There’s only one reason why “Skyfall” is the hippest, highest-octane Bond film in ages, and his name is Daniel Craig. Way before “Casino Royale” was released, the internet buzz killers were already ragging on him for being blond and blue-eyed and too short for Bond duty. Not only did Craig turn out to be the best Bond since Sean Connery, he’s also the first of the Bonds to lose the condescension and take the role seriously. And he does it with an actor’s skill that puts you on notice that Bond, the real James Bond is finally back in business. In “Skyfall”, it turns out to be rousing good news that the producers have brought on director Sam Mendes, the genius behind “American Beauty” and “Road to Perdition” to make his Bond debut. In fact, Mendes is an ideal fit to follow Martin Campbell in 2006 and Marc Forster in 2008. For Mendes, the impossible is business as usual, and his is one of the most spectacular yet. There’s no doubt in my mind that the movie is also weighed down by several unnecessary action scenes as usual. But the producers deserve credit for busting Bond out of the box, and this is why I rank this one among the best in the series. The film opens promisingly with a scene set in Istanbul. Then come the familiar credits, and the catchy song by Adele, followed by many slow scenes. After that, everything gets better. Take the villain: he’s Silva, brilliantly played by Javier Bardem, who for once isn’t after world domination. His plan? You’ll have to see for yourself. Suffices to say that Bardem, a star in his native Spain and an Oscar winner, gives off a genuine menacing vibe, especially when he first gets to meet 007. What about the Bond girls? The gorgeous Berenice Marlohe sizzles as Severine, the girl who warns Bond about Silva. But it’s Naomie Harris as Eve, an MI6 agent who lifts her role to class act status. It also helps that Craig is mixing it up with a first-rate cast, including Ralph Fiennes as the Chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee, Albert Finney in a surprise appearance, and most especially Judi Dench, back in the game as M, Bond’s boss. Dame Judi wasn’t a major character in the Brosnan films, but with Craig she comes out blazing, knowing she’s found an actor who can give as good as he gets.
As the plot globe-trots from Istanbul, London and Shanghai to an overblown climax in Scotland, “Skyfall” uncovers something unique in the 007 dossier: an unformed secret-agent man, lacking polish, vulnerable to violence and helplessly human. Craig gives us James Bond in the fascinating act of inventing himself. If someone asks you what a true movie star is, point to him. He has it all. And he’s found an ideal collaborator in Mendes. You leave “Skyfall” thinking that these guys can do anything. What more can you ask for?