© 2012 Ray Wong

After 50 years and six lead actors, how do you manage to make an old franchise fresh and exciting again? Four years after the lackluster Quantum of Solace, audiences around the world begin to question if there is still life in James Bond, especially with Daniel Craig in the iconic role. Fortunately for us, Craig's third outing as Bond proves to be his best, yet.

Skyfall opens in Istanbul, with Bond (Daniel Craig) in hot pursuit of an assassin who has stolen an encrypted hard drive containing a list of MI6 field agents' identities. The highly sensitive information will completely destroy MI6 and their operations if it gets out, and M (Judi Dench) is determined to secure that list. She makes a fateful decision that almost gets Bond killed, and in the process she loses the list.

A few months later, a terrorist attack on MI6 headquarters in London jolts M to realize that their security has been compromised. More important, the terrorist has a personal axe to grind with M. Bond reemerges from his "death" to pursue the man behind the curtains, which leads him in a wild goose chase through the streets of Shanghai, Macau and back to London. Eventually, he tracks down the terrorist, Silva (Javier Bardem), who used to be an MI6 agent.

Silva tries to convince Bond to join him in his crusade. He rationalizes with Bond how silly they would work for their country when someone like M could give an order to get them killed without blinking an eye. Instead, Silva can do whatever he wants with what he knows and what he can do. Bond's moral compass is shaken when he questions his own mortality and loyalty. More important, he starts to questions M's trust and his own patriotism.

Daniel Craig (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) has both hardened and softened as Bond in his third and most demanding film as James Bond. Physically, Craig is commanding and extremely convincing as the suave but brutal agent. And yet he allows us to continue to peel off another layer and see into Bond's soul and sentimentality. Through Craig, whose steely eyes are as lethal as they are sensitive, we get to see a softer and human side of the world's most famous super spy.

Judi Dench (The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel) reprises her pivotal role as M with similarly steely and yet sensitive quality. At the beginning of the movie we get to see M's brutal and apparently insensitive side (just to get the job done). But as the movie clips along, we realizes M cares too much, and her character unravels before our eyes, and that makes her a vulnerable character. Ralph Fiennes (Wrath of the Titans) does a good job as M's boss, Gareth Mallory -- his character doesn't have a whole lot to do here, but we figure he will be featured more prominently in future films.

As the baddie, Javier Bardem (Eat Pray Love) is creepy, frightening, and yet hilarious at the same time. How this actor can appear so charging and handsome in one film (Eat Pray Love) and hideously creepy in another is a testament of his acting prowess. There is one homoerotic scene between him and Craig that is laugh-out-loud funny, bizarre, and creepy at the same time. Kudos to both actors to playfully pull that off.

Albert Finney (Big Fish) makes a much-appreciated appearance as Bond's old friend Kincade. Ben Whishaw (Cloud Atlas) is an interesting choice for a new Q. The Bond girls have surprisingly meatier roles. Naomie Harris (Miami Vice) sparkles as fellow MI6 agent Eve, and French actress Berenice Marlohe puts in some good work as the complex Severene.

The screenplay by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, and John Logan is surprising streamlined and straightforward. This has, by far, one of the easiest-to-follow plot in any Bond films. Don't get me wrong; it still has all the requisite elements of a good Bond film: the structure, the thrills, the actions, the steamy Bond sex. But I am impressed with the character development. I'm also impressed that they choose to turn the story personal, especially in the third act when Bond returns to his childhood home. His history is slowly revealed but there is still so much we don't know about James Bond, and he's not one to divulge. Nicely done.

Director Sam Mendes (American Beauty) adds a rare prestige to the production. It may seem strange for an Oscar-winning director well known for his dramas to direct a Bond film, but it works beautifully. Mendes manages to stay within the Bond formula but also expand on it, making it personal, character-driven, and relevant at the same time. But what's a Bond film without cars, chases, gadgets and actions? The action sequences are incredible; we can only marvel at the inventiveness especially after 50 years of Bond action. The images are stunning, and the actions are easy to follow (none of that convoluted close-ups and shaky cams) and thrilling. The sequences in Asia are spectacular.

And then Sam Mendes does something incredible. Amongst all that mayhem and destructions and thrilling actions, he manages to make us care deeply about the characters. In particular, the relationship between M and Bond is complex, at times humorous, and subtly and nicely explored. Well done.

Skyfall is one of the best Bond films I have seen… in all of its 50 years' history. Add to that we also have one of the best Bond songs in recent memory, courtesy of Adele. The perfect storm and the outrageously talented people have finally given us a Bond film that is worthy of all the praises and may one day become a true classic.

Stars: Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Javier Bardem, Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris, Berenice Marlohe, Albert Finney, Ben Whishaw, Rory Kinnear
Director: Sam Mendes
Writers: Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, John Logan
Distributor: Columbia
MPAA Rating:  PG-13 for intense violent sequences, some sexuality, language and smoking
Running Time: 143 minutes 


Script - 7
Performance - 8
Direction - 8
Cinematography - 9
Music/Sound - 8
Editing - 8
Production - 9

Total - 8.0 out of 10.0 

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