‘Skyfall’ review: Welcome back, Bond

Daniel Craig as James Bond is shown in a scene from “Skyfall.” (Photo credit: AP photo by Sony Pictures, Francois Duhamel)

—    Critic’s pick

‘Skyfall’ reminds us why we fell in love with Bond

To say it would be difficult to top his performance at the Olympic opening ceremony this summer — where James Bond parachuted into the Olympic arena, seemingly with Queen Elizabeth II alongside him — would be an understatement. And yet, in measures distinct and immeasurable, “Skyfall,” the third Bond film starring Daniel Craig, does just that. With a stunning if familiar-esque opener (there may be a train fight in the exotic local of Turkey), a traditional Bond movie credit screen with a brilliant song performed by Adele, insanely immersive and tangible sets and enviable character development, “Skyfall” proves a superior follow-up to “Casino Royale,” the 2006 reboot that first introduced Craig as Bond, especially compared with the travesty that was “Quantum of Solace.”

Putting him back on Bondian ground — M (Judi Dench, “Shakespeare in Love”) barking orders in his ear with gunfire and speeding cars racing by — “Skyfall” seeks at once to reboot the current franchise and to build upon the current Bond’s character. With touches of “The Bourne Identity” in this reborn concept, “Skyfall” reintroduces us to James Bond, ridiculously fitted suit and all.

Dashing around in silver-gray suits meant for fashion runways more than the rugged requirements of a MI6 agent (much less a 00 agent), Bond regains his franchise-famous playfulness, even when the stakes are serious. (And you know it’s serious when MI6 itself is a target.)

Some moviegoers will undoubtedly connect certain aspects of “Skyfall” with the much-lauded “From Russia with Love,” thanks in large part to a full-out brawl on a passenger train, an island HQ, a blond male enemy and a Turkish locale to begin with.

And even without those references and allusions, “Skyfall” aims to remind us more of the Bond films of old. From the manic chaos in the Turkey bazaar — reminiscent of classic Spielberg — to a spectacular roof chase, from a perfectly made martini to the inevitable beautiful Bond girls, it seems the director, Sam Mendes (“American Beauty”), wanted to have some fun with the Bond film. (And let’s not forget Q’s wacky gadgets, one sexy Aston Martin and lots of gun fights.)

But beyond the grandeur, and there’s plenty just in the Macau scenes alone, it’s the director’s decision to focus on the primary characters that brings “Skyfall” to life. Highlighting a personal struggle within the confines of a domestic threat against the U.K., Mendes reminds us that Bond has a past, that M is not as cold-blooded as she wishes to allude and that, if the situation calls for it, killing the old way works as well as ever.

Though most would be envious of Bond’s life (who wouldn’t be, considering the thrills and dangers, the girls and the cars?), “Skyfall” strips that veneer clean off. Bond is a hot mess in a custom suit, this close to being an alcoholic with a boss who seems to be losing her touch. Not to mention he looks old. (Craig is 44.) It isn’t a flattering portrayal, but isn’t that the reality of the situation? The life of a man with a license to kill can’t be an easy one to live. The dichotomy is striking, if for no other reason then because it was highlighted.

With a silky Javier Bardem as the central villain, a slick Ralph Fiennes and a witty Ben Whishaw to bolster the primary cast, with Naomie Harris and Berenice Marlohe playing potential love interests (though really only M could be considered the Bond girl in this film), “Skyfall” manages not to succumb to its darker nature. And it doesn’t hurt that it was brilliantly shot by the a master of the art, Roger Deakins, who has an eye for contrast and framing. By and large, “Skyfall” has proved to be one of the best Bond films in the franchise.

But it may leave you feeling a bit nostalgic for a lighter Bond, and maybe needing a stiff martini afterwards. Shaken, of course.

Five shaken stars out of five, and a critic’s pick.

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