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Skyfall opens with a vehicle chase of classic Bond pedigree, and then slides elegantly to the opening titles via a clever dramatic twist. With the ever ambitious Sam Mendes in the director's chair, this opening bears promise that this could be the film where the stark and realistic Bond we've seen so far in the Daniel Craig era obtains some of the playful creativity of previous eras. And the film certainly knows its place in and obligations to the history of this longest-running film series ever, as it continues in its discussion of renewal vs. preservation and progressive vs. conservative values: The possibly outdated MI6 finds itself under attack from hacker terrorists, good old gadget Q is replaced by a computer whiz kid, and M starts pondering whether she's too old.
Up steps a somewhat dejected 007, appearing as something of the antithesis of technology and modernism, demonstrating to us all that it still is bravery and old-fashioned killer instincts which do the trick. He invites us along to a couple of captivating set-pieces, but also back to his childhood and some weary-looking inner demons. And while some viewers may think this makes him deeper or more human, I find it only makes him less enigmatic and fascinating. The effortlessly invincible Bond was more interesting than another semi-depressed freedom-fighter. James Bond doesn't need a psychological profile. He's supposed to give us hope and faith in a cruel world, not equate himself with said cruelty.
There are positives here though, even if James Bond himself is not one of them. In my review of Quantum of Solace, I claimed that the Bond films often were only as good as their villain, and in Javier Bardem's wildly vindictive and somewhat pansy Raoul, Skyfall has lots of material to play off of. He's not always employed to the best purpose, but his presence gives the film edge. He's fun and over the top, without coming off as the typical two-dimensional Bond villain.
Three films into Daniel Craig's reign as 007 we're seeing a film series with a need to go someplace new, but that cannot quite make up its mind which direction this should be. Skyfall is progressive and reactionary at the same time, and while there are a number of interesting discussions and aspects to this, the film doesn't feel sufficiently full-blooded and confident to establish itself as a step in the right direction, or even a successful spy/action movie anno 2012.