If you can forget the putrid follow-up to Casino Royale that was Quantum of Solace, then Skyfall continues James Bond’s backstory with staggering style and assurance. This is Bond like you’ve never seen him, almost Freudian in his vulnerability. And a dynamite Daniel Craig, never better in the role, nails Bond’s ferocity and feeling. Mortality lurks in the shadows as Craig digs deep into Bond’s past. Citizen Kane had his Rosebud. Bond has his Skyfall. What is it? I’ll never tell. Don’t expect hints in Adele’s beauty of a title song. Even Javier Bardem’s dangerously thrilling baddie, Silva, has real-world issues. Ben Whishaw is wily fun as a young Q with his own take on gadgets. And Judi Dench, magisterial and magnificent as M, Bond’s boss, lets go with the emotional heat she withheld in the Pierce Brosnan films. Bond cries. You might, too. This time it really is personal.
Sam Mendes (American Beauty), the first Oscar winner to direct a 007, teams with cinematographer Roger Deakins (No Country for Old Men) to create images so gorgeous you’ll want to lick the screen. The stunts are aces (check that train shootout in Istanbul that renders 007 unfit for duty), the mission intriguing (find a hard drive containing a list of NATO agents infiltrating global terrorist groups), the acting beyond the call of 007 duty (props to Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris and Albert Finney as characters too juicy to reveal).
But what makes Skyfall top off as Bond at his best is the way Mendes and screenwriters Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and John Logan use England itself – past, present and uncertain future – to remind us where Bond has been and where he’s going. You’ll want to be there. Skyfall is smashing, just smashing.