There’s little that movie buffs enjoy more than ranking their favorite James Bond movies, and if this long-lasting yet clearly evergreen franchise has proven one thing, it’s that ticket-buyers and DVD collectors will always get in line for the next chapter. Focusing solely on the current “Daniel Craig era,” we’ve been treated to the unexpectedly elegant yet action-intensive Casino Royale and the visually diverting yet entirely forgettable follow-up known as Quantum of Solace — and that puts a lot of pressure on this particular “part 3.” Disappoint the fans again and we might be looking for a new Bond; deliver something strong and the future for the series looks rosy indeed.
Fortunately for all involved, especially the moviegoers, DVD collectors, and the old-school Bond fanatics, James Bond Part 23 (aka Skyfall) fires on every conceivable cylinder: it’s got a tough old-school attitude but the presentation is grade-A modern and entirely gorgeous; the film will please the 007 veterans as well as the newbies who just need a half-decent adventure movie for an afternoon; it brings a strong and palpable amount of respect for the character and combines that with a firm commitment towards looking forward to future adventures; and (perhaps best of all) Skyfall manages to bring in filmmakers like Sam Mendes, Thomas Newman, and Roger Deakins — all of whom rise to the occasion and display their own type of James Bond magic.
Both a finale to a three-movie arc and the starting-off point for a well-earned “refresh,” Skyfall is not about our favorite spy getting embroiled in some wild but vague international intrigue. No, like some of the darkest and most interesting James Bond films (say, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service or Licence to Kill), Skyfall is about the legendary super-spy’s personal life. Not only do some villains possess and invaluable list of names that could cause the death of a hundred British agents, but a mysterious murderer from the past is intent on making life a living hell for James Bond and his long-suffering boss/mentor known only as M. I’ll put it this way for those who know the Bond movies pretty well: on the scale of convoluted complications, Skyfall ranks refreshingly low on the “WTF?” meter.
Not to put to fine a point on it, but Daniel Craig has never been better as Bond. Although cool and calm through Casino Royale and moody and morose through Quantum, here the actor actually seems to fit the role like a well-worn jacket. Intense and powerful throughout, but as the story starts to unfold and Skyfall offers a few tasty treats about 007’s ultra-mysterious past, Mr. Craig displays several compelling facets of Bond. The actor keeps his emotions locked behind the character’s no-nonsense demeanor, but whether it’s action, exposition, or plain old banter, Daniel Craig is fantastic here.
Although Craig is flanked (more than capably) by Judi Dench, who returns as Bond’s boss, Naomie Harris, as a fellow agent trying to make up for a painful mistake, Ben Whishaw as the baby-faced new “gadget guy,” and Ralph Fiennes as a government agent who (of course) cannot be trusted, the truth is that many Bond films live or die on the power of their villains. And while Skyfall may be a bit light in the “colorful henchmen” department, there’s no denying that Javier Bardem’s performance as a mega-hacker with a vicious grudge is one of the most entertaining performances of the year. He’s simply a joy to watch. (Also the great Albert Finney pops up in a small but important role, thereby adding another touch of class to a refined yet bad-ass movie.)
If you’re expecting wall-to-wall action, you may actually be disappointed by Skyfall . Bond Movie #23 is less of an action-packed travelogue than it is an espionage thriller mixed with a revenge story wrapped in a character study, and that character happens to be the world’s favorite secret agent. As for the newcomers, director Sam Mendes acquits himself remarkably well as he mixes themes of old vs. new and modern vs. obsolete into a smooth and accessible plot; composer Thomas Newman uses the classic Bond theme as a jumping off point for a supremely enjoyable score; and cinematographer Roger Deakins delivers what may be the most beautiful-looking 007 movie ever made.
Forgive the hyperbole, but Skyfall is one of the best Bond movies of the whole damn franchise. It simply is.
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