By Robert Horton Herald Movie Critic
Memo to the James Bond franchise: I get that you re-booted the thing. I get that you explored the character’s psyche and re-tooled the old sexist persona.
I get that you want to class up the joint, and that you hired Oscar-winning actors (and now, an Oscar-winning director) to fill in the scenes.
Having noted all that, I would like to request: Could you possibly get back to making a good spy movie?
These exasperated thoughts come with seeing “Skyfall,” the aptly titled (and so far, critically lauded) new entry in a film series that marks its 50th anniversary this year. This mixed bag o’ Bond is high-minded and self-referential and maybe — just a little — too smart for itself.
Our 007 is a weathered-looking Daniel Craig, in his third outing as the British spy. The plot for this outing revolves around his boss, M (Judi Dench again), who’s taking heat from a government minister (Ralph Fiennes) for allowing a potentially devastating top-secret document to fall into the wrong hands.
Those insinuating hands belong to the movie’s super-villain, one Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem, in his worst hair since “No Country for Old Men”).
Bardem has enough sly fun with the part to match previous Bond adversaries, but he doesn’t really match the hourlong buildup we hear about his dangerousness.
The women in 007’s orbit include another of Her Majesty’s agents (Naomie Harris) and Silva’s trembling mistress (Berenice Marlohe)
“Skyfall” begins with a sensational opening sequence, of course, which is genuinely thrilling. The globe-trotting that makes up the middle of the picture is fun (we begin in Istanbul and detour to Shanghai and Macao), and a fight in a skyscraper is a cool neon nightmare.
There’s even a lair with dragons (the Komodo variety), which conjures up past Bond villains and their eccentric pets.
The Oscar-winning director here is Sam Mendes (“American Beauty”), and he might be fundamentally wrong for this kind of stuff. “Skyfall” has an embarrassed quality, as though everybody thinks it’s a little silly that we’re still talking about an Aston Martin car and “shaken, not stirred” martinis. Each appearance by those old favorites feels forced: meant to be a kick, but somehow obligatory.
And when Bond goes to his childhood home in Scotland for the slowed-down final act, the mood grows psychological and serious, except for the lame one-liners from the caretaker (Albert Finney).
That kind of emotional probing seems very odd for a series about a one-dimensional character. What would Ian Fleming think?
“Skyfall” isn’t a dud. The action is fun, Craig and Harris look good together, and the subplot involving Fiennes is nicely built up. But this series needs to get out from under its own weight.
Maybe a few jetpacks and sharks with lasers would do the trick.
“Skyfall” (2½ stars)
Bond is back, once again in the form of a weathered Daniel Craig. There’s a campy villain (Javier Bardem) and some exciting action, but this installment is too smart for itself; the in-joke references feel forced and obligatory, and the psychological probing is far too high-minded for what ought to be a good spy picture.
Rated: PG-13 for violence.
Showing: Alderwood Mall, Cinebarre, Everett, Galaxy Monroe, Stanwood, Pacific Place, Thornton Place, Woodinville, Cascade Mall.