Shadow of 'M' rises over Bond
Directed by Sam Mendes
Judi Dench's "M" has been the one constant in the post-Cold War Bond movies. Her casting as Bond's boss in 1995's Goldeneye signalled a new era for the series. The Pierce Brosnan-starring Bonds eventually descended into silliness and tired innuendo, but Dench was kept for the 2006 "reboot" Casino Royale. She was worth saving, and in Skyfall, she practically shares equal billing with Daniel Craig's Bond.
Skyfall's bravura 20-minute opening sequence in Istanbul sets the tone for the rest of the film, as Bond, along with fellow field agent, Eve (a feisty Naomie Harris) attempts to chase down a mercenary who has stolen the classified list of every MI6 agent.
But Eve's ill-timed shot - ordered by "M" - hits Bond and lets the mercenary escape. The mistake by "M" puts her under the public microscope, and when an attack on the London MI6 headquarters leaves several agents dead, the Government orders a public inquiry.
Considering the wanton destruction previous Bond films have wrought, it's remarkable that it has taken so long for such an inquiry, but never mind.
The point is clear: the old ways could be over. Much of the first half concerns Bond living in semi-exile and retraining himself for duty. Craig is arguably the most honest Bond in that despite 007's superficial charm, he's a bruised, alcoholic misanthrope.
Dench plays "M" with righteous stubbornness, particularly in her scenes with the new Intelligence Committee chairman, Mallory (a suitably supercilious Ralph Fiennes).
Moreover, Bond (and "M") also has a worthwhile adversary: Javier Bardem's cyber-terrorist and disgraced former MI6 agent Silva serves as a reminder of the moral black hole the agents operate in.
Admittedly, the last 40 minutes seem an excuse to stage chase scenes in unlikely locations, including the London Underground, Downing Street's select committee room, and a homestead in the Scottish Highlands. Yet Mendes directs these scenes with wit and coherence, and includes a few nods to past Bond history: the Aston Martin from Goldfinger makes a crucial reappearance.
And in Dench's "M", by Craig's side for much of the last half, you have the most unlikely Bond girl (love interest Berenice Marlohe's Severin is dispatched quickly and boringly). Skyfall does its bit for Queen and country. It's a fitting tribute to 50 years of Bond.
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- The Timaru Herald