Daniel Craig takes his third turn at playing 007 in the new "Skyfall" (a Bond movie title that actually makes sense). The stunts have gotten bigger and Craig's the latest to play super spy Bond, James Bond, but in the end, the formula for these high-octane espionage movies hasn't changed in a half-century.
The films have a white-knuckle opening action sequence, a sexy credits montage, a world-threatening event, beautiful locations, cool gadgets, the exotic Bond woman and a superb villain. "Skyfall" has five of the seven.
"Skyfall" kicks off in glorious fashion with a physics-defying roof and train top chase scene. Craig's already established his Bond as a more blue collar version of 007, and the chase scene has the brute physicality that he brings to the role.
The scene seamlessly slips into the opening montage played out against the "Skyfall" theme sung in haunting fashion by Adele. It's the best Bond tune since Duran Duran's "A View to a Kill" in 1985.
Bond always gets the biggest missions and this one's no different. It's not the world that's in danger but this challenge hits closer to home as MI6 has come under attack. Bond must stop the mysterious Silva (Javier Bardem) before he destroys the British spy agency.
This all plays out on a world map taking Bond from the ultra-modern but mysterious East to the Scottish moors. The locations are shot by director Sam Mendes ("American Beauty") in such a dazzling way the cities and landscapes almost look too beautiful to be true.
"Skyfall" loses a few points for skimping on cool gadgets. A shift from exploding pens and watches that do everything but tell time was inevitable with this grittier Bond. The point's driven home by the new Q (Ben Whishaw) when he arms Bond with a gun and radio transmitter for his mission. Mendes balances this shift with a nod to one of the most classic Bond gadgets of all time.
The film's biggest problems are the Bond love interest and the villain.
Bond's been able to grapple with some memorable co-stars going back to Ursula Andress in "Dr. No." In contrast, French actress Bérénice Marlohe's Sévérine is forgettable here, generating no sparks with the super spy. And fellow agent, Eve (Naomie Harris), isn't around long enough for any sexual energy to emerge.
The best Bond bad guys have been totally maniacal like Blofeld in "You Only Live Twice" or seriously sinister like Dominic Greene in "Quantum of Solace." Bardem's Silva is somewhere in the middle. There are glimpses of insanity and touches of evil but Bardem's performance never embraces either enough to put him on the Bond 10 Most Wanted list.
Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and John Logan have written one of the most understandable Bond scripts, given that some of the movies have lost focus. They also have created a story with some nice connections to the past. There's at least one major shocker to make "Skyfall" a beautiful gift to fans for the film franchise's 50th anniversary.
"Skyfall" opens at IMAX Nov. 8 and in theaters Nov. 9.
"Skyfall": rated PG-13 for language, violence, sexual situations. Stars Daniel Craig, Javier Bardem. Directed by Sam Mendes. Running time: 2 hours, 23 minutes. Grade: B+ | Theaters and times for this movie | Other movie reviews
TV and movie critic Rick Bentley can be reached at (559) 441-6355, firstname.lastname@example.org or @RickBentley1 on Twitter. Read his blog at fresnobeehive.com.