'Skyfall' not just a great Bond movie, it's a great film to boot

“Skyfall” opens with an extravagant bang, slinks into Adele’s catchy and cool opening number and closes with a heavy heart. But its the two-and-a-half hours sandwiched between that make "Skyfall" not just one of the greatest Bond films the canon's 50-year history, but one of the most exciting, intense thrillers of the past decade.

Director Sam Mendes has crafted a visceral and emotional thriller that makes Bond a real character, not just an archetype. Writers Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and John Logan infuse the film with an emotional core, showing the troubled layers beneath Ian Fleming’s iconic hero. Bond is given a back story and an objective that hits close to home, giving the movie and the character an emotional weight and fervency previously absent in the franchise. Not that “Skyfall” is so serious it becomes pretentious popcorn entertainment; on the contrary it still maintains that classic panache and humor that we all have come to expect in a Bond film.

Daniel Craig is back and better than ever. Still a fantastic Bond, Craig’s development as a 21st century 007 is just as enticing to watch as the incredible action scenes. This Bond is a ruthless killer first and foremost. He’s a trained beast on a very long leash held by M. Craig keeps the seemingly immortal Bond feeling mortal. This Bond is not impervious to harm and Craig’s rugged, beaten exterior and somewhat haunted psyche portrays this.

“Skyfall” hits closer to home than any other Bond film. The topical plot taps into our fears of personal security in a rapidly shrinking world and, unlike previous Bonds, shows the importance of MI6 and the double-O unit in today’s techno-terrorism environment.  Ex-patriot and rogue MI6 agent Silva (Javier Bardem) hacks the government’s computers and threatens to publicly release the cover identities of embedded agents around the world. M sends 007 to take out her former mentee, an unstable inverted reflection of Bond, while the Prime Minister’s appointed consultant Gareth Mallory (Ralph Fiennes) is threatening her command, citing the lack of necessity for trained killers living in the shadows while terror is primarily done via point and click.

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Unlike the dark, confusing and awkwardly paced “Quantum of Solace,” “Skyfall” successfully course corrects the reboot. The lofty action scenes more than make up for the pittance of the same in “Quantum.” Bond also displays his wit and charm, and the screenplay is self-referential, poking jabs at previous films. Also back is the crazed megalomaniac villain. Bardem’s insane clown-like, blond-haired, over-the-top Silva is almost comical in this overtly realistic environment. But his super-villain persona, combined with his frighteningly manic visage brings an unease to the film, much like Heath Ledger’s Joker did in “The Dark Knight.” Silva is intelligent but crazy, like a bizarro-world version of his Bardem's Oscar-winning performance as the sadistic killer in “No Country For Old Men.”

Ben Wishaw’s Q is more a computer whiz-kid than gadget guru; an entertaining contrast to Craig’s aged old-school Bond. Hopefully their relationship will be expanded in future films because the ground work is set for an exciting partnership. Though Q’s gadgets are part of the fun of watching a Bond film, “Skyfall” shies away from the tech. In fact, the technology is the villain’s weapon and Bond resorts to primal instinct and physical skill to thwart Silva.

Judi Dench gets her largest on-screen performance in a Bond film here and she is great. Even though Bond lusts after Naomi Harris and Bérénice Marlohe, Dench is the real Bond girl in “Skyfall.” Like an eccentric buddy-cop movie, Craig’s Bond and Dench’s M are a great dynamic duo, especially with Dench’s sharp wit and total lack of BS. One of the finest actresses working today, Dench carries the heart of the film. We see her respect for Bond the killer, and perhaps a little motherly love, but we also see what an incredibly difficult job it is to run MI6, having to choose to sacrifice your own agents for the safety and security of the country.

Joining Mendes on “Skyfall” are some of his frequent collaborators like composer Thomas Newman, who successfully blends his signature style with the iconic Bond sound. Cinematographer Roger Deakins juxtaposes the action scenes with ,depending on the locale, a grittiness or an exotic sheen. One standout moment has Bond and a thug in a fight atop a Shanghai skyscraper. The brawl is completely backlit by neon signs so that we are watching a shadow fight. One of the coolest fight scenes in all of Bond.

Though “Skyfall” is the anticipated culmination of the previous two films, it is a stand-alone piece. If you have never seen any other Bond film before you can walk right in and feel right at home here. For the already-initiated, though, we get the complexity and maturity of “Casino Royale” and “Quantum,” but we see Mendes letting the franchise open back up and breathe again, returning the reboot almost to its early Connery-era roots. And a Bond movie steeped in both 1960s nostalgia and contemporary suspense and action is the perfect concoction.

“Skyfall” is the best of the Daniel Craig Bond films and surpasses just about every Bond film made in the past 43 years. Not only is this a great Bond movie, it’s a great film.