(Photo courtesy of Columbia Pictures)
After all this time, it’s not surprising James Bond is showing a bit of his age.
This 23rd movie about the world’s most famous secret agent comes exactly 50 years after the first one, “Dr. No," in 1962. Over the decades, several actors have stepped into the iconic role. And now Daniel Craig makes his third appearance as 007, the dapper British MI6 officer with a license to kill.
In “Skyfall,” the smartest, slickest, most sensational Bond outing in ages, the lord of the spies grapples with changing times, the limitations of his own battered body, the emotional tug of mortality, and a super-villain who spreads cyber-terror through a digitized network of global computer hackery.
James Bond, it might appear, is an old dog out of place in a modern world of new tricks.
After an audaciously thrilling pre-credits sequence (that reportedly took three months to film) in which Bond pursues a bad guy across the sprawling rooftops of Istanbul on motorcycle before finally coming to blows atop a speeding train, the movie settles into its groove.
Someone has stolen a computer drive with information that could compromise the entire British Secret Service, and M (Judi Dench), Bond’s boss, becomes the target of a mysterious psychopath (Javier Bardem) with chillingly personal reasons for his mad rampage.
On a tropical hiatus due to his presumed death, Bond returns to Her Majesty’s service after hearing that M is in danger. But circumstances dictate that he has to reapply to get his old job back. That includes re-passing the fitness test, which turns out to be quite a task, leaving him huffing and puffing and nursing his recently banged-up arm and shoulder.
“It’s a young man’s game,” Bond’s reminded by Gareth Mallory (Ralph Fiennes), the bureaucrat in charge of hauling the British espionage division into the 21st century.
Seeing if 007 is up for the job will keep you glued to your seat as the plot shifts from London to Shanghai, then to the island lair where Bond meets his nemesis, and finally to the moors of Scotland for an emotionally charged standoff where Bond must not only defend the empire, but also confront his own past.
Director Sam Mendes integrates sweeping action, solid characters, spectacular scenery, a bountiful sense of cleverness, and a pitch-perfect tone of self-reference to the long line of Bond pop-culture mythology.
With his performance in this movie, Craig, certainly the best action star to ever take on the role made famous by Sean Connery, will surely move even higher up the best-Bond ranks for many fans. He brings out facets of the character that other actors have simply never found before.
Bardem, so memorable as the creepy killer in “No Country For No Men,” adds another memorable creepy killer role to his resume as the soft-spoken sadist Silva, a swishy, blonde-haired demon who taunts Bond with the prospect of England’s old cloak-and-dagger crumbling underneath his new world order of servers and software.
“It’s amazing the panic you can cause with a single computer,” he coos.
“Skyfall” is full of surprises, including the meaning of its title, the new details it reveals about Bond’s childhood, the emotional range it allows 007 to span, and the identity of a female character who turns out to be…
Oh, you’ll just have to find out for yourself.
But the most surprising thing is just how fresh a 50-year-old franchise can be with one brisk, crisp new slap. Bond is back, and it’s been a long time since he’s seemed anywhere near this alive, achy old joints and all.