November 7, 2012

007 Returns for a Riveting Roller Coaster Ride

THE BUCK STOPS HERE: The head of MI6 (Judi Dench) accepts full responsibility for the apparent death of Agent 007, aka James Bond (Daniel Craig, not shown), but refuses to step down from her post. Of course, her stubbornness is vindicated when Bond resurfaces alive and well and proceeds to track down the maniacal madman (played by Javier Bardem, not shown) and put an end to his attempts at world domination.

Each new James Bond film is destined to be compared to all the prior movies in the enduring series. Directed by Academy Award-winner Sam Mendes (for American Beauty), Skyfall earns high grades because it pales in the eyes of this critic only in relation to the standard-setting classic films that starred Sean Connery as 007.

Daniel Craig returns for a third episode of savoir faire and derring-do as the legendary British secret agent with “a license to kill” and matches wits with a maniacal madman played by Oscar-winner Javier Bardem (for No Country for Old Men). Besides the obligatory villain bent on world domination, this 007 adventure arrives complete with trademarks such as witty repartee, a bevy of Bond girls (most notably Naomie Harris and Berenice Marlohe), exotic locales, and a memorable title song (by Adele) that oozes the required combination of danger and sensuality.

The movie wastes little time launching into high gear, opening with a daredevil motorcycle chase across roofs high above Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar, that leads to an even more eye-popping stunt atop a careening freight train approaching the proverbial mountain tunnel. The incident ends with a breathtaking plunge into a river that apparently claims Bond’s life.

Back at MI6 headquarters, responsibility for the tragedy is ultimately placed squarely on the shoulders of M (Dame Judi Dench). However, she refuses to turn in her resignation when called to account by her boss (Ralph Fiennes).

Of course, 007 isn’t really dead, and he soon resurfaces to embark, with M’s blessing, on a revenge-fueled, name-clearing, international manhunt with ports-of-call in Macau and Shanghai that ends in a spectacular showdown on an ancestral family estate in Scotland. What makes the roller coaster ride so much fun is a plethora of surprising plot twists.

Brace yourself for the best Bond picture in ages, thanks to Daniel Craig’s coming of age to make the role his own.

Excellent (****). Rated PG-13 for profanity, sexuality, smoking, violence, and intense action sequences. Running time: 143 minutes. Studio: Columbia Pictures.