'Skyfall' Review: 23rd Bond Film Goes Small … with Big Results

'Skyfall' Review: 23rd Bond Film Goes Small … with Big Results

The newest James Bond film keeps the globe trotting to a minimum – and the Bond Girls’ clothes mostly on. The gadgets consist of a radio transmitter and a pistol that can only be fired by its owner. And, shockingly, the villain doesn’t have designs on ruling the world or even blowing it to smithereens.

Welcome to “Skyfall,” and if it sounds like the Bond formula has been shaken and stirred, think again. The new film pays serial homage to the franchise, features a breakneck chase scene in its opening moments and offers a peek into the main character’s past that only enhances the experience.

In short, we’ve already forgiven them for “Quantum of Solace.”

“Skyfall” casts Daniel Craig as the suave superspy for the third time, and here he’s on the hunt for the thief who stole a list of British agents embedded within terrorist organizations. The scrappy M (Judi Dench) is taking the heat for losing the list in the first place, and she’s told to “voluntarily” retire before her career sinks any further.

It’s up to Bond to find the fiend who took the list and is slowly releasing the names to the public, putting their lives in instant danger.

Sounds like a pretty simple story for a Bond film, no? The essential narrative is just that pure, but “Skyfall” offers the kind of nuanced presentation Bond films typically lack. M’s looming retirement is a sobering look at our golden years, and even Bond’s physical limitations after a near-death experience sharpen the narrative.

Yes, Bond is as brave and bold as ever, but why does his hand shake when he’s squeezing off a round?

Bond’s relationship with M is tender yet filled with contradictions. So, too, is Bond’s new repartee with Q (Ben Whishaw), the gadget guru who doesn’t look old enough to enter an R-rated movie, let alone shave.

And we haven’t even talked about the film’s villain, a blond diva named Silva played masterfully by Javier Bardem. The “No Country for Old Men” star brings an atypical sexuality to the role as well as a vulnerability which makes his anger all the more palpable.

Director Sam Mendes (“American Beauty”) offers a few sparkling sequences, like a silhouette-enhanced fight scene and an opening credit sequence that feels both like a throwback and something cutting edge. 

The infamous Bond girls play a less prominent role here, although the scrappy Naomie Harris proves both plucky and personable. Who wouldn’t want to see more of her?

“Skyfall,” which arrives with a glossy new theme song by the wondrous Adele, offers a slightly lighter tone than the previous Craig efforts. We even get a few inside winks to the franchise faithful, the return of a rather special set of wheels and an ending which paves the way for more adventures while saying goodbye to a good friend.

In short, the Bond series doesn’t need over the top villains, over-exposed Bond beauties or fantastically ornate adventures to win us over. Here, it’s just the supremely confident Craig, a gaggle of stellar supporting players and the notion that James Bond is flesh and blood after all.

Follow Christian Toto on Twitter @totomovies