If Hollywood's rut du jour is the origin story as bid for franchise immortality, you can't say that Skyfall-- the 23rd "official" James Bond film in 50 years-- isn't on-trend. Skyfall, Daniel Craig's third Bond film, aims to flesh out the backstory of the spy, with the globe-trotting terrorist hunt this time literally revisiting the site of the childhood trauma that apparently pushed Bond to seek out that license to kill. Bopping from Shanghai to Macao, Bond gets up to the usual daring escapes and zipless nightcaps. The greatest gift director Sam Mendes-- working with cinematographer Roger Deakins-- brings to the material is staging and imagery that artfully amplify the film's ideas about the world in which all of this is happening. And there are ideas, despite the fetishism and improbability native to the franchise. Bond's world is undeniably modeled after a real one engaged in debates about transparency and obfuscation, in which established institutions find themselves crippled (and, perhaps worse, rendered foolish) by stateless entities who show their power through violent interruptions of both the physical and virtual worlds. A bureaucrat played by Ralph Fiennes, trying to drag MI6 kicking and screaming into the age of Anonymous, contends that the agency "can't keep working in the shadows—there are no shadows." It's a POV contested by the film’s most visually stunning action scene, a relatively simple duel in a darkened Shanghai skyscraper, with Bond and the bad guy silhouetted against the neon lights and video billboards outside. The shadows might have changed shape and method of generation, but the conflicts seem as binary as ever.
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