Daniel Craig is back as James Bond 007 in SKYFALL, the 23rd installment of the longest-running film franchise in history. In SKYFALL, Bond's loyalty to M (Judi Dench) is tested as her past returns to haunt her. 007 must track down and destroy the threat, no matter how personal the cost. When Bond's latest assignment goes gravely wrong and agents around the world are exposed, MI6 is attacked forcing M to relocate the agency. These events cause her authority and position to be challenged by Mallory (Ralph Fiennes), the new Chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee. With MI6 now compromised from both inside and out, M is left with one ally she can trust: Bond. 007 takes to the shadows - aided only by field agent Eve (Naomie Harris) - following a trail to the mysterious Silva (Javier Bardem), whose lethal and hidden motives have yet to reveal themselves.
For longtime viewers of the James Bond films, one of the larger pleasures of the series--aside from the eternally awesome jetpacks and ejector seats--has been watching it adapt itself to the times, scooting its unflappable central character past the Cold War to the Disco Age to beyond the Millennium seemingly without breaking a sweat. Skyfall
, Daniel Craig's third turn in the tux, lands itself firmly in the utmost tier of the franchise, delivering the expected goods as well as a rather unusual vein of introspection. Celebrating the 50th year of Bond's existence, it continues cultivating the gritty, back-to-basics vibe of Casino Royale
, while also slowly letting some of the more fancifully escapist elements in through the filters. Kicking off with a humdinger of a car/bike/train chase in Istanbul, the plot finds an aging 007 on uneasy footing, struggling to get back in the game while his boss M (a magnificent Judi Dench) is marked for death by a mysterious assassin. As Bond draws closer to his target (Javier Bardem, having an absolute blast), he uncovers some details that draw uncomfortably close to his own origins. Director Sam Mendes, an Oscar winner for American Beauty
, ably brings his game to the blockbuster level, keeping the globe-hopping narrative moving at a swift pace while also allowing plenty of room for the cast (including newcomers Ralph Fiennes and Naomie Harris) to do their thing. For all of the talent assembled on both sides of the camera, however, Skyfall
's true MVP proves to be director of photography Roger Deakins, who gives an astonishingly ravishing look to the proceedings, culminating in a battle in a Shanghai skyscraper that may very well be the best fight scene the series has ever had. By the time of the surprisingly moving finale, set in a location far, far away from the standard Evil Lair, Mendes and Craig and Co. have reminded the viewer of exactly what these films can do. Where it ends is a perfect beginning. Extras on the disc include a wry and informative director's track, a more laid-back commentary from the producers and production designer, and an exhaustively detailed look behind the scenes. If you want to learn more about Bardem's wig, that information is available. --Andrew Wright