Review: 'Skyfall' is thinking man's Bond

James Bond shows more character in 23rd film

If you like your Bond movies shaken not stirred, "Skyfall" may be a bit too cerebral for you. The Bond girls are brainier, while the depth of James Bond's nature as a cold-blooded killer is explored in more depth than we've seen the character tackle previously. The usually tough-as-nails Bond tackles some childhood issues, including the pain of abandonment.
There's still the sex, danger, beautiful people and exotic locales (and don't forget an unforgettable movie theme, this time by Adele) that are a given for a 007 film. But this, the 23rd James Bond adventure, goes out of its way to shoot on all cylinders.

Daniel Craig, who may just be the most sensitive James Bond yet, can handle the drama of the emotionally charged "Skyfall" as well as the spills and chills. He's able to help draw us into his attachment between Bond and M (Judi Dench in her seventh film as the character), his boss and the head of Secret Intelligence Service -- also known as MI6. This time, the agency has come under attack, and a computer hacker with some inside knowledge is having his way with classified information that is putting everyone at risk. When it's discovered that the evildoer may be a former agent, it makes the stakes even higher and emotions boil over. Add to Bond's problems a body that's starting to suffer more than a few aches and pains. Our super spy is no rookie, and, while he's aging gracefully, all those bullet wounds are starting to take a toll.

Most likely the emotional edge that's so prevalent in "Skyfall" can be credited to director Sam Mendes, who is behind the camera for his first Bond film. Mendes, best known for his Academy Award winning "American Beauty," and also the gangster picture "Road to Perdition," has quite a resume of stage plays under his direction. In this film, he allows the characters to develop over 143 minutes. There will be a good share of Bond fans who would rather see more action and less navel gazing.

But Mendes doesn't skimp on the thrills, either. Highlights include a death-defying motorcycle chase through staircases and the streets of Istanbul's famous Grand Bazaar, hand-to-hand combat between Bond and a bad guy atop a speeding train; a spectacular underground subway crash beneath the streets of London; a fiery castle explosion in Scotland, and various, venomous fight scenes shot in China.

This time Bond's villain is the sinisterly wicked, Silva, played with a scary edge by Javier Bardem. There's shades of Anton Chigurh, Bardem's heartless character from "No Country for Old Men," for which he won an Oscar, but for Silva, Bardem captures a villain who could be reflective of a Batman or Superman nemesis from a superhero comic book.

Naomie Harris, who was so memorable in "28 Days Later" and familiar from "Pirates of the Caribbean," joins Bond as a field agent named Eve. A scene where she shaves Bond with a straight razor is bound to become a classic. Ralph Fiennes joins the cast as an M16 higher up who is trying to force M into retirement. The Bond girl in this go around is played by Berenice Lim Marlohe, who plays Silva's girlfriend, Severine. The star of French television makes her U.S. and U.K. debut in this film.

The "Skyfall" producers have gone on record saying they wanted to make the best Bond ever. This film certainly encompasses all of what makes Bond so interesting -- the film succeeds at exploring an emotional side without sacrificing action. It's difficult to say that "Skyfall" is the best Bond film ever. Who can forget Sean Connery as 007 in 1964's "Goldfinger"? But as far as contemporary Bonds go, it's doesn't get much better than "Skyfall." And, as a testament to this film, it feels like it's going to be a long wait until "Bond 24" hits theaters in 2014.


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