One of the finest James Bond installments, 2006's magnificent Casino Royale infused an air of realism rarely seen in the previous films. Daniel Craig's expert portrayal of the neophyte agent hearkened back to the dark, less humorous visage of Fleming's novels. Picking up immediately after the conclusion of Royale, the disappointing Quantum of Solace paled in comparison to its predecessor, derailing much of the hoped-for future promise of the series. In the franchise's 50th year, Craig returns for his third outing in Skyfall, a picture that successfully returns to the excitement and quality of Casino Royale.
Unlike the character from the previous two films, an experienced James Bond, abetted by fellow MI6 agent Eve (Naomie Harris), travels to Turkey to recover a stolen computer hard drive that contains details of undercover NATO agents in terrorist organizations throughout the world. Bond and Eve confront the mercenary Patrice (Ola Rapace), who acquired the drive from a killed MI6 agent. During the inevitable chase, Eve, on orders from M (Judi Dench), shoots Bond, who is fighting Patrice on top of a moving train. Bond falls off the train into water, hundreds of feet below. He is considered “missing, presumed killed.” (This apparent spoiler happens in the first 10 minutes, is revealed in all the trailers, and remarkably gives away little of the plot.)
Bond's fall into the water metamorphizes into the traditional credits sequence, complete with fresh theme song by Adele and shadow images of scantily clad, curvaceous women. After the well choreographed and exciting beginning that culminates with the apparent death of our hero, the exotic, almost joyous celebration feels incongruous.
Thankfully, that is one of the film's few missteps. Director Sam Mendes and screenwriters Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, and John Logan successfully incorporate many of the classic elements of previous Bond stories, yet updated with a 21st century story-telling sensibility in a non-stop action thriller.
Q (Ben Whishaw), quartermaster of the technology division, returns not as a doddering old man who sits on the sidelines throwing barbed quips and gimmicky weapons at 007, but rather a savvy young man who masters computers and employs the significant tech resources of MI6 to support operatives. Unlike previous incarnations, this Q reacts as a willing collaborator rather than an impatient geriatric.
The magnificent Javier Bardem oozes across the screen as the sociopath villain Silva. His mere appearance raises hackles and the brilliant interplay with the hero electrifies the screen. Once again Mendes, et al, play proper homage by giving Javier the classic Bond enemy trope of his own island. But unlike previous monolithic headquarters of polished steel and shining glass, Javier's island, much like the man himself, lays in ruins, abandoned hastily by its previous tenants. Broken glass, dilapidated buildings, and miscellaneous debris littered the barely livable fortress.
Seeing as this is the third film since the series relaunch, the many references to the classic third Bond movie Goldfinger feel perfect. All this raises the issue of how many of the pre-Craig tales fit within the current canon.
The lush Roger Deakins cinematography perfectly compliment the picture's exotic (and not so exotic) locales. Sadly, the same cannot be said of Thomas Newman's intrusive, often inappropriate soundtrack.
The universally excellent acting and Mendes' superior vision further contribute to one of the finest Bond films. Completing the transformation of the iconic character into a fully realized 21st century hero, Skyfall eradicates the many miscues from the dismal Quantum of Solace and delivers on the exquisite promise of Casino Royale.
That statue had it coming.