“Skyfall” is so good you almost forget it is a James Bond movie. This is something of an existential problem, and one that keeps Daniel Craig's third spin as 007 from being anything you need to take too seriously, but the film goes down so smoothly this issue isn't worth getting worked up about. The movie starts big, stays big, looks gorgeous and concludes with an all-inclusive smooch to the audience straight out of the Marvel playbook. Anyone who exits the theater without a smile has true problems. Still, those who ascribe it deep meaning may be letting the rallying score and Craig's piercing eyes get to them.
We open in Istanbul, where a hard drive containing the true identities of all known NATO agents embedded with terrorist organizations has been stolen. My wife diligently regularly shreds all her documents and refrains from using the same password everywhere. She clearly is more security-minded than MI6.
It's no worry, though, because when M (Judi Dench, truly terrific this time) has trouble, she can always rely on 007. He may disappear to a tropical island to soak his weary soul in rum and cheap sex after he overhears her order to “just take the bloody shot” that may kill him collaterally, but when domestic terror returns to Ol' Blighty, so does he.
Much of "Skyfall"'s second act is devoted to looming, forthcoming changes. M won't be able to shake the political fallout and is forced to make a transitory exit, with pencil pushing Ralph Fiennes overseeing the proceedings. Furthermore, Bond is aging a bit (oy, we should all age like Daniel Craig) and, at least by the book, he may not be the one best suited to go out and retrieve the missing hard drive.
However, he's the one with the tagged shrapnel of enriched uranium in his shoulder, and, also, he's James Bond. The hunt has all the glitz and glean we expect from this franchise and from a high tech movie made in 2012. (Indeed, if one of the comments made about “Goldfinger” is “so '60s!” and “Goldeneye” is “so '90s!” the look and feel of “Skyfall” will one day read “so 2012!”)
There's a fight in a Shanghai skyscraper that is brilliantly rendered, as well as an assassination-in-disguise attempt that is like “Day of the Jackal” on speed. Alas, the escaping baddie has visual cues quite similar to Loki in “The Avengers,” but Javier Bardem is so deliciously wicked as the rage-fueled vengeance machine that he makes sure all of his scenes pop.
In the midst of this very taut, and somewhat emotionally troubling terror-prevention thriller, there are also... occasional nods to the fifty years of James Bond heritage. As a movie lover (and, frankly, a normal human being who likes things that are awesome) I enjoyed the light use of horn stingers, catch phrases or recognizable cars, but the fact remains that “Skyfall” doesn't NEED these things, and the use of them may be considered by some to be a crutch. Worse than that, is shatters the reality that the rest of the movie creates.
That may, however, be a good thing, because toward the end, despite high excitement and dazzling camera work, Q (Ben Wishaw) ostensibly becomes a magician that can interpret blobs on a monitor as “intricate code,” while Bond and Bardem survive traumas that would kill a normal man ten different ways. The message is clear: this is a 007 movie, don't think about it so much.
Still, “Skyfall” has a resonance that few, if any, Bond films have. Much of this due to really milking Judi Dench for all she's worth. This is the first film where M is a rounded character, and her political struggle affords her an opportunity to wave the cultural flag of Britain in a way few others could. There is also a decision to give James Bond some heavy, psychological backstory. We've had 22 films, do we need to hear about his parents NOW? But before you start tsk-tsking, give it some time, and see how sharply “Skyfall” weaves this questionable element in a way that salutes the rest of the series.
“Skyfall” concludes with a remarkable bit of fan appreciation business, such that it puts all three Craig films in a new “aha” light. Far be it from me to spoil it here, because I'm certain you'll go out and see this movie. The sun never sets on its fandom.