It only took three movies to get it absolutely right.
In “Casino Royale,” Daniel Craig established himself as the new James Bond. A different and sort of exciting Bond, yes, but he did nothing to convince the world he was going to be an indelible 007, mentioned in the same breath as Sean Connery and exciting us about the future prospects of a franchise that, with his debut, was clearly going in a different direction. If you’re like me, you instead thought Craig was an excellent actor who was half Jason Bourne, part Timothy Dalton with a dash of Roger Moore. In other words, an entertaining hybrid but not necessarily a game-changer.
Then, “Quantum of Solace” comes along. While there were many good things to take from it, the film almost seemed like a step backward into a different franchise that had very little to do with James Bond. Once again, Craig’s acting was brilliant but the film did little to whet my appetite for another Bond film.
Now we have “Skyfall,” Daniel Craig’s third outing as James Bond. What makes us clamor for this new Bond film is the promise of a celebration — a movie marking the 50th anniversary of the film debut of the world’s most famous and, on occasion, most lovable super spy. There’s also the addition of Oscar-winning director Sam Mendes (“American Beauty”), Oscar-winner Javier Bardem as the Bond baddie, the return of Oscar-winner Dame Judi Dench as Bond’s boss, M, and the debut of two-time Oscar nominee Ralph Fiennes as M’s successor. That’s a lot of Oscar hardware. What a colossal failure this would be if it didn’t work.
From the opening sequence, it’s apparent that “Skyfall” is a very different James Bond film. We are treated to, for my money, one of the best chase sequences any Bond film has ever offered. In an effort to steer away from spoilers, the only thing I’m going to tell you is it creatively utilizes a motorcycle, the rooftops of Istanbul (a recent trend for action movies; see “Taken 2.”), and a train.
We also meet Eve, played by the underrated Naomie Harris who, from this moment forth, will be underrated no more.
Let’s just say, James disappears for a while and in his absence, MI6 sustains a devastating attack that calls M’s leadership into question. Bond and M’s loyalty to one another also is tested, forcing them into the kind of self-reflection we haven’t before seen in a Bond film — at least not played this convincingly.
This James Bond is far from perfect, and Craig is at his best when he’s vulnerable, allowing us to see a tired, older Bond. A Bond with both physical and emotional mileage. While we see the wrinkles and dark circles under his eyes, we also see the damage to his soul. This Bond is a man who isn’t so sure he can do his job anymore but has to, because it’s all he knows. He is a killer in a dark place.
Here is the brilliance of “Skyfall.” The bad guy, Javier Bardem’s beguiling Silva, is very much like Bond — except he’s embraced his inner killer. Silva is motivated by revenge (again, no spoilers here) but although he acts from the other side of that often shifting moral line, his reasons for doing so might well make sense to James.
Silva also intrigues because his specialty is cyber warfare, a very nice way to keep the Bond franchise current. Also keeping the franchise and MI6 current is 32-year-old Ben Whishaw as the new Q — a kid, if you will, who also specializes in cyber warfare, as well as tech-based gadgetry.
If there’s anything in “Skyfall” to complain about it’s the underutilization of Bond girl Bérénice Marlohe. Her relationship with James isn’t entirely convincing but a stunning scene with Marlohe that’s loaded with bravado, sexuality and suspense quickly makes you forget the shortcomings of her character development.
In the realm of James Bond, “Skyfall” is a masterpiece. This is a finely tuned, gorgeous, unpredictable film with more artistic merit than the previous 20+ James Bond films combined. If that’s not enough to endear Bond fans, the film is also loaded with clever yet organic tributes and references to past Bond films.
“Skyfall” marks a pivotal moment in the James Bond canon. This is the true reboot of the franchise, the film in which, three movies into his tenure, Daniel Craig becomes the best James Bond there ever was, and in which a vaunted character celebrating his 50th anniversary once again becomes an original.
Four-and-a-half out of five stars.