James Bond re-emerges to assist another elder Brit in M (Judi Dench), whose past has come back to haunt her.
For 50 years, we’ve placed our stock in Bonds, but never have our investments yielded the sort of windfall “Skyfall” delivers over two-and-a-half hours of pulsating entertainment that will leave you shaken – and stirred. It’s simply the best Bond yet, bearing all the franchise’s hallmarks, while also displaying an intense desire to take things into a richer, darker, more rewarding new direction.
Like Christopher Nolan’s Batman pictures, “Skyfall” exists in bleak, uncertain times of moral degradation, or, as Bond likes to call it, “the shadows.” And lurking in that not-so-good night, is your worst nightmare: a certifiably insane terrorist bent on bringing down MI6 – and God knows what else. Not a great time for 007 to be hiding out, “enjoying death.” And that lame obituary M wrote for him after he went missing in action isn’t really inspiring him to come out of seclusion and save the day. But when said terrorist literally blows the top off of MI6 headquarters, it’s the only invitation he needs to come to the rescue of The Crown and, more specifically, M, the bomber’s prime target. Thus, the wheels of Bond’s vintage Aston Martin DB5 are set in motion for a globe-trotting adventure that will bring both Bond and M face-to-face with demons they’ve long suppressed. And the cyber terrorist known as Silva is all too happy to rip the scabs off those wounds.
As Silva, it takes Javier Bardem all of about 20 seconds to establish himself as the greatest Bond villain ever. With his pasty face and horridly styled platinum hair, there’s more than enough Chigurh (his Oscar-winning role in “No Country for Old Men”) in Silva to convince you that they share the same demon seed, along with a gleeful need to kill. But where Chigurh was quiet and methodical, Silva is flamboyant in every sense of the word – if you know what I mean. A scene in which he taunts, teases and fondles a bound Bond is odds-on the creepiest, most hilarious moment in the movie. And what makes it funny is the decidedly cool, nonchalant way Daniel Craig reacts to his rival’s eagerness to not just touch his skin, but get under it.
It’s sure to become one of the most memorable confrontations between Bond and a villain in the franchise’s history. But that’s just one of the many treats “Skyfall” has in store, as it both eulogizes and kick starts a long-thriving enterprise that seemed to have run out of gas four years ago with the underwhelming “Quantum of Solace.” On paper, Sam Mendes, the Oscar-winning director of “American Beauty,” and the equally solemn “Road to Perdition,” seems an odd choice to reignite Bond’s spark. But, in retrospect, it appears a brilliant choice, as Mendes injects “Skyfall” with a level of gravitas that boldly transforms the suave, wise-cracking 007 of our youth into a real person dealing with all the faults, fears and regrets that come with being human. And no one embodies this everyman Bond better than Craig, who doesn’t need a tux and a dozen scantily clad beauties to make him look cool. He’s cool just because he is cool.
That’s not to say that he doesn’t dig the ladies, but in “Skyfall,” he limits them almost as much as he limits his intake of martinis. And because there are only three dames in Bond’s life this go-round, the more memorable they become, none more so than Dame Judi Dench as the venerable M. She’s Silva’s prime target, and Bond is willing to dodge careening subway cars and an arsenal of automatic weapons to save his leading lady from harm. No romance blossoms – thankfully – but you’d be hard pressed to find two actors sharing as much chemistry as Craig and Dench. And watching M and Bond learn things that neither they, nor we, knew about each other is genuinely thrilling.
Adding to that pleasure are a trio of newcomers in Ben Whishaw (the best thing in “Cloud Atlas”), Ralph Fiennes and the gorgeous Naomie Harris (from “The Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise), who are all destined to become Bond fixtures going forward – and with good reason. To say more about any of them would only spoil three of the dozens of surprises writers Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and John Logan have waiting to spring, as they cleverly bring the Bond franchise full circle from where it started. Suffice it to say, the Bond we began with isn’t the Bond we end up with. But even though he may have transformed, much of what surrounds him remains as it was when “Dr. No” first brought Ian Fleming’s brilliant creation to the screen in the fall of 1962. And given the fertile new ground “Skyfall” moves the franchise toward, it’s a better-than-even chance that 007 will live on to fight, love and sip martinis for another 50 years. And, if we’re lucky, we’ll be there to savor every minute of it.
(PG-13 for intense violent sequences throughout, some sexuality, language and smoking.) Cast includes Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Naomie Harris, Ralph Fiennes and Ben Whishaw. Directed by Sam Mendes. 3.5 stars out of 4.