty mother figure, except maybe in the Oedipal sense. Monitoring the tour-de-force opening caper, a chase scene from the rooftops of Istanbul's Grand Bazaar to the rooftops of a speeding train, M shows little remorse in deeming agents expendable. Including Bond (Daniel Craig) himself, who falls, bullet-riddled, into the drink — only to pull off a Bourne-like resurrection.
Such a cavalier attitude to the lives of her favorites can have repercussions. Meanwhile, someone has tapped into M's computer, causing all kinds of problems, including the outing of numerous agents, a nasty explosion in headquarters, and a government investigation into whether flesh-and-blood agents are necessary, anyway. The megalomaniacal Silva is the culprit; played by a bleached -blond, epicene Javier Bardem, he looks a little like Brando in The Missouri Breaks. But he's no Chigurh from No Country for Old Men, and his creepy come-on to Bond in bondage lacks conviction.
On the plus side, Ben Whishaw's spotty-faced new Q has spunk, as does Naomie Harris as Bond's back-up agent, Eve. And director Sam Mendes unreels some startling images, like a demolished, Aleppo-like town that serves as Silva's home base. Mendes also knows when to cue in the old Bond theme on the soundtrack, and proves that the old ways sometimes are the best.
PETER KEOUGH » PKEOUGH@PHX.COM
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