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Sara Foss's Thinking It Through
by Sara Foss

Thinking It Through

A Daily Gazette life blog
Her column and blog rolled into one

Watching “Skyfall”

I’m not a hardcore Bond fan, but I have enjoyed the occasional Bond film.

They provide good escapist fun, especially if you like cars, gadgets, colorful villains, shootings, exotic locales, sexual repartee and attractive men and women in tuxedos and evening gowns, respectively.

I’m not sure how profound the average Bond film is, and I’m not sure it matters — these films are entertainments of the first order, and I doubt most of the people who go to see a Bond film leave the theater clamoring for more psychological depth. The great thing about Bond is that you know what he’s all about as soon as the credits roll, and you can just lean back and take it all in. What’s interesting about the new Bond movie, “Skyfall,” is how much it wants to provide the same old escapist thrills Bond films always have, while also exploring Bond’s back story, dark side and motivations. And for the most part, director Sam Mendes strikes a pretty good balance between the almost campy surface pleasures of a Bond film, and the 21st century’s apparent desire for brooding, angsty heroes. This Bond movie is a lot of fun, but it hits some unexpected grim notes.

“Skyfall” opens with a bravura action sequence that finds Bond (Daniel Craig, in his third Bond film) in Istanbul, pursuing a mercenary who has stolen a computer hard drive containing information about undercover agents placed in terrorist organizations throughout the globe. The chase eventually finds Bond fighting the mercenary atop a speeding train, and when Bond’s boss, M (Judi Dench), orders another agent to shoot the mercenary, Bond is shot instead and appears to die, plummeting into a river and floating downstream. But you can’t kill James Bond, and after a brief stint partying in the tropics, he returns to London, his sense of duty in the wake of a terrorist attack on MI6 trumping his desire to retire and be left alone. He returns to active duty, charged with hunting down the person responsible for the terrorist attack and the theft of the laptop.

The Daniel Craig Bond films have been darker and grittier than their predecessors and Craig has been a fairly introverted Bond, capable of working a party with charm and wit, but more of a loner. Whereas Sean Connery made being Bond look effortless, Craig makes it look like hard work. Watching Craig, you get the sense that being a spy — living in the shadows, maintaining a solitary, secretive existence — is actually a bit of a burden, rather than simply a means of acquiring weapons and women and free trips to beautiful places. For Daniel Craig’s Bond, there’s a cost to this lifestyle, and the cost is felt deeply in “Skyfall,” which features SPOILER ALERT! DO NOT READ ANY FURTHER IF YOU DO NOT WANT TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENS! a climactic trip back to Bond’s boyhood home and the death of M, one of the few people Bond cares about. Of course, there will be another M (Ralph Fiennes appears poised to take over the role), but it was hard not to mourn the end of Judi Dench’s run and her mother-son relationship with Bond. There’s also some interesting stuff about the difficulty of aging — both Bond and M are regarded as relics of an earlier age — and some touching tributes to previous Bond films, such as the use of a much-loved vintage car.

The Bond films are deeply patriotic and “Skyfall” is no exception. Bond resurfaces at the first sign of trouble, determined to save the world and the empire; MI6 is depicted as a force for stability and peace, battling a dangerous, nihilistic network of global terrorists. The villain in “Skyfall” (Javier Bardem) is so deeply unhinged that he can barely be taken seriously; he is driven by his hatred for M, rather than a coherent ideology. But whatever. Nobody goes to a Bond film because they care about geopolitical realities, and because Bond is so charismatic, and the fight scenes and banter so highly entertaining, he’s easy to root for.

If you want to see a spy movie that takes a harder look at the world of espionage, well, there’s always “Tinker Tailor Solider Spy” and “The Spy Who Came in From the Cold.” For everyone else, there’s Bond.

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