After successfully rebooting the Bond series with Casino Royale, then taking two steps back with the Jason Bourne-lite Quantum of Solace, Daniel Craig hits a home run with Skyfall, a deft mix of modern aesthetics, lush storytelling, and classic 007 sensibilities. Director Sam Mendes -- an unusual choice for the franchise -- surprises here by stepping up to the plate and delivering top-notch action while keeping the focus on the characters, who are never surpassed by the stunts or ammo shells. In fact, this could be the best entry in the series in terms of getting inside 007’s head -- and it’s easily the biggest spotlight that Dame Judi Dench has had during her seven-film run as M, Bond’s boss. Skyfall takes both the spectacle and the characters seriously, but make no mistake, this is still one wildly fun ride.
It helps that Bond has to work his way back to being the superspy he once was, as the beginning of the movie finds him near death after a breakneck action sequence that ranks up there with the series’ best. As he quietly recovers under an alcohol-fueled veil, MI6 is attacked by a mysterious person from M’s past. When Bond returns, he finds M in the precarious position of being let go as a new MI6 is built underneath London. Together with a field agent named Eve (Naomie Harris), 007 heads off to find the terrorist responsible in a mission that becomes his most personal yet.
Skyfall surprises on several fronts, starting with the heightened level of intriguing drama that takes its time to play out (the film is the second-longest Bond outing behind Casino Royale). Yet that’s not to say that there aren’t action or nods to classic Bond moments that are worthy of a fist pump. Ben Whishaw is perfect as the new incarnation of Q, Bond’s gadget guru, while Javier Bardem is the most cunning opponent 007 has had to face in quite a while. Bardem is downright scary as Silva, creating a foe that echoes today’s fears while being just quirky and over-the-top enough to satisfy any fan’s expectations for a Bond villain. The supporting cast are flawless as well, with both Ralph Fiennes and Albert Finney turning in fine performances. One of the biggest shocks is just how fantastic the film looks, as Roger Deakins delivers one of the most stunning pictures of his career as a cinematographer. Bond movies aren’t always known for their style, but Deakins gives each setting a flavor of its own and lends a fashionable eye to the action sequences that’s a refreshing change for the series.
Most importantly, Skyfall brings together the essential Bond pieces that were promised at the end of Royale, but left in the gutter with the revenge-focused Quantum. By the end, the goal of bringing Bond into the 21st century while keeping intact the essential bits of the character that audiences expect has come to fruition. By the time "James Bond Will Return" shows up at the end, viewers know that next time they won’t be fed another line of world building to introduce each of the character’s intricacies. This is it -- this is James Bond in all of his glory -- in what easily ranks up there with the best Bond films of them all.