For all the hype attending James Bond's return last weekend, his "Skyfall" turned out to be the second-best spy thriller hitting screens across the country.
The real-life resignation of David Petraeus as head of the CIA after revelations of an extramarital affair proved more compelling than the intelligence breakdown in the Bond version. It also provided comedians with lots of jokes about undercover work.
The "other woman" in the Petraeus case is author Paula Broadwell, a successful West Point graduate who penned a glowing biography of the general. Googling her leads to video of a push-up contest with Jon Stewart on The Daily Show last January, when she was doing publicity for her book, "All In."
Seeing a fake news show in the middle of what could have-or maybe still might-be one huge national security breach feels a little surreal, wouldn't you say?
When espionage is done right, no one knows. When it's done wrong, it's a disaster.
But what is it when it's a Jon Stewart gag?
In the James Bond version, M (Judi Dench) is being pressed to retire from running M16-Britain's version of the CIA-after a list of undercover agents fall into the wrong hands, and someone hacks into M16 computers and explodes its headquarters just for good measure.
That someone is played by Javier Bardem, fast becoming the go-to villain for sadism with a touch of humor and even silliness.
As a brilliant, disgruntled former agent with a score to settle, he's a formidable adversary for Daniel Craig's incarnation of everyone's favorite super spy in exotic locations around the world.
Now that we've gotten used to Craig's brooding Bond replacing the suave bravado of his predecessors, "Skyfall" brings Oscar-winning director Sam Mendes onboard to make the actors rather than the cyber-techno-gizmos, the stars this time.
It's a calculated risk. Judi Dench all but steals the movie (that's a good thing), playing the stiff-spined yet still motherly M, as Daniel and Javier play Oedipal games vying for her affection. Some of the action sequences are exuberant and fun, like the film's opening fight atop a train speeding through Turkish tunnels, or a Shanghai shootout against a backdrop of glass highrises and mammoth electronic billboards. Others, like the climax at a remote Scottish estate, are just standard-issue fireballs and noise.
"Skyfall" does pay homage to its origins, reminding us that former World War II agent Ian Fleming wrote the first Bond novel, "Casino Royale," in 1952, and Bond films started hitting the silver screen a decade later. In those days, a nifty ballpoint pen passed for high-tech, and an Aston-Martin with wire wheels was as cool as cars got.
There's also the inevitable Bond rating game, comparing Craig's version-blond, simian, hints of inner demons-with the dapper British wisecrackers of yore. Sean Connery will always be my favorite for the strides he made for baldness; followed by Pierce Brosnan, ever since he showed up at the Maui Film Festival.
(Maui Film Festival, by the way, kicks off a new FirstLight at the MACC on Sunday. Tuesday's "Silver Linings Playbook" should be an early highlight of these likely Oscar contenders, showing intermittently through the holiday season.)
James Bond is one of the screen's most enduring icons, weathering a half-century of changing tastes, changing tech and changing leading men. With his women, martinis, tuxedoes and impossible escapes, he's been the ultimate wish fulfillment for both men and women for decades.
In "Skyfall," he feels more like the ultimate brand. The closing credits not only include a 50-year seal of approval, but the promise that he'll be back.
As soulful as Daniel Craig makes the veteran secret agent man, the problems of the modern world feel complicated beyond even 007's considerable abilities to fix.
Just ask David Petraeus.
* Contact Rick Chatenever at firstname.lastname@example.org