Ian Fleming’s James Bond celebrates his 50th anniversary in films with “Skyfall” in 2012.  At this birthday party, director Sam Mendes’ (“Revolutionary Road”) vision reinvents the world of the iconic spy.

“Skyfall” opens with James Bond in pursuit of a man who has taken a computer hard drive that reveals all the undercover agents fighting the war on terror.  Bond is shot, falls from a bridge and is presumed dead.  In addition to snuffing out the government agents, whoever has stolen the data makes an assault on MI6 headquarters, compelling Bond to come back from the dead.  He finds MI6 in transition, with new Ms and Qs replacing the old, governmental hearings, and a disgruntled ex-agent causing all the grief.  By the end of the film, Bond’s world has changed.

The script is so unoriginal, not only does it imitate previous Bond films (in “You Only Live Twice,” Bond “dies” in the opening sequence; the Astin Martin from “Thunderball” makes an appearance in “Skyfall”; the villain in this film bears an uncanny psychological resemblance to the villain in “Goldeneye”;  the missing hard drive that fuels the plot in this film is not unlike the missing computer encrypting device in “For Your Eyes Only”), but I bet you can find the scenes that mimic portions of:  “Silence of the Lambs,”  “Last of the Mohicans,”  “Jurassic Park,”  “Harry Potter,” “The Fellowship of the Rings,”  “The Karate Kid Part II,” “Unforgiven,”  “The Vikings,” and just about every Batman movie ever made.  Historically, James Bond always had clever dialogue including some good double-entendres; but in “Skyfall,” there just aren’t any good lines worth repeating.

Daniel Craig (“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”) is appearing in his third Bond film, adding a touch of remorse to the character.  Judi Dench (“Jane Eyre”) plays M for the seventh time, perfecting her defiant British glare.  Javier Bardem (“Eat Pray Love”) is the villain Silva, a former MI6 operative with serious abandonment issues.  Ralph Fiennes (“Wrath of the Titans”) portrays bureaucrat Mallory, who is not what he at first appears.  Ben Whitshaw (“Cloud Atlas”) plays the new youthful Q as a computer geek.  Naomi Harris (“28 Days Later”) is the obligatory fetching Bond girl Eve, but one that promises to be more permanent.  And Albert Finney (“The Bourne Legacy”) makes an appearance as a resourceful Scottish groundskeeper.

As mentioned above, this is not a particularly original script, and the dialogue is very pedestrian.  But it is a terrifically visual film.  Panoramic views of the Scottish highlands, London, Shanghai, Macau, and Istanbul are all stunning, and the chases, fights, and special effects are all put on splendiferous display, which is the real problem with this film.  This is not a travelogue.  But by focusing artfully on scenery, the pace has become so sluggish as to be stagnant.   The audience isn’t looking for beautiful scenery and a luxurious pace.  This is James Bond—give us action!

The direction and writing betray James Bond in this new incarnation.  Potentially exciting scenes are lavish set pieces when they should be knucklebiters.  Conflict is so emotionally detached as to be clinical:  a confrontation between Bond and Silva becomes a seduction; a grilling of M by Parliament is not the least bit intimidating; and the climactic showdown with Bond trapped in a stone house while blasted at by a helicopter gunship is so artistically displayed as to cause the audience to forget their hero is in danger.

“Skyfall” is a decent idea presented in an artistic, but tedious fashion.

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