Forgetting “Quantum of Solace” ever existed, the latest James Bond reinvention arrives as a full-bodied piece of rousing entertainment that’s even better than Martin Campbell’s original reboot of the franchise with 2006’s “Casino Royale.” First off, Daniel Craig (reprising his Bond role for a third time) looks more confident and assured than ever. Less bulky, more lean, looking haggard but still handsome and with a newly added sly sense of humor, the actor portrays 007 as less brooding and more finessed. Director Sam Mendes, whose most recent outing was the small indie comedy “Away We Go,” has worked with Craig on “Road to Perdition” and proves the perfect man for the job. And coupled with a talented trio of writers — Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and John Logan — “Skyfall” excites from the start hitting the ground running with a breathless opening action sequence.
The elaborate chase takes us to the first of the film’s exotic locations: Istanbul. Bond and a fellow agent, Eve (Naomie Harris), are in a pursuit that takes Bond on top of a moving train with Eve watching closely. Monitoring remotely from MI6 in London is the severe-looking M (Judi Dench); as Bond gets into a wrestling match with the enemy in pursuit, Eve announces she can take a shot to take the enemy down. It’s a risky shot, but a shot nonetheless. M makes a judgement call (“Take the shot!”) that sends Bond plummeting to the rushing water below.
Brilliantly choreographed action like the above is sprinkled throughout the duration of “Skyfall” taking us to Shanghai and a mysterious island that houses the film’s best Bond villain in years. Played effortlessly by Javier Bardem, Silva is all the more terrifying in his theatricality with flamboyant dress, cat-like eyes and bleach blonde hair. A playful and perversely sexual exchange between Silva and Bond is inspired. No stranger to sinister roles having embodied Anton Chigurh in “No Country for Old Men,” Bardem plays Silva as the face of cyber terrorism. He’s a computer whiz who can spark chaos with one key stroke and the newest threat to MI6 even if only M and her agents realize it yet.
There’s a Bond girl (Berenice Marlohe), but just barely. Perhaps it’s because Eve’s real name is Miss Moneypenny — hint, hint. Instead, the emphasis is on the complicated relationship between Bond and M, a storyline thread that takes them to Bond’s origin: an old Scottish mansion fittingly named Skyfall and inhabited by a man named Kincade (Albert Finney) who raised the young James. This brand new Bond comes just in time for the series’ 50th anniversary, and it both invigorates the modern and commemorates the past. M is past her years, and there’s a new boss in position, Mallory (Ralph Fiennes). When Bond is debriefed on a mission from a much younger Q (Ben Whishaw), the only gadgetry he receives is a palm-recognizing pistol and radio transmitter. And yet when the original Aston Martin from “Goldfinger” is unveiled, it’s a blast of pure nostalgia for fans.
Adele’s gorgeous theme reverberates throughout “Skyfall” with the classic Bond theme trumpeting in later on, and the whole thrill ride is accented with a touch of artfulness from Roger Deakins whose keen cinematography deserves awards consideration. And speaking of awards, if never in its 22-film history has a Bond film been nominated for an Oscar, the 23rd entry in the prolific franchise is a better time than ever.