Much has been made that this is the 50th anniversary of Ian Fleming's seminal literary character, James Bond, first hitting the screen in 1962 in "Dr. No." Despite that, the famous British spy character doesn't look a day over 44. Of course, that's because the actor currently inhabiting the role, Daniel Craig, can count those years as his own.
With "Skyfall" marking his 3rd time playing the part, neither the performer nor the character has lost a step. While you might believe that after 23 times appearing on the screen, Bond the character and film franchise might seem more than a bit long in the tooth, repetitive or simply no longer relevant in our ever-changing world, this offering feels as timely and fresh as when Sean Connery first played the role.
Much of that obviously stems from Craig's portrayal that continues the grittier take that began back with the latter Pierce Brosnan versions up through the last two outings. Ruggedly handsome and a bit aloof, Craig is arguably one of the best Bonds ever, tough but not impervious and thus more realistic than most of the other incarnations.
The surprise with this latest entry lies with the choice of Sam Mendes to take a seat in the director's chair. That's not meant to imply that he's not suited for the job by any means. After all, one need only look at the results here or his track record of previously directing films such as "American Beauty" and "Road to Perdition." It's just that he wasn't a known action film helmer. But the filmmaker more than proves himself capable in the role, ranging from the obligatory franchise elements, including the big, action-filled opening sequence, to a level of artistry often missing from other installments.
Some of that -- courtesy of cinematographer Roger Deakins -- is simply magnificent to behold, including a nighttime assault on a remote homestead where the fiery visuals present a visually pointed statement about the protagonist and his past, present and future. Another less dramatic but more fun to behold moment involves a fight sequence that takes place inside a skyscraper near an outside window. In the background is a neon billboard across the street on another building. Its ever-changing visuals provide a fascinating backdrop for the more low-tech and primitive fight that occurs in the foreground.
The film -- penned by Neal Purvis & Robert Wade and John Logan -- also features the obligatory Bond title song -- this time terrifically performed by Adele with the usual array of sexy meets violent visuals -- and a number of returning as well as new (or, at least, recast) characters. Judi Dench is as good as ever playing the seemingly always perturbed M (with some heart lurking somewhere below the surface), while Ralph Fiennes joins the cast as another government official.
Ben Whishaw appears as a much younger Q with a little twist on the tech/gadget aspects of his character, while Naomie Harris appears as, well, we'll leave that one a secret. One character ends up permanently retired, but we'll also avoid spoilers on that one. Such developments really aren't that surprising, though, considering how many different performers have inhabited the various roles over the past 50 years.
The only slight disappointment -- and it truly is slight and is only based on a comparative level -- is in the casting of Javier Bardem as the villain. He isn't bad by any means -- okay, he is bad in terms of being the "bad guy" -- it's just that the accomplished character actor portrayed such a creepy antagonist in "No Country for Old Men" that his work here feels a bit repetitive and somewhat slight in comparison. Had the previous role never occurred, I'd likely view the performance as highly effective (he is quite good playing these sorts of parts), but such things have to be viewed in the context of reality.
That tiny objection aside, overall I greatly enjoyed this film, its style and its various bits of homage to Bond entries from the past. Still swinging at 50, I can't wait to see what 007 does in the next quarter or half century, especially if the results are as fun and exhilarating as those present here. "Skyfall" rates as a 7 out of 10.