Now this is more like it.
After getting off to an incredibly powerful start with “Casino Royale,” the Daniel Craig era in the James Bond franchise’s long and lucrative history went a little astray with “Quantum of Solace.” That movie seemed unfocused and suffered from not having a memorable villain. All of that has been fixed in “Skyfall.”
I’m happy to report that Bond is back, and he’s bad. And that’s good. An icy, gimlet-eyed assassin, which Craig’s Bond is, exactly fits the job description of someone who’s been issued a license to kill. At the top of his game, Craig’s Bond is steely and sardonic. But in “Skyfall,” at the start at least, he’s also gaunt and haunted.
As everyone who’s seen the trailer knows, Bond takes a long fall off a high bridge after getting shot off the top of a speeding train by a fellow MI6 agent (played by Naomie Harris). Being Bond, he, of course — spoiler alert! — doesn’t die.
But he does go to ground and then goes to seed.
After a lost-weekend-type lull in which he indulges in drinking games (involving scorpions and whiskey) and sex, he pulls himself out of his funk after MI6 falls victim to an explosive cyber-terror attack.
“Reporting for duty,” he growls from the shadows to a startled and then peevish M (Judi Dench), who demands, “Where the hell have you been?” But the more pertinent question is, after what he’s been through, is this stubbly, hollow-cheeked fellow fit for duty?
As this is the most substantive Bond yet, what follows is a deep dive into the psyches and backgrounds of 007, M and also Silva, the villain of the piece, who is a real piece of work.
He’s played by Javier Bardem … sporting a bad hairdo. Ah. Perfect.
Nobody does bad guys better than Bardem. (Paging “No Country for Old Men” ‘s Anton Chigurh.) And Bardem’s baddie in “Skyfall” deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as Red Grant, Rosa Klebb, Auric Goldfinger and Oddjob. We’re talking the classics here.
From the moment Bardem emerges from an elevator and begins a long, deliberate walk toward a bound Bond, delivering a mocking, silken-toned soliloquy about ravenous rats and retribution, he is the essence of focused, patient, all-knowing evil. A super-cyber-hacker and a remorseless student of psychology, he has special insights into the weaknesses of Bond and M. In insinuating tones, he seeks to exploit and demoralize them both.
This is a very dark movie, set in tunnels and spooky-mansion rooms and the chilly, misty valleys of Scotland. The settings, carefully chosen by director Sam Mendes (“American Beauty”), reflect the dark corners of the main characters’ psyches.
There is action galore in those dark places; a train crash and a helicopter assault are two examples. And, as “Skyfall” is coming out on the 50th anniversary of the first Bond movie, “Doctor No,” there are knowing nods to the icons of the franchise. A Walther PPK puts in an appearance, as does Bond’s signature Aston Martin DB5. What’s even better