James Bond dies — and then the story really gets started in Skyfall, the latest in the Daniel Craig Bond movies.
And, before you hit send on those angry emails, the “death” of Bond is pretty well detailed in the trailers. Bond (Craig) is chasing a baddie in possession of a hard drive containing information on spies embedded in terrorist organizations. Eve (Naomie Harris), the other agent with Bond on the chase, is ordered by M (Judi Dench) to shoot when she has the bad guy in her sights. Unfortunately, because the bad guy is fighting with Bond on top of a train — but of course — Bond is also in her sights and when she pulls the trigger, she doesn’t hit the bad guy but she does hit Bond, who falls from the train and into the water and dies.
Or, as it were, “dies.”
When M is off writing Bond’s obituary and answering to government official Gareth Mallory (Ralph Fiennes) for the loss of the hard drive, Bond is in an exotic locale doing what Bond does best (i.e. drinking and ladies). But then he sees footage on TV of an attack on MI6 — a bomb is set off not just in the agency’s headquarters but in M’s office. Naturally, our blue-eyed warrior for Queen and country can’t stay away and soon he’s back on the case of the villain who set off the bomb and appears to be coming after M. Not only has this mysterious baddie set off a bomb in MI6 and hacked M’s computer but he’s the one who has the stolen hard drive and now he’s threatening to out five spies a week.
After getting a few gadgets off the new quartermaster (Ben Whishaw), Bond sets off to China — later returning to London and then finally winding up in Scotland — to hunt down the big bad guy, who turns out to be Silva (Javier Bardem).
With his weird blond hair and a habit of calling M “Mother,” Silva is perhaps the most wonderfully bizarre Bond villain in a while. He does not quite have a death laser with which he is holding the world hostage but you sense it is on his to-do list. On their first meeting, Silva ties Bond to a chair, hits on him and makes him participate in the psychological torture of the second act’s requisite hot girl (she is Berenice Marlohe, the obligatory villian-associated Bond girl). Silva’s motives are cloudy (I think it can be boiled down to “make M pay”), his methods are unnecessarily elaborate and he talks a lot. He is, in short, the perfect kooky villain.
OK, so Skyfall is nearly two and a half hours (why is that the required length for all movies this fall?) and in all that time we really only get to hear that excellent Adele song once (over the opening credits, which are awesome). And, admittedly, after the initial burst of action, there is maybe a 30- to 40-minute period where things seem to take forever to ramp up. But Skyfall is basically a perfect marriage of modern action movie and classic Bond. The movie is not afraid to wink here and there at all Bond that’s come before and it indulges in some campier elements — the Bond girls, Silva. But it also offers some extremely well-choreographed action sequences, including one that features Dench reciting Tennyson (again, a nice blend of over-the-top and dramatically plausible) with the kind of verve that only a British actor can bring to this sort of thing. The final act of Skyfall, which offers some nice backstory, is both a cracking good bit of shoot-’em-up fun and moodily lovely to look at — which, now that I think about it, seems like a good description of Craig. He’s settled nicely into the role and has made Bond elegant yet rough around the edges, a tough guy who occasionally gets the snot beat out of him, an old-fashioned man who nonetheless fits nicely in to the modern world.
Skyfall brilliantly finds the path for Bond the character and for the Bond movies to walk as 007 clears 50 years on the big screen. B+
Rated PG-13 for intense violent sequences throughout, some sexuality, language and smoking. Directed by Sam Mendes and written by Neal Purvis & Robert Wade and John Logan, Skyfall is two hours and 23 minutes long and distributed by Sony Pictures.