What It's About
In a stylish humdinger, James Bond (Daniel Craig) leaps into the 21st century older, wiser, and more determined than ever. The British super-spy has been the epitomy of debonair and duty in 23 films during a 50-year span, and this latest adventure combines tradition with modern pizzazz, surely one of the best.
Like a sumptuous gourmet feast, "Skyfall" is a movie to savor. It's everything you want in a Bond thriller: a smooth blend of action and suspense, dastardly villain, nifty gadgets, the iconic music score, and a chilled shaken martini.
With the rapidly changing world, higher-ups wonder how relevant her majesty's secret service is. Not only is M's (Judi Dench) tenure threatened by a bureaucrat (Ralph Fiennes), but questions arise about Bond's fitness in this "young man's game. They're all compromised by a cunning cyber-terrorist (Javier Bardem) who has all the identities of NATO's secret agents on a hard drive. The security threat is immense, especially around an anxious globe where people don't feel safe.
Can Bond's single-minded fortitude out-maneuver an evildoer hell-bent on revenge? I'm not spoiling the plot by saying more.
As good as Daniel Craig is as Bond his third time around, with his piercing stare, intensity and hint of vulnerability, the hero must need a worthy villain to test him, and Javier Bardem (Oscar winner for "No Country for Old Men") is a formidable foe. Bardem chillingly plays rogue Raoul Silva, giving off a vibe as diabolical as Heath Ledger's Joker and Anthony Hopkins' Hannibal Lecter. The men -- both brilliant and ruthless -- are mesmerizing as they try to outwit each other.
The supporting characters stand out as an admirable ensemble, with the marvelous Judi Dench bringing much more emotional heft to her role as M than we've seen before. Ralph Fiennes (Voldemort in "Harry Potter" movies) is an outstanding addition, as is Ben Whishaw ("Cloud Atlas") as the super-cyber geek Q. We'll hear more from an impressive Naomie Harris as Eve.
The love interests take a back seat in this Bond, although there is one gorgeous operative (Berenice Marlohe), but no stunt casting here (Denise Richards as a nuclear physicist!).
Who knew Oscar-winning director Sam Mendes ("American Beauty") had such a flair for heavy action sequences? The opening chase is a dazzling nail-biter, with Bond crushing a fleet of Volkswagen Beetles and fighting atop a train, which sets the bar high for other set pieces.
Mendes draws more from the iconic characters in this espionage, displaying their human frailties convincingly. He benefits from a smart script by John Logan ("Hugo"), Neil Purvis and Robert Wade. There are nods to previous Bonds -- an Aston Martin! and other sentimental touches that fans appreciated. There is also an undercurrent of real danger that's always present, and the story's thoroughly engrossing. Mendes takes a page from Christopher Nolan's handbook, who re-invented Batman with a darker subtext, and gives Bond's world a genuine dose of fear that's unsettling and permeates the otherwise tried-and-true formula here.
Handsomely shot by peerless cinematographer Roger Deakins, the film is sophisticated and elegant.
The Bond fanatics should be pleased, and the new generation has enough to entice for future viewings. The lack of cheese, which marked Pierce Brosnan's later films, is thankfully gone, but there are a few welcome dashes of humor that doesn't intrude on the serious matters at hand.
What Doesn't Work
Seriously, the film is pretty much flawless. Since the re-do of "Casino Royale," they have been parceling out Bond's backstory, and it just whets the appetite for more. You want the whole shebang, not just bits and pieces.
Director: Sam Mendes
Starring: Daniel Craig, Javier Bardem, Judi Densch, Ralph Fiennes
Rated: PG-13 for intense violent sequences, some sexuality, language and smoking