Now this is more like it. After getting off to an incredibly powerful start with “Casino Royale,” the Daniel Craig era in the James Bond franchise’s long and lucrative history went a little astray with “Quantum of Solace.” That movie seemed unfocused and suffered from not having a memorable villain. All of that has been fixed in “Skyfall.”
I’m happy to report Bond is back, and he’s bad. And that’s good. An icy, gimlet-eyed assassin – which Craig’s Bond is – exactly fits the job description of someone who’s been issued a license to kill. At the top of his game, Craig’s Bond is steely and sardonic. But in “Skyfall,” at the start at least, he also is gaunt and haunted.
As everyone who’s seen the trailer for the picture knows by now, Bond takes a long fall off a high bridge after getting shot off the top of a speeding train by a female fellow MI6 agent played by Naomie Harris. Being Bond, he, of course — spoiler alert! — doesn’t die. He does go underground and then to seed. But after a lost-weekend-type lull in which he indulges in drinking games involving scorpions and whiskey and vigorous standup sex, he pulls himself out of his funk when MI6 falls victim to an explosive cyberterror attack.
“Reporting for duty,” he growls from the shadows to a startled and then peevish M (Judi Dench).
“Where the hell have you been?” she asks. The more pertinent question is: Is this stubbly, hollow-cheeked fellow fit for duty?
As the most substantive Bond yet, what follows is a deep dive into the psyches and backgrounds of 007 and M – and Silva, the villain played by Javier Bardem sporting a bad hairdo.
Ah, perfect. Nobody does bad guys better than Bardem. (Paging Anton Chigurh.) And Bardem’s baddie in “Skyfall” deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as Red Grant, Rosa Klebb, Auric Goldfinger and Oddjob. We’re talking the classics here.
From the moment Bardem emerges from an elevator and begins a long, deliberate walk toward a bound Bond, delivering a mocking, silken-toned soliloquy about ravenous rats and retribution, he is the essence of focused, patient, all-knowing evil. A super cyber hacker and a remorseless student of psychology, he has special insights into the weaknesses of Bond and M, and in insinuating tones seeks to exploit and demoralize them both.
This is a dark movie set in tunnels and spooky-mansion rooms and the chilly, misty valleys of Scotland. The settings, chosen by director Sam Mendes (“American Beauty”), reflect the dark corners of the main characters’ psyches.
There is action galore in those dark places – a train crash and a helicopter assault, to name a couple. And because “Skyfall” is coming out on the 50th anniversary of the first Bond movie, “Doctor No,” there are knowing nods to the icons of the franchise. A Walther PPK puts in an appearance as does Bond’s signature Aston Martin DB5. What’s even better is that these icons are not included simply for show. The DB5’s lethal functionality is integrated into one smashingly effective action scene.
At nearly 21/2 hours, “Skyfall” drags in places. But when it’s hitting on all cylinders, which is most of the time, it’s an impressive addition to the Bond canon. ‘Skyfall’
H H H 1/2 I
Cast: Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Javier Bardem, Ralph Fiennes and Naomie Harris
Director: Sam Mendes
Running time: 2:23
Rated: PG-13; violence, language, sexual situations, nudity