Starring: Daniel Craig, Javier Bardem, Judi Dench
Directed by: Sam Mendes (“American Beauty,” “Road to Perdition”)
Written by: Neal Purvis (“Casino Royale”), Robert Wade (“Casino Royale”), John Logan (“Gladiator”)
Growing up in the ’80s and ’90s, the first James Bond movie I properly saw was 1995’s “GoldenEye,” which was also the first Bond movie featuring Pierce Brosnan as 007. Though most people are probably more fond of the classic Nintendo 64 video game based on the film than the actual movie itself, “GoldenEye” marked the beginning of the end for the 50-year-old Bond brand as the world knew it. The excesses and mediocrity of Brosnan’s subsequent turns as 007 led to the 2006 ground-floor reboot “Casino Royale,” featuring Daniel Craig as a blonder, grittier, more realistic James Bond. As the “Batman Begins” of Bond films, if you will, it lit the fuse on a new series with the fresh creative vision and streamlined storytelling that the character desperately needed.
The latest entry in the series, “Skyfall,” kicks off with one of the series’ trademark action-packed cold opens featuring Bond and fellow MI6 agent Eve (Naomie Harris) tracking a mercenary with a stolen hard drive containing the names of NATO secret agents through Istanbul. A rooftop motorcycle chase and a fistfight atop a moving train give way to Bond being presumed dead after plummeting from a bridge after being shot. Months later, when an expert computer hacker triggers a gas explosion that destroys the MI6 office of M (Judi Dench), 007 returns to London. A former agent named Silva (Javier Bardem) is behind the attack, Bond learns, and is intent on releasing the names of the agents and exacting his revenge on M.
Perhaps best described as “The Dark Knight” of the 007 franchise, “Skyfall” is first and foremost a great movie, not to mention one of the greatest Bond movies ever. Academy Award-winning director Sam Mendes (“American Beauty”) builds on the stripped-down reboot stylings of “Casino Royale” and “Quantam of Solace,” doling out more pieces of Bond’s backstory than ever before and re-introducing classic 007 staples like geeky gadget master Q (Ben Whishaw) and an ejection seat-equipped Aston-Martin. Mendes also turns in the best-looking Bond film to date, from his focus on mirrors and reflections to hand-to-hand combat shot in silhouette against the dancing neon of the Shanghai skyline. Bardem’s Silva makes a fantastic foil to Craig’s broken Bond, each of them representing a different path taken after being abandoned in the field by their surrogate mother, Dench’s world-weary M. No diamond-skinned villains or hat-hurling sidekicks here; these are complex characters treated as such, plumbing depths never before visited in any Bond adventure.
Minor stumbles in the plot annoy more than anything, such as a barely-used femme fatale (Bérénice Marlohe), the millionth “missing hard drive filled with secret identities” in a spy movie, and an unforgivably goofy computer hacking plot thread (seriously, Hollywood: we all know how computers work now…knock it off with the stupid hacker tricks and fantastical graphics), none of which are enough to keep “Skyfall” from completing its mission with excitement, style, and a surprising amount of emotional resonance.