Thrilling ‘Skyfall’ is top-tier James Bond
Daniel Craig’s first outing as James Bond in “Casino Royale” was designed to take the venerable spy franchise to more serious, real-world places. The 21st century demanded its 007 be more like Jason Bourne – a guy who throws punches without the catchphrases and womanizing.
The rebranding worked well enough for “Casino Royale,” but its sequel, “Quantum of Solace,” pushed too far away from what made James Bond so great in the first place. It felt squarely like a “Bourne” ripoff.
“Skyfall” finds a happy balance, maintaining Craig’s brute masculinity while injecting the larger-than-life set pieces and integral supporting characters that define the franchise.
It’s the best James Bond movie in years. Maybe one of the best ever.
Known for quieter dramas, Oscar-winning director Sam Mendes (“American Beauty”) has accomplished the near-impossible: He’s made an archetypal Bond movie with real stakes. “Skyfall” has amazing action sequences, exotic locations and an unforgettable villain. But it also has real-world drama and smaller, revelatory character moments that give the film a genuine, emotional core.
After a near-death experience in the thrilling pre-credit sequence, Bond is faced with an aging body and an outdated approach to the spy game. A crucial piece of intelligence has slipped into the wrong hands, and Bond’s superior, M (the indispensable Judi Dench), is being forced into early retirement.
It takes a long while for the Big Bad to be revealed, but the wait is worth it. As the diabolical (and very pale) Silva, Javier Bardem plays a Bond villain for the ages. Every word he says oozes with the kind of over-the-top evil that has been nonexistent in movies for the last several years. Bardem won an Oscar for playing bad in 2007’s “No Country for Old Men,” and he deserves another Oscar nomination for his first scene alone—a lengthy bit of monologuing that involves rats and some uncomfortable flirting with Bond.
A good villain can always elevate an action movie, but “Skyfall” does almost everything else right too. Ben Whishaw is introduced as tech expert Q, and the film introduces many of the other iconic Bond elements that have so-far been absent in the Craig era.
The locales are gorgeous, bolstered by stunning cinematography from the nine-time Oscar nominee Roger Deakins (“Skyfall” deserves to be his first win). The CGI can’t be easily identified and action scenes are natural extensions of the plot.
“Skyfall” also takes a rare journey into Bond’s past, revealing more about what defines the man. It’s a refreshing choice that gives the franchise many story opportunities going forward.
That’s the best thing about “Skyfall.” It gives James Bond a jumping off point for another 50 years of movies. It makes good on the idea planted in “Casino Royale” – that a Bond movie can be just as relevant and exciting today as ever.