2012 marks the 50th anniversary of the James Bond film franchise and what a ride it has been. While many Bond fans still cry that the Sean Connery era of 007 will never be topped, the casting of Daniel Craig has proven to be one of the most promising moves towards recapturing, if not exceeding the glory days of those 60s-era films. While "Casino Royale" was a revelation, coming off the heels of Pierce Brosnan's run, which had turned into Roger Moore levels of cartoon hijinks, the direct follow-up (the first and only time its ever happened in the series), "Quantum of Solace" boasted not only of the most embarrassing themes of any 21 previous films, but also a distinct lack of singular cohesion, serving more as an extended final double-act to "Casino Royale." Now, four years later, with Sam Mendes at the helm and the esteemed Roger Deakins handling the cinematography, "Skyfall" arrives and over the course of its nearly 150-minute runtime, it not only cements Daniel Craig as the definitive Bond, but might very well be the best Bond film ever conceived.
"Skyfall" features an almost leisurely pace, as the story slowly brings Bond back from the dead, following a mistimed shot in the film's breath stealing prologue; 007's Lazarus maneuver is his own doing, having survived the shot and a high-fall, he trades in a quiet retirement of substance abuse and women to come back to a nation under attack as MI-6's headquarters is bombed and M (Judi Dench) is under fire from a mysterious terrorist hell-bent on revealing all of MI-6' sleeper agents, as well as from paper pushers, including a new boss of her own, played by Ralph Fiennes. The only catch is our Bond is aging (just like Craig) and the once cocksure super spy fails the most mundane physical and psychological assessments, passing only one: continuing to possess the confidence of M in his abilities. Unleashed on the world to find this mysterious terrorist as well as his own self-confidence, the viewers are treated to one of the most beautifully filmed and carefully staged Bond films since the original five in the series.
Whether or not "Skyfall" surpasses "From Russia With Love" as the best film in the series may be up for debate and one reason I hesitate to make a firm declaration is the film has one minor, but glaring flaw: a false finale making viewers wonder if the resolution is "Quantum of Solace" all over again. It doesn't help that the film's villain, Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem) doesn't show up till well over the halfway mark, but the quality of Silva's performance as a former MI-6 operative is a masterstroke in menace and makes Sean Bean's performance in a similar capacity seem almost childish now. Bardem's performance is Oscar-caliber, echoing a similar uneasiness seen in his Oscar-winning performance in "No Country For Old Men," but with even more panache and sadism. He's a true threat whenever on screen, even to our hero, who we know will live to fight another day. Key to the success of Silva's character as a narrative element is Judi Dench's performance as M, which is upgraded to near double-lead status. "Skyfall" manages to pay homage to five decades of history while managing to tread new ground, making M's story in the film as compelling if not more so in some aspects to Bond's.
Rest assured, "Skyfall" delivers in every way, shape, and form, with a shocking, well-developed third act that can't be imagined and an ending that is maybe only second to "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" in terms of being memorable. Mendes saves numerous surprises for long-time Bond fans and I'll be quite honest, a couple of moments made me choke up for both nostalgic and emotional value. Most importantly, "Skyfall" never feels overly long, making every minute count and tells a very compelling interwoven tale between Bond, M, and Silva that has a definitive ending with no major (for the series at least) contrivances in seeing it realized. The final five minutes of the film solidify that Daniel Craig understands the importance of the character he embodies and that the character itself, when in capable hands like those of Craig and Mendes has another 50 years of life ahead.