That name. The musical score playing over the line of a gun sight. That Aston Martin. That dry martini. Few things in Hollywood stay fresh for this long, but Ian Fleming’s “James Bond” franchise just keeps reinvigorating itself. Its best move, recently, was the recruitment of Daniel Craig–one of the most impressive Bonds ever, no doubt.
We first see him involved in an improbable action sequence in Istanbul as he chases down a thief by riding a motorcycle along the Bazaar rooftops, winding up on top of a train, and impressively putting a tractor to good use after a suspect tries to evade capture. I don’t want to give it away but this chase leaves his fate very much in question as we transition into yet another artfully-stylized opening credit sequence perfectly matched with Adele’s “Skyfall” theme song.
Here’s the story’s broad strokes: MI6 has bungled the retrieval of a list of its agents that has fallen into the wrong hands (as they often tend to do in films like this), which leads director Gareth Mallory (Ralph Fiennes) to force retirement on Bond’s boss, M (Judi Dench, marking seventeen years playing the character), within two months. Her response to that: “I’ll leave when the job is done.” Meanwhile, Bond is recuperating from the earlier scene when even more bad news is inflicted upon the agency, a bombing that kills many more agents and forces the rest of them to relocate. This is all the work of Silva (Javier Bardem), a computer hacker and disgruntled former agent who wants revenge for being betrayed by M many years ago. Silva also happens to be, from what I can tell, the first bisexual Bond villain.
So Bond is called back into action, contending not only with saving M but also with the fact that he may be slightly past his sticker date slightly. “Skyfall” touches upon the lonely life of an agent as well as the shakiness that comes with age. But this is far from a heartbreaking tale of spies. Director Sam Mendes shoots on beautiful locations; from a suspenseful scene involving neon lights and a glass building in Shanghai to an intimate Casino in Macau to a manor in Scotland, this movie looks absolutely great and while never really reaching the heights of the opening scene, the action offers thrills with fireballs, explosions, fights in hypothermic waters, gunfire, and still more trains and chases.
Craig is playful and witty, and his strong physicality and charisma makes him one of the most rugged and quietly appealing Bonds ever. He has the best chemistry with Dench but Bardem is a scene stealer, sadly present in only a handful of scenes while making the most of them with a performance that’s as furious as it is flamboyant.
The plot is a little light for the two and a half hour run-time and the bond girls, played by Naomie Harris and Berenice Marlohe, don’t have much to do (do they ever?), but these are minor quibbles. The bottom line is that Bond still excites. It will be interesting to see how many more years this character can stay on top.