By JAKE COYLE
AP Entertainment Writer
If you just looked at the cast and crew of “Skyfall,” you could easily confuse the assembled talent for a prestige costume drama. Director Sam Mendes, actors Judi Dench, Javier Bardem and Ralph Fiennes, and cinematographer Roger Deakins might just as easily be mounting a Shakespeare adaptation.
But “Skyfall” is, of course, a James Bond film, and not only that, it’s the 23rd installment in a blockbuster franchise marking its 50th anniversary with only slightly less fanfare than the Queen’s Jubilee. “Skyfall” is a touch more high-minded than those previous 22 films, but it’s also arguably the best crafted movie in Bond history.
Those involved in the 007 empire overwhelmingly credit the higher trajectory for Bond to one man: Daniel Craig.
Now in his third film as 007, “Skyfall” is Craig’s most emphatic statement yet on how he’ll define his stewardship of the beloved British spy. What’s clearest on “Skyfall” is that Craig has taken full ownership of Bond, not only filling out a tux, but molding the entire production.
The result is the best-reviewed Bond film yet, one that’s already made a whopping $287 million in its first 10 days of international release. “Skyfall” is the culmination of The Daniel Craig Years, a chapter in Bond history that’s proving a resounding success.
Craig’s first Bond film, 2006’s “Casino Royale,” was a visceral introduction to his version of 007. Less successful was 2008’s “Quantum of Solace,” which was marred by script problems partly caused by the writer’s strike. The film’s heavy somberness disappointed many and fueled the correction in tone on “Skyfall.”
After the postmodern deconstruction of “Quantum,” “Skyfall” puts Bond back together, restoring many familiar elements, albeit with certain twists. Ben Whishaw inherits the role of Q, Naomie Harris settles in as Moneypenny and Fiennes comes aboard as the new head of MI6. Bardem plays a flamboyant, effete former MI6 agent whose cyber destruction is motivated by a past with M, the role Judi Dench has memorably inhabited for seven films.
Overall, “Skyfall” is set in a more realistic world _ particularly situated in London _ where MI6’s activities are answerable to government and where the threat of terrorism has firmly displaced Cold War fears as the dominant concern.
It was Craig who, on a sudden instinct over conversation at a party, asked Mendes _ better known for his stage direction and dramas like “American Beauty” and “Revolutionary Road” than action movies _ if he wanted to direct. The two had previously worked together on 2002’s “Road to Perdition,” before Craig’s stardom swelled.
Craig also approached Bardem, a selective actor whose performance in “Skyfall” is already being considered among the best Bond villains.
But producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson, who years ago inherited control of the franchise from their father Albert “Cubby” Broccoli, have been quite content with Craig’s initiative. The 44-year-old actor is signed for two more Bond films, but Broccoli would have it be longer.
Mendes credits another inspiration: Christopher Nolan, whose “Dark Knight” trilogy of Batman films, Mendes says, “made B movies into A films.”
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