Paradox drips from every part of Skyfall, and that's a good thing.
It starts with James Bond. For years I have complained that the series' super spy film formula is antiquated. The Cold War crises that spawned Bond's popularity decades ago are long gone. Gadgets, gimmicks, gimmicky villains and Bond's insatiable lust for hotter-than-hot women that populate the now 23 films have grown boring and predictable.
Skyfall -- it seems -- has many of the same complaints.
Much of the excellent script crafted by Casino Royale writers Neal Purvis and Robert Wade -- who penned the last two Pierce Brosnan Bond flicks -- and Hugo's John Logan hold my complaints up to the light. Clearly, Daniel Craig's aging James Bond and Judi Dench's M are tired of the gig. They are weary and worn. Too many bad guys and too much death have taken their toll.
Difficult decisions that have led to the death of members of her own team weigh heavily on M. Bond falls victim to one of those decisions early in the film. He's shot by a colleague at her orders. Realizing his own mortality, Bond plays dead for awhile and then returns to London bitter, cynical and pissed.
M is also faced with another crisis. Some politicians want to shut M's MI6 operation down and some within the agency begin asking important questions. Aren't Bond and M too old to be doing their thing?
My feelings exactly. And this is the paradox. What gives Skyfall energy, and -- unbelievably and ironically -- a fresh look, is its willingness to look deeply and honestly at how dated the series has become and how its aging characters are no longer interesting.
Oscar winner Javier Bardem (No Country for Old Men) joins the list of Bond villains. Like the series, he's dated and for a Bond villain, ho-hum average. It's only what he does to Bond, M and MI6, and how he does it that makes Bardem's Silva interesting and adds to the movie's intensity. Silva has wormed into MI6 and its computers. As its computer systems crash and fail, and embedded agents are revealed to villains who kill them, Silva taunts Bond and M with messages.
Those messages lead them to him and to more surprises and a deepening plot.
Pushing this most excellent movie forward is the personality clash between Craig's Bond and Dench's M. Their give and take is terrific. Unlike most film characters, the chemistry between them comes from a deep, unspoken dislike of each other. At the same time, the negative feelings include deep, also unspoken respect and admiration.
The beauty of the relationship is that both are super stoic, and much of what you learn about them and their relationship is unspoken.
This is not to say the script and the accompanying dialogue isn't important. As with all movies, it is. However, in Skyfall the facial expressions and body language between the two main characters say everything you need to know.
The biggest knock is Skyfall -- at 143 minutes -- is a tad long. There are places visionary director Sam Mendes could have trimmed his movie. It's my only knock. A two-hour flick would cut some of the extraneous, unnecessary fluff and made a practically perfect movie better.
That said, Mendes (an Oscar winner for American Beauty) has made a mostly fast-paced, sometimes disturbing, and very intense film. The action sequences rivet you to your seat. At the same time, and like its cousin Casino Royale, Skyfall is cerebral.
The day is won by keen, determined minds and not gimmicks and gadgets.
Some critics are calling Skyfall the best Bond of them all. It's a little early for that judgment. However, Skyfall certainly falls among the best of a very long and very successful series.
Mr. Movie rating: 5 stars
Director: Sam Mendes
Stars: Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Javier Bardem, Ralph Fiennes
Rated PG-13 for mature themes, violence. It is playing at the Carmike 12, the Fairchild Cinemas 12 and at Walla Walla Grand Cinemas.
5 stars to 4 1/2 stars: Must see on the big screen
4 stars to 3 1/2 stars: Good film, see it if it's your type of movie.
3 stars to 2 1/2 stars: Wait until it comes out on DVD.
2 stars to 1 star: Don't bother.
0 stars: Speaks for itself.