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Movie Review: Bond gets better with age in Skyfall

007 Skyfall movie Daniel Craig James Bond

For a movie centrally concerned with remaining competent well past one’s prime, Skyfall makes a case for becoming the best Bond yet – a fitting accomplishment for the franchise’s 50-year anniversary.

Director Sam Mendes sticks to the latest 007 incarnation’s gritty, brutal approach by giving us a James Bond (Daniel Craig) who has lost a step. He’s been at the game for years now, and it’s taken its toll. He’s older. He’s slower. His aim has deteriorated. Where Bonds of the past could Judo-chop through bad guys like a hot knife through butter, Craig’s Bond works more like a dull hatchet on a tree: blunt, brutal, and harsher for his rusty edges.

But this one isn’t just about Bond. Dame Judi Dench’s M is showing wear around the edges, too, and she’s holding back a British government struggling to justify MI6’s relevance in an increasingly technology-driven espionage world.

Enter Javier Bardem’s Silva: a gleefully flamboyant ex-MI6 agent and master hacker bent on humiliating and punishing M for her past mistakes. The bottle-blonde Bardem offers a superb antagonist for Bond, combining the typical world-hating villain tropes with unexpected undertones of homoeroticism and brotherly concern that make it impossible to know just want he wants for our hero.

Javier Bardem Silva 007 James Bond Skyfall Villain

Javier Bardem as Silva.

Daniel Craig continues to make his case for the best Bond actor yet. At this point, it’s just funny to think people once griped about him being the first blonde Bond. His beaten-down brawler approach to 007 makes him an easy character to like. Craig is the only actor to play the character as a constant underdog, and that’s why it’s so easy to root for him. We’ll be seeing plenty more of him, as he’s signed on for another two Bond films after this

The story quickly becomes a race for Bond to protect M from her prodigal agent. He takes her off the grid and down memory lane in his effort to keep her safe – a fitting direction for the franchise’s 50th birthday. And there are old Bond references littered throughout this film for the sharp 007 fan; we even get some action out of the old Aston Martin DB5 from Goldfinger with the ejector seat and guns behind the lights.

James Bond 007 car Aston Martin DB5 Skyfall

“Ejector seat? You’re joking…”

Screenwriters Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and John Logan turn in a tightly-written script that methodically unfolds in an easy-to-follow arc that doesn’t sidestep for an obligatory shootout or car chase. Those little joys are in there, too, but they arrive organically and keep you in the story.

Where the film falls is in its inevitable comparison to the semi-reboot Casino Royale. For all the double-crosses and convoluted conspiracy that made up Casino Royale‘s story, it still stands as our most emotional look at the man with a license to kill. We saw him kill his first man, take his first mission and mourn the death of his first love.

While there are emotional moments in Skyfall, they never quite hit the poignant notes that Casino Royale did. M’s decline is the focal point for our emotion, and Judi Dench is suitably fantastic in the role, but she’s got a necessary callousness that keeps us at a distance. She’s not an old woman; she’s an old soldier. There are definite mother-son elements to the M-Bond relationship – particularly when we see just what Skyfall means – but M is a tough mother, and she doesn’t want our pity.

Skyfall is a mighty return to form after the forgettable Quantum of Solace. It’s a Bond adventure that sets up a new status quo and promises more character-driven stories to come.

4 out of 5 stars.

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