Arts & Life
4:45 pm
Thu November 8, 2012

Bond Is Back And Living Up To His Reputation

Originally published on Thu November 8, 2012 5:02 pm

Istanbul: Somebody's stolen a hard drive with info sensitive enough that ... oh, who cares? Bond is giving chase, and that's all that matters — cars careening through bazaars, motorcycles flying across rooftops until Daniel Craig's 007 lands atop a speeding train.

"Atop" is a problem, though; how to get inside? Maybe by commandeering a derrick from a car in back, ripping a hole in the roof of a passenger car and leaping through the hole just as the back of the car tears off. Landing in the aisle, Bond straightens his jacket cuffs, squares his shoulders and heads off to get the bad guy.

Imagine Bourne doing that. Oh, sure, he could do the leaps and stunts — but the cuff-check? No way. Seals the deal. And we're not even to the opening credits yet.

Viewers with long memories will be aware that 007 knows this territory. Both trains and Istanbul figure in From Russia With Love, the second — and to many of us the best — Bond film thus far. Skyfall's blistering Turkish opening is the first hint (of many; there's an Aston Martin coming) that director Sam Mendes is deliberately calling up the good old days, back when Q (Ben Whishaw in this new incarnation) wasn't handing out quite so many implausible gizmos, and when Sean Connery was the only imaginable Bond.

Happily, Daniel Craig cements the case he made as a worthy Bond successor a few years back in Casino Royale (let's all agree to forget Quantum of Solace). There's a gritty, real-world feel to Skyfall that makes good use of Craig's down-to-earthiness.

This time, though, he's got Mendes and the much-admired cinematographer Roger Deakins behind him to make those big set pieces seriously sleek. Wait'll you see the vertigo-inducing fight in Shanghai, backlit with building-sized video displays. Spectacle, these guys can do.

Also creepy Bond villains, with blond-coiffed Javier Bardem the latest in a line of bad guys who feel the need to explain things before they dispatch our hero with unexpected tricks — in, say, the bowels of London, or on an isolated estate in Scotland. (Why Scotland? Well, maybe because Connery had a brogue. Doesn't matter. Cool isolated estate, with Albert Finney lurking for reasons I should probably leave unsaid.)

The stars and the explosions are backed up by plenty of class — Ralph Fiennes as M's new boss, Naomie Harris and Berenice Marlohe as a couple of the requisite Bond beauties, and Judi Dench finally given the space to turn M into a full-bodied character.

Arguably, Skyfall's finale is too drawn out, but it leads to a payoff rewarding enough that you'll hear no complaints from me. You'd think that 50 years in, the Bond series would be gasping for breath, not leaving you breathless. (Recommended)

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Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

And I'm Robert Siegel. Enough of elections and rival ideologies. Here's something we can all agree on, James Bond. Ian Fleming's dapper, licensed to kill secret agent has long been Hollywood's most durable spy. The 23rd Bond movie opens tomorrow. It's called "Skyfall" and critic Bob Mondello ranks it near the top of 007's portfolio.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: Istanbul: Somebody's stolen a hard drive with sensitive info and Bond gives chase. Cars careen through bazaars, motorcycles flying across rooftops, until he lands atop a speeding train. To gain access, he commandeers a derrick, ripping a hole in the roof of a passenger car, then just as the back of the car tears off, he leaps through the hole and offhandedly checking his cufflinks before chasing the bad guy.

Imagine Bourne doing that. Oh, sure, he could do the leaps and stunts, but the cufflink-check? No way. Seals the deal. And we're not even to the opening credits yet.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MONDELLO: 007 knows this territory. Trains, Istanbul from "From Russia With Love," the second, and to many, the best Bond film thus far. "Skyfall's" blistering Turkish opening is the first hint that director Sam Mendes is deliberately calling up the good old days, back when Q wasn't handing out quite so many implausible gizmos and Sean Connery was the only imaginable Bond.

That, happily, is no longer true.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: You know, I never complicate the plot.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Unintelligible)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Bond, James Bond.

MONDELLO: Daniel Craig cements the case he made as a worthy Bond successor in "Casino Royale" a few years back. Let's all agree to forget "Quantum of Solace." There's a gritty, real-world feel to "Skyfall" that makes good use of Craig's down-to-earthiness. But this time, he's got a director and cinematographer behind him who can make the big set pieces seriously sleek.

Wait till you see the vertigo-inducing fight in Shanghai they backlight with building-sized video displays. Spectacle, these guys can do. Also, creepy Bond villains.

JAVIER BARDEM: (As Raoul Silva) You called me.

MONDELLO: Javier Bardem is the latest in the line of bad guys who need to explain things before they dispatch our hero with unexpected tricks in, say, the bowels of London.

BARDEM: (As Raoul Silva) The latest thing from my local toy store. It's called radio.

MONDELLO: A hole opens above Bond's head exposing - are those subway tracks?

DANIEL CRAIG: (As James Bond) I sure hope that wasn't for me. But that is.

MONDELLO: The stars and the explosions are backed up by class - Ralph Fiennes and Albert Finney in important bit parts, the requisite bond beauties everywhere and Judi Dench finally given the space to turn M into a full-bodied character. Arguably, "Skyfall's" finale goes on too long, in Scotland because, well, Sean Connery had a brogue, maybe that's reason enough.

But it leads to a payoff so rewarding that you'll hear no complaints from me. You'd think that 50 years in, the Bond series would be gasping for breath, not leaving you breathless. I'm Bob Mondello. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.