Daniel Craig is the Bond who changed that for me. “Casino Royale” was fantastic, obliterating any preconceived notions I had about 007 as a guy who spent more time spouting one-liners, sipping martinis and bedding beautiful women than doing actual intelligence work. Craig’s take on the character makes him a brute in a tuxedo. For him, the fancy trappings of the spy world are what he has to deal with to find the threat and eliminate it.
After a dip in quality with “Quantum of Solace,” which went into production with an unfinished script thanks to the writer’s strike, the series recovers substantially with “Skyfall.” Not only is it exciting, funny and surprisingly moving, it’s the most convincing argument yet that Craig is the best Bond since Sean Connery.
The filmmakers — including director Sam Mendes and screenwriters Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and John Logan — have kept the plot mostly under wraps, and for good reason. There are plenty of clever surprises that left a big grin on my face, and I’m a relative newcomer to the series. I’m guessing die-hard fans will be positively ecstatic.
When it comes to story, all you need to know is the bare minimum. An exhilarating pre-credits action sequence makes it seem like “Skyfall” is going to be a quick movie. Thanks to a mishap involving a fellow agent (Naomie Harris), Bond is wounded and presumed dead. For a while, he enjoys his recuperation period the only way he can: on a beach with lots of booze and scantily clad women.
Of course, he doesn’t take it easy for long. Nobody is buying a ticket to watch James Bond sit around and swig umbrella drinks for two hours. He’s drawn back into action after a terrorist (Javier Bardem) makes it his personal mission to destroy M (Judi Dench), who is both Bond’s boss and something of a mother figure to him.
With the help of a new associate named Q (Ben Whishaw), 007 must track down the terrorist and avoid unwanted attention from a government bureaucrat (Ralph Fiennes) determined to drag England’s intelligence agency out of the shadows. The story wraps up in a genuinely surprising way and left me counting down the days until the next Bond adventure.
This column would turn into a list of bullet points if I mentioned everything I loved about “Skyfall,” so I’ll just stick to the basics. Craig continues to be the best aspect of the current incarnation of Bond films, instilling the character with a grouchy demeanor that works better for me than previous wink-at-the-camera versions of the spy.
However, he’s got some competition in Bardem, who immediately becomes one of the top 10 Bond villains during his first scene. He’s creepy, he’s hilarious and his behavior around 007 is almost certain to raise eyebrows. Dench is also a standout considering she gets much more to do this time around. (I don’t really need to write that she’s a phenomenal actress at this point, do I?) She still plays M as an uber-stern director, but she gets a chance to show even more range since the story revolves around her character.
Mendes, typically known for directing high-brow fare like “American Beauty” and “Revolutionary Road” makes a seamless transition to action, while also adding depth to the proceedings and elevating certain roles above the caricatures they’ve been in previous movies. He’s aided in his effort by legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins, shooting digitally for the first time in his career. He does fantastic work, making the often-tricky format look as rich and colorful as film.
Finally, I can’t talk about “Skyfall” without mentioning the fantastic title theme performed by Adele. Her amazing voice matches the material perfectly, and her song should quickly take its place in the discussion of the series’ best.
Bond aficionados will find plenty to love about “Skyfall,” but so will those who simply enjoy good movies. It’s one of the year’s most entertaining popcorn flicks.
“Skyfall” is rated PG-13 for intense violent sequences throughout, some sexuality, language and smoking.