There's a great deal to absorb in Daniel Craig's third outing as Ian Fleming's master MI6 agent James Bond. It's clear that it's important to the actor to give his take on Bond a little emotional and psychological heft without skimping on the death-defying action (which includes another sequence involving heavy construction equipment, as well as a rooftop chase in Turkey that I'm pretty sure are the exact rooftops featuring in TAKEN 2--I half expected Bond to trip over Liam Neeson at one point, and that would have been awesome). As a result, we get more of the Bond back story than any other film in the past 50 years has given us, plus, it doesn't suck and it actually adds some much-welcome depth to the icy spy with a license to kill.
But even more exciting than seeing where Bond has been is where SKYFALL leaves off. This is in no way a spoiler, but by the end of this movie, director Sam Mendes (who worked with Craig before on ROAD TO PERDITION) has fully set up the Bond we know and love--he's found his sense of humor, he's loaded with gadgets (courtesy of a new Q, played as a mildly cocky, young computer whiz and inventor by CLOUD ATLAS' Ben Whishaw), he's playfully inappropriate with the ladies (although it's clear love is likely out of the question for a while, after the events of CASINO ROYALE and QUANTUM OF SOLACE), he's driving a classic Aston-Martin with gun turrets in the headlights, he seems to understand his role in Her Majesty's government, and I feel more confident than ever that the next Bond chapter will be the most unfiltered fun we've seen yet from Craig. And that's no small task considering how much of a full-tilt blast SKYFALL is at times.
Clearly, some time has passed in the career of 007 since QUANTUM OF SOLACE, to the point where he and his ways are already considered the stuff of dinosaurs in the eyes of British bureaucrats, including Gareth Mallory (Ralph Fiennes), a government intelligence lackey who is clearly angling to oust M (Judi Dench, as vital and perfect in this role as ever) and take her job. But before we even get to that part in the story, James Bond must be killed by one of his own--not on purpose, of course, but not exactly by accident either. At the conclusion of a rather harrowing chase that ends up with Bond and his target on top of a train (if you've seen the trailer, you've know the scene), M orders Bond's partner, Eve (Naomie Harris), to attempt to shoot their target. She misses and sends Bond tumbling to his supposed death. But even the Grim Reaper can be moved by a stunning Adele theme song, apparently.
Naturally Bond isn't dead, but he comes back pissed off, slightly addicted to booze and pain pills (bullets do hurt), but still willing to work since the target got away with data revealing the identities of every undercover agent MI6 has working in the field. If leaked, the information could mean the death of dozens of agents. But what they don't suspect is that as M is returning from a meeting, she lays witness to the bombing of MI6 headquarters. I'd have to imagine in the real world that MI6 has all of its data backed up in several locations and back-up offices in case the main one is somehow disabled. But I can't imagine one of those back-ups is in the place that M and the rest of her team retreat to after the bombing. Cinematically, it's a great choice (that I won't ruin), but the movie's otherwise surprisingly tight grip on reality is strained with this choice.
Again, not really a spoiler to mention that a character named Silva (Javier Bardem, with yet another winning bad-guy hairstyle) is the culprit behind the stealing of the agents' names, the bombing, and one or two other tricks you don't know about yet. Bardem eats this role alive, and while you may think his "Mommy, has been very bad" line in the trailers feels silly and camp, it's actually just a precursor to some wicked and ugly behavior. Still, when Bond and Silva first meet, it results in one of the most amusing flirtation/seduction scenes you're ever likely to see in a James Bond movie. The moment is all the more odd when you consider that with Silva comes the stunning Bérénice Marlohe playing the more prototypical "Bond girl," Sévérine, who requests Bond's help in escaping Silva's nasty grip.
But what SKYFALL boils down to is the relationship between M, Bond and Silva. Silva has his sights set on killing M in a grand fashion; more than ever before Bond acknowledges the mother role that M fulfills in his life. He's protective of her for reasons he may not even be aware of, and it becomes a wonderful centerpiece of this film. The cast is nicely rounded out by a figure of Bond's past played by Albert Finney; I'll say no more about him, but his very obvious crush on M makes complete and utter sense in the context of this particular story.
With SKYFALL, Bond has completed his journey to maturity, controlled emotions, focus on the job and finding a way to have a sophisticated brand of fun while staying alert and aware. Like I said, by the end of this film, we are left with Bond 1.0 but one living in the modern world. Screenwriters Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, and John Logan (the man who just signed to write the next two Bond/Craig installments) have done a magnificent job plumbing the depths of Bond's psychological wiring without forgetting to keep things exciting.
Combining that with Roger Deakins award-worthy cinematography makes the proceedings look as good as any Bond movie ever. When all is said and done, SKYFALL is among the best Bond films ever made, and certainly the finest of the Craig movies to date. This one, quite literally, has it all, including the damn-near 2.5-hour running time to make it all fit.