Shaky, Not Stirring: Daniel Craig explores Bond’s damaged soul in 'Skyfall'

Skyfall, the 23rd James Bond film and the third starring Daniel Craig, opened in the United States on Nov. 8 after already storming the box office worldwide. It earned $156 million in its first three days alone.

The premise of the film, directed by Sam Mendes and written by John Logan, Robert Wade and Neal Purvis, is familiar: A list of British secret agents is stolen, and the thief, a former company man himself, attempts to use the information to wreak revenge on his former unit for its wrongs.

Though Craig’s first Bond film, “Casino Royale” (2006), was set in the early days of the character’s history, in a strange way “Skyfall” is another Bond origin story. Fans have long complained that the Craig films have lacked many of the unique charms—the gadgets, the quips, the cast of characters—that we expect in a Bond film.

These fans will gripe no more. By the time “Skyfall” ends, almost every element they’ve missed has been re-established, some hidden in plain sight until the very end.

The problem is, many of these elements simply do not fit Daniel Craig’s Bond. His is not a Bond who quips easily, or at all; he is a damaged soul filled with silent fury. Craig mouths the zingers sprinkled left and right throughout the “Skyfall” script, but for the most part they land as colorless as cellophane.

Judi Dench has done so much with so little in her prior ventures in the role of M, director of MI6 and Bond’s handler. Here her character is given a much meatier role, and she delivers a strong, multifaceted performance that expands M’s relationship with Bond both believably and unexpectedly.

The title sequence, sung by the British soulstress Adele, is as wild and lush as any Bond film has produced. The film also features some extraordinary action sequences. The opening chase through a Turkish city would be the big finish for most action films. Another early sequence, on an abandoned upper floor of a building in Shanghai, neon filaments floating beyond the glass, is as stunning visually as anything likely to appear in an action film this year.

Having said that, latter sequences have a difficult time living up to the first hour’s promise. Javier Bardem, as Raoul Silva, a dark twin of James Bond, carries a great deal of the film with his funny, subversive, psychotic performance. But much of the chaos he creates—a chase through subways, an attack upon an isolated mansion—is nothing new for an action film or even a television series. And the final sequence, which takes us to Bond’s childhood home, is more than a little preposterous.

Some (many) will say, of course it’s preposterous; it’s Bond! But after working so hard in the last two films to build the character up from scratch into a gritty, hard-scrabble realism, to now accept some of the flights of fancy in “Skyfall” is a bit like accepting Elvis as he slides into his first leisure suit. You try to look past it, but you can’t help worrying.

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