On more than one occasion in “Skyfall,” James Bond (Daniel Craig) obediently returns to M (Judi Dench) after an intense brush with death, only to have her fire off her famous line: “Where the hell have you been?”
It’s a question audiences have been asking since 2008, when the hackneyed “Quantum of Solace” premiered, putting the 007 franchise into neutral. But with the Nov. 9 U.S. release of “Skyfall,” Bond is most assuredly back.
In fact, he’s on assignment in Turkey, where a mercenary has killed an MI6 agent and stolen a hard drive containing intelligence on NATO agents embedded in terrorist groups. Never fear — Bond and newcomer Eve (Naomie Harris) are hot on his trail, leading to the obligatory opening chase scene.
As he traverses rooftops on a motorbike and throws left hooks on a train, we’re reminded why we’re so fond of Bond — this Bond, Daniel Craig’s Bond. He uses both brains and his remarkable brawn to outfox his enemies. He’s not always coiffed and pressed; he can take a hit. And he often does.
It’s all the more refreshing to finally have a Bond villain operating at James’ level. Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem), a former-MI6 agent with a king-size lust for vengeance, is delightfully conniving as he torments the agency he used to belong to. His combination of raw emotion and wit makes Casino Royale’s Le Chiffre look as plain as unbuttered toast. Plus, it’s amusing to see Bardem in yet another awful wig.
One of the biggest payoffs of this film lies in the exchanges between Silva and Bond. Naturally, one of them is held against their will, leading to a power-based banter. The animosity is implied, but what we see is a bizarre, sexually charged teasing that’s highly amusing.
Director Sam Mendes, a novice to the 007 series, infuses “Skyfall” with grit, heart and purpose. The stakes are real and the emotions are true. The whole thing’s shot like a “Bourne” film, and the theme is reminiscent of “The Dark Knight Rises,” with resurrection being a chief device.
Not to mention the aesthetic beauty of the picture — it’s sleek and unrelentingly gorgeous, even when our hero has seen better days.
There’s a clear juxtaposition between Skyfall’s physical beauty and each character’s physical and emotional blemishes. And in between there’s plenty of smarts, action and humor, which is why this film is being almost universally lauded.
Those tried and true “classic Bond” elements are largely retired here. No fancy weapons. Very few swanky parties. Bond girls? Sure, but none are as noteworthy as M, whose relationship with Bond is one of the movie’s real assets. Once Bond determines she’s in danger, everything changes between them, and we learn so much more about their history. Both have demons. This drives the film.
A Bond film is nothing without its score, and Adele and Thomas Newman’s combined talent offers a soundtrack as sleuthy and emotive as the picture itself. An artfully realized title sequence takes Adele’s theme song to another level. Fans will be humming that silky melody for years to come.
This is a fresh, forward-thinking Bond picture with a wunderkind quartermaster, a tested hero, a timely plot and just the right amount of nostalgia. I couldn’t think of a better bookend for the 50th anniversary of the series. “Skyfall” is an audacious new classic.