Starring Daniel Craig, Javier Bardem. Written by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, John Logan. Directed by Sam Mendes. PG. 143 min. Opens Nov. 8 in IMAX theatres and Nov. 9 in wide release.
It’s up to the world’s 007 obsessives to assess how Skyfall compares with the franchise’s best, though chances are most loyalists will be enthralled by the meaty and twisty story that pits Daniel Craig’s Bond against Javier Bardem’s Silva, a fair-haired and eminently diabolical villain who has a major beef with MI6 and a personal score to settle with M (Judi Dench).
There’s one matter, however, that is beyond dispute: No other Bond movie has looked so consistently gorgeous. From the terse, Bourne-like chase through Istanbul in the opening scene to cinematographer Roger Deakins’ astonishing use of the middle section’s Shanghai and Macau locations to Bardem’s deliciously theatrical entrance, Skyfall succeeds so well as a source of visual pleasure that its other virtues are almost beside the point.
In addition to outfitting his inaugural Bond feature with this unprecedented degree of opulence, director Sam Mendes wisely reincorporates an element of humour, something largely banished from Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace lest it endanger efforts to re-establish the franchise’s integrity and relevance. Those 007 obsessives will certainly appreciate the often cheeky use of many familiar tropes as well as the return of temporarily AWOL characters like Bond’s trusty gadget specialist Q, played here by Cloud Atlas’ Ben Whishaw.
But as much as Mendes is able to introduce a greater variation in tone, Skyfall still works as a strong showcase for Daniel Craig’s wracked and weathered take on Bond. At the same time, the film’s briskness and brio save it from the stodginess and incoherence that dogged Quantum of Solace. Really, Mendes’s only missteps in his mission are losing some velocity in a finale that gets too long and slightly too ludicrous and—just in case you forgot this was the same man who made American Beauty—straining to cast our hero as a symbol for the decay of the empire he serves. Yet in the face of Skyfall’s achievement as a remarkably crafty piece of eye candy, these issues seem as inconsequential as detecting a touch too much vermouth in your next dry martini.