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Best Bond EVER?

Daniel Craig grows into the role of 007 in Skyfall

By Philip Martin

This article was published November 9, 2012 at 3:03 a.m.

daniel-craig-stars-as-james-bond-in-metro-goldwyn-mayer-action-adventure-skyfall

Daniel Craig stars as James Bond in Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer action adventure SKYFALL.

— Skyfall

88 Cast: Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Javier Bardem, Ben Whishaw, Albert Finney, Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris Director: Sam Mendes Rating: PG-13, for intense violent sequences throughout, some sexuality, language and smoking Running time: 143 minutes

Daniel Craig is now my favorite Bond. (Sorry, Sir Thomas Sean Connery.) And while I’m blaspheming, I’ll just go ahead and say that Skyfall might be the best Bond movie ever.

That might is an important qualifier — it’s been a couple of years since I’ve seen Dr. No or Goldfinger and several since I’ve watched On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, a good movie which nevertheless failed to make a star of George Lazenby. One also has to consider From Russia With Love and the 2006 Casino Royale, which introduced Daniel Craig as a more visceral, nearly thuggish 007.

Anyway, Skyfall — the first Bond film that doesn’t share a title with an Ian Fleming novel — is way up there on the list, a taut and nearly completely serious spy thriller that wisely plays on the expectations and good will of Bond devotees while remaining more connected to real-world threats than the more outlandish (and typically lousier) entries in the canon. Aside from archvillain Javier Bardem’s hairstyle, the only thing that’s really over the top in this installment is the action sequences. (Except for the Komodo dragon scene. Really? Wikipedia says the giant lizards are dangerous to humans, but that was silly.)

But even in the inevitable exchanges between Bond and his antagonist, and while there is room for humor and even warmth, the actors play the lines straight — director Sam Mendes never allows the movie to slide into camp. Craig plays Bond as a weary patriot, less glamorous and less amorous than his predecessor.

As the cinematic Bond hits 50, Craig is still growing into character. This time he looks more comfortable in a tuxedo than he does in the Tom Ford slim-fit suits he wears through most of the film.

Craig is the best actor to play Bond in the movies, and he seems closer to the Bond Fleming initially imagined than any of the previous incarnations — including, and possibly especially, Connery. Fleming didn’t like the initial casting at all. He had but one actor in mind for the job (and it wasn’t, as it is often misreported, Cary Grant but David Niven).

But if Fleming was at first unimpressed with Connery, the Bond of Dr. No had some influence on the author. In later works, Fleming granted Bond a sense of humor, and a Scottish heritage that’s brought full circle in the current film in a final showdown at the Bond family’s Highland estate, a drafty old manse looked after by a gameskeeper played through a thick beard by Albert Finney.

All in all, Skyfall delivers on the promise of the first Craig film, Casino Royale, by removing the character from the fantasy worlds of megalomanical super villains bent on world domination and placing him squarely in our uncomfortable century, of shadow threats and cyberterrorism. While Bardem has great fun as Silva, a vengeful agent gone rogue, a sense of consequence pervades the film — Silva is a monster made by MI6; he means to give his old bosses, especially M (Judi Dench), pause to “think on their sins.”

As usual, the movie flits across the globe, from Istanbul to Shanghai to Macao to London, and there are sly nods to the conventions of the archetypal form throughout. (We won’t spoil them here.)

Nicely cast, with a droll performance by Ben Whishaw as the geeky new Q and a dry, tart turn by Naomie Harris as an agent assigned to work with 007, Skyfall is an audacious and crowd-pleasing film that obliterates the bad taste left by the ill-begotten Quantum of Solace, which seemed to suggest that perhaps Bond and company really were played out. But to see this one is to anticipate the next one. (Why do we have to wait four years?)

Expertly shot by the unlikely genius Roger Deakins — who does spectacular work in the film’s Shanghai chapter — Skyfall is one of those movie movies that manages to impress you with its heft. Like a well-made pistol, it’s a lot heavier than it looks.

MovieStyle, Pages 33 on 11/09/2012

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