‘Skyfall’: Bond is back in action -- and top form, critics say

After 50 years, 23 films and a rotating cast of leading men, the James Bond movie franchise endures, and if the new installment “Skyfall” is any indication, it’s in good hands. Directed by Sam Mendes (“American Beauty,” “Revolutionary Road”) and starring Daniel Craig in his third outing as Agent 007, “Skyfall” is garnering excellent reviews, with many critics hailing it as one of the best Bond films of the series.

Times film critic Betsy Sharkey writes, “If ‘Skyfall’ is the new 50, James Bond is handling it remarkably well.” The hallmarks of the series, Sharkey says, are alive and well — “the spy-craft in the new film is sharper, the intrigue deeper, the beauties brighter” — but perhaps more surprisingly, “there are perilous emotional peaks and valleys along with all that bloody cheek.” Credit for the film’s introspective undercurrent goes to Mendes, who “has upped the ante, the action and the artistry in ‘Skyfall’ without losing all the defining traits we’ve come to expect — and need — from Bond.”

Mendes himself benefits from “a good blueprint” from screenwriters John Logan, Neal Purvis and Robert Wade; “superbly shot” scenes courtesy of cinematographer Roger Deakins; and a solid cast led by Craig as an “angrier and more haunted” hero.

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The New York Times’ Manohla Dargis finds Mendes to be “surprisingly well-equipped” as a Bond director, delivering a better film in all respects than “Quantum of Solace,” the series’ previous installment. In “Skyfall,” Dargis writes, “The tone is again playful and the stakes feel serious if not punishingly so.” Mendes “shows that he’s having his fun with 007" via grandiose set pieces, exotic locales and nods to the franchise’s rich history, but he also layers in “a pervading sense of mortality that makes the falling bodies register a little longer than they sometimes do in a Bond movie.”

Dargis also gives high marks to the cast, “including an exceptional, wittily venal Javier Bardem, a sleek Ralph Fiennes and a likable Ben Whishaw.”

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times praises “Skyfall” as “one of the best Bonds ever … a full-blooded, joyous, intelligent celebration of a beloved cultural icon.” An unexpected surprise is that “‘Skyfall’ at last provides a role worthy of Judi Dench, one of the best actors of her generation.” Playing Bond’s boss, M, Dench “is all but the co-star of the film, with a lot of screen time, poignant dialogue, and a character who is far more complex and sympathetic than we expect in this series.” Ebert adds, “If you haven’t seen a 007 for years, this is the time to jump back in.”

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Variety’s Peter Debruge and the Hollywood Reporter’s Todd McCarthy also offer positive reviews. Debruge writes that “Skyfall” is “refreshingly unlike the first 20 Bond installments and yet completely of a piece with the franchise’s core values.” McCarthy calls the film “the most significant reset of the 23-film series that’s unconnected to a change of the actor playing 007" and adds that it “feels more seriously connected to real-world concerns than any previous entry, despite the usual outlandish action scenes, glittering settings and larger-than-life characters.”

Among those less taken with the film is Karina Longworth of the LA Weekly, who writes that “‘Skyfall’s’ fatal misstep is its slavish hewing to event-movie trends.” The film treats Bond rather like a superhero, Longworth says, providing its hero with an origin story (as in “Batman Begins” and “The Amazing Spider-Man”) and seeming “to exist primarily to set up the events of subsequent films.”

Given “Skyfall’s” warm welcome, those subsequent films can’t be too far behind.



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