The Spy Who Hacked Me

From the first orchestral stab that opens the latest James Bond film, there is a jolt of reinvigorating energy that propels itself throughout the two and a half hour run time. After the perpetually boring “Quantum of Solace,” “Skyfall” is like a breath of fresh air in a drowning sea of mediocre film franchises.

It’s fitting then that “Skyfall” begins with Bond (Daniel Craig) at his weakest state yet. Wounded and assumed dead after a mission gone wrong, Bond is biding his time drinking the coldest of Heinekens and bedding the finest of women on a peaceful beach somewhere far from MI6 and all the problems that come with it. Here is where we start to see the changing of the guard, in which “Skyfall” allows James Bond to be James Bond. Bond engages in verbal sword fights with men and women alike, and subsequently sleeps with the women, keeping the movie chugging along quickly and efficiently in traditional 007 fashion.

Bond is enjoying his life so much that it doesn’t seem like anything could bring him back to our modern world. In comes Silva (Javier Bardem), a mysterious blonde-topped hacker and supergenius — easily the most interesting character in the film. A theatrical and imposing fellow with a covered past, his origin and ultimate evil plan is actually the least interesting thing about him. His mysteous force wages a secret war against MI6 using the anonymity of the Internet, with plenty of allusions to modern day cyberterrorism and WikiLeaks in tow. Bardem’s golden blonde hair bears more than a passing resemblance to WikiLeak’s figurehead Julian Assange, and at first you think it’s crazy to let such a distinct and politically relevant message fall by the wayside in favor of a more physical pursuit that doesn’t hold up.

Most of “Skyfall” takes place between Daniel Craig’s Bond and Dame Judi Dench’s M, and as the movie makes its way to the finish line, the two of them are pushed closer and closer together as the tension between boss, employee and maybe something more heightens.

Sam Mendes, the director for this film, despite being best known for making meditative character studies like “American Beauty” and “Jarhead,” brings a stylistic edge to “Skyfall” that makes every bit of action feel more exhilarating than the last. The opening pursuit of an enemy on motorcycles through the roofs and bazaars of Turkey marks one of the few true usages of 3-D in modern cinema, which means a lot considering “Skyfall” is only presented in 2-D and IMAX. There is a sense of space and depth as Bond flies from one rooftop to the next, all presented with exacting precision that encapsulates what makes this installment so visually gorgeous. Battles in such differing scenarios as a Shanghai skyscraper surrounded by bright lights or a Gothic manor in Scotland are equally beautiful thanks to spacious camera use and a fine use of color. The skyscraper is particularly awesome because of the way layers of glass are placed over each other, all shimmering from brightly projected jellyfish along the walls and the city lights below. Even the latter manor looks spectacular as the flames begin to burn when Bardem’s team engages in a tricky climactic battle against Bond.

There are a couple of new faces introduced in “Skyfall.” There is Ralph Fiennes (Voldemort in “Harry Potter”) as the former general turned government bureaucrat who has a 50/50 chance of being revealed as a traitor from the first time you see him. Naomi Harris plays a MI6 agent who’s always around to lend a hand or more to Bond. There’s also Ben Whishaw’s Q, a tech wiz kid barely older than any student here at UCSD.

Q and Bond debate endlessly about the benefits and costs of the old ways of life. Q’s techno world is as foreign to Bond as any alien babble, and yet there is the specter of inevitably over everything Bond does. Throughout “Skyfall,” the question is raised whether the old ways have gone extinct. And in many ways, these questions can be applied to the Bond franchise itself. Are the days of fun loving, super suave, superspy James Bond behind us? Are we forever trapped in a world of gritty reboots and sour-faced action stars?

In the end, the answer is a resounding no. Craig’s James Bond is still as mopey as Pierce Brosnan was flashy, but we haven’t seen Bond enjoy his occupation quite this much in a long while. The lack of fantasy spy gadgets keeps everything grounded in reality even when the sparks (and flames) start to fly. When Bond is asked “Are you ready to get back to work?,” it’s addressed primarily to Bond, but also to us in the audience. Are you ready to get back to enjoying your blockbusters again? Because the king of franchises is at the top of his game yet again.

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