I admit I’ve never had more than a distant fondness for James Bond, seeing him as a charming but slightly antiquated figure who had become a bit of a parody in his old age. When Daniel Craig modernized the character, bringing back a little of the grandeur but draining much of the humor, I hurt for Bond but didn’t love him any better.
Then “Skyfall” happened.
The first James Bond adventure since 2008’s disappointing “Quantum of Solace,” the movie is breathtaking, nerve-wracking, violent, thoughtful, witty gloriousness. It brilliantly honors and rejuvenates the series, all while keeping the essential heart of the character beating strong and true. If you’ve ever loved Bond, or even kind of liked him, you owe it to yourself to watch this movie.
Giving up too much of the plot would steal some of the movie’s energy, but I can safely say that it starts with a magnificent chase scene and a surprising show of both humor and empathy from Craig’s Bond.
Both continue at key points throughout the movie, including some lovely wordplay with various ladies and a heartbreaking scene at the end. While he’s still as violent and dangerous as ever, Craig leaves behind some of the brutality that characterized his first two outings as the character. Bond is all the better for it.
Craig also proves he can still handle the darkness beautifully, and balances desperation, rage, resolve and loss in subtle shadings that always manage to enrich the scene without drowning it. The movie offers a glimpse into Bond’s earlier years, but the joys and sorrows of 007’s long career are already clear on Daniel Craig’s face.
The movie also examines M more closely than any Bond movie I can remember, revealing some of the costs of being in charge of such a dangerous game. Judi Dench balances a knife-edge practicality with a solemnity that makes it clear she feels the weight of everything’s she’s done. Try to question her about it, however, and she’ll snap back at you with a dry sarcasm that might make you laugh even when it shouldn’t.
Javier Bardem is the designated Bond villain, and proves once and for all that you can be entertaining and still be terrifying.
I don’t want to give too much about his character away Р it all ties in to some key plot points Р but Bardem has taken some of the grand aspects of early Bond villains and folded them into a genuinely scary threat. His motivations for what he’s doing are clear and surprisingly understandable, which is unusual for any Bond villain. If you didn’t worry he was going to kill you at any moment, you might even sympathize.
The action is epic, even during the fights set on an intimate scale. The jittery camera problem from Quantum of Solace is non-existent here, and it’s always clear exactly what’s happening in any particular battle.
The nods to previous Bond movies are tucked in all over the place, and his relationships to some of the series’ touchstone characters are deepened. And, though the iconic line isn’t actually spoken, the famous martini is still very much here.
Walking out of the movie theater, I finally realized that it’s more than studio marketing that’s kept Bond alive for 50 years. The old guy is far more awesome than I ever realized.