After three films with Daniel Craig as James Bond, it feels as though we are finally getting back to the original formula. When Craig took over the role in Casino Royale, the series more or less rebooted. We see Bond earn his license to kill. This film presented us with a much more muscular and serious character than we have ever had before. The witty banter was there, but a hardness was added that was delicious for long time fans of the franchise. Quantum of Solace was a rushed job with a very weak plot, serving only to keep the interest going.
Skyfall might be the best executed Bond film in the entire catalog. It begins with a chase scene as always. Bond is hot on the heels of a stolen hard drive. He chases the thief and killer by car, motorcycle, and then across the top of a moving train. At the end of this exquisite action sequence, Bond is apparently shot of the top off the train by one of his own team. The point of all this is to give Bond the chance to die and return, an echo of the second finest Connery film: You Only Live Twice.
It is almost a sacrilege among 007 fans to suggest that any subsequent actor can surpass Sean Connery. I plead guilty. Much as I admire Connery's Bond, his character studiously avoided seriousness. Daniel Craig's is a serious interpretation of the primordial hero. He is loyal to Queen and Country, to be sure; but that loyalty is subservient to his heroic persona rather than the other way around. Bond is indispensable because he is loyal first and foremost to the idea of James Bond.
In Skyfall, we get, I think, the first hints of Bond's tragic past. This fits in nicely with the plot line, which builds on M's past. The incomparable Judi Dench took over the role of M, Bond's spymaster boss, in Golden Eye (1995). Prior to that, M was a minor part always played by some descent British character actor. Dench pushed out into real presence in the canon. In the current film, she is the center of the plot.
We also get a new reworking of a standard character, Q, the quartermaster techy. In the Connery films, Q was played by the marvelous Desmond Llewelyn. His Q was a throwback to the WWII era, the older guy who handed you a rifle and told you not to get it dirty when you were about to parachute into a swamp. The new Q (Ben Whishaw) is the younger guy who texts while asleep and tells you to return the equipment in working order. I have a suspicion Whishaw's casting is due to his resemblance to Benedict Cumberbatch, the star of PBS's Sherlock. When he hands Bond his new gun, a Walther PPK short, coded for your palm print so no one else can fire it, he remarks that it is not so much a random killing machine as a personal statement. Bond liked this Q just fine, and so do I.
Skyfall is not yet as good as a Bond film could be, but it is close. There is a surprising amount of just talking, with very good dialogue. The acting, the script, and the settings were very finely wrought. The score was luscious, with echoes of the great John Barry compositions that made the Connery films so memorable. The great Bond musical themes were used a bit sparingly for my tastes, but very effectively. Some choice Bond motifs were sprinkled in here in there, including the shot that always prefaced earlier films: Bond walking out and shooting into a circle that filled with blood. This movie went out of its way to promise more. I can't wait.