The Daniel Craig movies have really injected new life into the James Bond franchise, but "Skyfall" is possibly one of the best Bond movies EVER.
This movie is not just a brilliant Bond movie, or a brilliant spy thriller, but a brilliant movie in general -- beautifully filmed, combining the old-school James Bond formula with a very 21st-century brand of terrorism. But what truly elevates this beautiful movie is Sam Mendes' focus on both Bond and M, and the terrible costs of living their lives.
A hard drive containing information on double agents is stolen in Istanbul, and Bond (Daniel Craig) nearly manages to get it back. But he's accidentally shot by Eve Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) and presumed dead. He's not dead, obviously -- but he uses this as a chance to retire to a tropical island.
But then MI6 is hacked by a cyberterrorist, and their headquarters is blown up. Bond reappears in London to offer his services to his country again, but he's obviously not fit for duty -- physically or psychologically. Despite this, M (Judi Dench) sends him back out to find the cyberterrorists before more agents are killed.
The trail leads him to Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem), a former agent who specializes in cyberterrorism. He blames M for his torture and mutilation, and is determined to destroy her career before killing her. Even capturing Silva isn't enough to stop him, and soon Bond must flee London with M to make a final stand against Silva.
If there is a underlying question to "Skyfall," it is this: Does an old-fashioned agent like James Bond belong in a world of cyberterrorism and individual extremism? Well, yes. The nature of conflict, evil and cruelty will never change, only the media through which they are spread. It's expressed in a lovely speech by M, which seems to say, "So what if it's the age of Bourne and Fast & Furious? Bond is timeless."
But Sam Mendes does sow some seeds of doubt about the "old guard" -- M is coming to the end of her tenure, and Bond is beginning to crumble from the physical and mental damage he's taken over the years.
Mendes' direction is truly spellbinding. The action is gritty and often brutal, but set against backdrops of breathtaking beauty -- a nighttime apartment lit by glowing jellyfish, Bond drifting on a boat surrounded by luminous paper lanterns, and the creaky polished beauty of Skyfall itself. But he never lets us forget the brutality of the villain's ways, such as when the token Bond girl is brutally shot in the head.
The movie also takes the chance to dip into the relationship between M and Bond. They have an untrusting, almost antagonistic relationship, with Bond knowing he cannot truly trust M, but also knowing that she does what must be done. And as he encounters Silva, Bond begins to see the creature he could choose to become, but his essential decency holds him back.
Craig and Dench rule this movie, and both of them are blisteringly good -- they give stoic performances with strong emotions roiling under the surface. Craig's performance is particularly brilliant -- this is a Bond aching and riddled with scars, but he still has the strength he needs. He also has some deliciously sensual scenes with Naomie Harris. Shaving never looked so hot.
But who can forget Javier Bardem? He also gives a glorious performance as Silva, a flamboyant cyberterrorist who hides his hate under a perpetually laughing face. Only when confronted by the woman he wants to kill does he show his true rage.
"Skyfall" is not just a brilliant James Bond movie, but a brilliant movie -- in action, in writing, in direction and in character. The next Bond movie will have a tough act to follow.