The missions of British Secret Service Agent James Bond have been on the big screen for fifty years now, and Agent 007 shows no signs of slowing down.  For the 50th Anniversary of the Broccoli family produced Bond films, EON Productions has put together Bond’s 23rd outing, Skyfall, as not only a continuation of the Bond legacy, but an amazing and fitting homage to the history of the franchise.

Skyfall opens with a mission reminiscent of the first Mission: Impossible film, with a list of the true identities of undercover NATO agents being stolen.  Bond and a field agent known as Eve are in pursuit of Patrice, the mercenary in possession of the list.  After a chase through and above the streets of Istanbul, Bond and Patrice fight it out on top of a train while Eve lines up her shot to take Patrice out.  Though unable to get a clear shot of Patrice, M orders Eve to take the shot, but she ends up hitting Bond instead who falls from the train to the water below.  Bond, believed to be dead, takes up with an unnamed woman in a hut on the beach, spending his nights and early mornings drinking at the local bar.  Three months later, while under investigation and threat of forced retirement for her failure to recover the list of undercover agents, M is on her way back to her office when their computer system is hacked and an explosion is triggered at MI6, killing several agents.  Hearing the news of the attack on the TV at the bar, Bond returns to London to reclaim his job and find those responsible.  However, as Bond has been declared dead, he must pass all examinations to be cleared for field work, a feat not easy for the mentally and physically damaged Bond.  After being given the go-ahead by M, Bond’s investigation leads him to former MI6 agent Raoul Silva, who worked under M in Singapore, and blames her for his capture and torture by the Chinese.  All theatrics and distractions aside, Silva’s mission is clear… kill M.

To say I was pleased with this film is a complete understatement.  Craig’s first run as Bond in Casino Royale ended up becoming one of my most favorite films of all time, and I am more impressed with Skyfall than I was with Casino Royale.  The first, and most apparent, achievement in this film is the stellar cast.  At 44-years-old, Daniel Craig is approaching the age range where Sean Connery and Roger Moore started becoming unbelievable in the role, but Craig is still able to hold his own and make you believe he is physically able to be 007.  Craig still exudes the charm and humor of the character, while integrating Bond’s physical and emotional pain into his performance, his best performance yet as Bond.  Judi Dench also delivers what is definitely her best performance as M, the head of MI6.  In the original films, M remained in the background as Bond’s boss and only appeared in a few scenes to help further the plot by issuing orders, but the role has become more substantial since the casting of Dench in Goldeneye.  With Skyfall, Dench is now at the center of the story, being as important to the story as Bond and Silva.  Dench’s M, just as troubled and damaged as Bond, has to deal with not only being forced out of her job, but also reaping the consequences of old decisions.  The relationship between M and Bond has evolved since Dench took the role, with her taking on a motherly role to the orphaned Bond.  Skyfall brings their connection to a head, with their relationship being the non-romantic love story of the film.  Oscar-winner Javier Bardem could actually be in line for another Oscar nomination for the role of Raoul Silva.  Bardem plays Silva with an interesting mix of intense and flamboyant, going from flirting with Bond (yes… flirting) to somehow making the line “Mommy was very bad,” sound intimidating.  Silva is a great modern take on the classic, physically deformed Bond villain like Dr. No and Blofeld, with the reveal of his deformity (which he also blames on M) being one of the biggest and most impressive shocks of the film.  Rounding out the cast is Naomie Harris (Tia Dalma from the Pirates of the Caribbean films) as Eve, a brash field agent who believes herself to be on par with Bond, Ben Whishaw as Q, MI6’s new Quartermaster and computer expert who is younger than Bond for the first time in the series, Berenice Marlohe as Severine, Silva’s girlfriend who hopes Bond can free her from Silva’s influence, and Ralph Fiennes as Gareth Mallory, M’s new superior who is keeping a close eye on M and Bond.  The entire cast plays their parts perfectly, each being a necessary piece to the overall puzzle.  And though not a character, an equally important part of the story is Skyfall itself.  I won’t give it away, but I will say that it’s a place and it’s the location of one of the best final battles in any Bond film.

As this is the 50th Anniversary of the Bond franchise, callbacks to the previous films were expected.  However, unlike the 40th Anniversary film, Die Another Day, the references to previous films do not come across like disrespectful spoofs, instead they fit into the course of the film as natural occurrences.  We see the return of Bond’s original gun, the Walther PPK, but with a modern twist, the fully loaded 1965 Aston Martin, and the classic Bond theme straight from the original films.  Even the design of M’s new office is an homage to M’s office during Bernard Lee’s run as the character.  But the best return, other than a classic character like Q (and someone else), is the classic Bond title sequence.  Though extremely impressive and well received, the title sequence to Casino Royale was criticized for departing too much from the established Bond title formula or suggestive imagery, both sexually and plot suggestive.  The title sequence for Skyfall returns to the suggestive imagery (though not as sexual as the Connery or Moore film openings), but blends it with the impressive animation style from Casino Royale.  The visuals, combined with the beautiful vocals of Adele, make this one of the best Bond title sequences.  If I had any complaint with this movie, it’s a small one.  At the end of the movie there’s a reveal that is very similar to the ridiculous “Robin” reveal at the end of The Dark Knight Rises.

After a groundbreaking reboot with Casino Royale, the immediate follow up of Quantum of Solace was a good film, but failed to live up to its predecessor.  However, Skyfall lives up to the legacy of not only Craig’s previous films, but the Bond films as a whole.  With an effective villain, a proven Bond, and possibly the most emotionally charged plot since Bond’s wife was killed in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, this film has more than earned its place as one of the best Bond films ever made.  Though he’s signed on for two more films, recent rumors suggest this film to be Craig’s last Bond film.  I highly doubt this would happen as Craig’s run has been highly successful, and the ending does nothing but set up Craig for at least one more run as the agent with a license to kill.  But, if this is Craig’s last hooray as Bond, he has done something that no other actor was able to do as Bond, end on a high note.

This movie is a 5-out-of-5, Two Thumbs Up, Full Price… whatever top rating you can come up with.  My wife and I paid $15 each to see this on a 6-story-tall IMAX screen and it was worth every penny!

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