Skyfall (***½)

After stumbling somewhat with ‘Quantum of Solace’, the Daniel Craig era of James Bond films has recovered spectacularly with ‘Skyfall’. Better even than ‘Casino Royale’, I’d actually wager that this could very well be the best Bond film ever. A phenomenally effective mix of old and new, this is exactly what I wanted out of 007. Credit is deserved all around for this success story, but chief among them has to be director Sam Mendes. The Oscar winner, along with his frequent DP Roger Deakins, has brought a beautiful visual style to this Bond flick. Armed with a strong screenplay from returning scribes Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, along with newcomer John Logan, Mendes and company have given Craig an adventure that both points the spy in a number of new potential directions as well as honoring the past in a way that the franchise has never really done before. The end result is riveting, and easily one of the most satisfying films in the canon, along with one of the best films of the year too. ‘Skyfall’ opens on Friday and should be a massive success. It certainly deserves to be. The talk about a Best Picture nomination is a bit premature, but there’s no denying that this is a great movie.

This time around, we open with James Bond (Craig) racing to recover a stolen computer hard drive that has the names of ever MI6 agent embedded in terrorist cells across the globe. He’s aided by fellow agent Eve (Naomie Harris), but when things go wrong, he’s presumed dead and the drive lost to whomever was after it. Even M (Judi Dench) believes Bond to be lost, but mourning is hardly a concern for her. She’s got to deal with political pressure from bureaucrat Gareth Mallory (Ralph Fiennes) to call it quits, as well as a mysterious cyber attack on MI6 itself. That act of terror draws 007 back out of the shadows, even though he’s seemingly lost a step. M needs him though, since the mastermind of her troubles appears to be Silva (Javier Bardem), a former agent with a vendetta against her. Bond may not be up to the challenge, and even if he is, they might all be playing into Silva’s hands. The film has a lot to do with the fight between old and new, and it’s a terrific way to give a new spin to the old 007 formula.

3 films in now, Daniel Craig really is James Bond to me. Sean Connery will always be the first, but Craig is the best to me at this point. No one has brought more toughness or vulnerability to the role, so Craig is rally the complete Bond in my eyes. Here, he’s showing his age a bit with a take on 007 that depicts him losing a bit of a step but still fighting against the light. Craig’s got even more to do here than in ‘Casino Royale’, and he absolutely nails the role. Also getting a bigger role than ever before, Judi Dench is great as M. Hers is a more emotional journey than you’d expect out of the character, which is a welcome change of pace. Dench has always had fun with this part, and ‘Skyfall’ is no exception. Craig and Dench are very strong and have great chemistry together, but both are upstaged at times by Javier Bardem. The best Bond villain in some time, Bardem brings a real quirkiness and style to a part that otherwise could have only been a little more original than usual. He’s a top 10 baddie to me, which is high praise in this franchise. Especially in some of his more humorous scenes, Bardem is top notch. He likely won’t wind up with a Best Supporting Actor nomination, but expect his name to be bandied about here and there during the season. The bond girls this time around are the aforementioned Naomie Harris and Berenice Mariohe, and both are solid if a bit unmemorable. Ben Wishaw makes an enjoyable entrance as Q, while Ralph Fiennes is more than meets the eye and Albert Finney shows up late to bring some extra gruffness to the climax. Rory Kinnear is given a bit more to do than usual in a supporting role, and the rest of the cast includes Ola Rapace, among others. It’s obviously Craig’s show, but Dench and Bardem are right there with him as well.

Sam Mendes is perhaps the most highly acclaimed filmmaker ever to take on the mantle of directing a Bond film, and he’s aces here. It obviously doesn’t hurt that he’s brought Roger Deakins (who contributes Oscar worthy Cinematography) and Thomas Newman along for the ride, but Mendes’ direction is among the best the franchise has ever had. From the fight scenes to the editing, everything is a little more crisp and high class than even I was expecting, though perhaps I should have knowing what the trio usually is capable of. The script that Mendes had from the trio of Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, and John Logan is excellent too, one of the top tier for the franchise. Logan especially seems like he deserves a lot of credit for bringing something new to Bond. Never before has the franchise tied in its past, present, and future like it does here. Be on the lookout for some blasts from the past, but also for the expectation that going forward, things will be a little different for 007. They also are able to bring humor back to the franchise for the first time since Craig’s run began, and it’s a welcome return. The technical aspects are all top notch, so it clearly elevates the movie.

When ‘Skyfall’ comes out this weekend, it might very well turn out to be one of the biggest Bond films ever, and I couldn’t be happier about it. Mendes and company have crafted a terrific flick that may even challenge for a spot on my Top 10 list this year. Time will tell about that, but suffice to say that this movie is top notch. It’s even going to be in play for an Oscar nomination or two, though likely only techs. However you slice it, ‘Skyfall’ is excellent and I couldn’t recommend it more, both to Bond fans and non fans alike. This is more than just a great action flick, so be excited for Bond!

Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!