WE'RE ALL IN LOVE with James Bond again. Maybe it's because we nearly lost him when MGM virtually went bankrupt in 2010. Or perhaps it's due to the general global unease of the day, when there's something pretty appealing about a hero without superpowers. Maybe, and most likely, it's because Daniel Craig has now fully assumed the mantle, with his grim, tightlipped, almost thuggish 007 a worthy reinvention of Ian Fleming's character. (The phenomenal sky-jumping publicity stunt at the Summer Olympics surely didn't hurt.) For whatever reason, Skyfall—the 23rd "official" Bond film—is the most anticipated in decades, and for the most part it doesn't disappoint, although it isn't as thrilling as 2006's Casino Royale.
In a solid pre-titles sequence, Bond chases a stolen hard drive containing the names of embedded agents through the streets of Istanbul. He's mistakenly gunned down by fellow MI6 operative Eve (Naomie Harris), who's under orders from M (Dame Judi Dench) to take the shot. Believed dead, Bond spends the early stages of Skyfall hiding out in the tropics, drunk, unshaven, and resentful. It's fun to see 007 so unhinged, and just as great to see him whip himself back into fighting shape once he reports for duty. Bond goes to Shanghai, then Macau, but most of the action in Skyfall takes place in the UK, including a lengthy sequence in the London Underground and a protracted, somewhat sluggish climax on the Scottish moors.
This means the typical exotic settings are pushed aside for gray, gloomy Blighty—Skyfall could be the dourest picture in the franchise's history. Gadgets are summarily dismissed, and the customary harem of Bond girls is reduced to the lone Sévérine (Bérénice Marlohe, who's plenty). As such, it's the preposterous, over-the-top villain—a creepily blond Javier Bardem—that remains the only touchstone from the established Bond formula. Bardem's hilarious and fantastic, and a welcome relief from doddering ol' Dame Dench, who's in this movie an awful lot.
A big chunk of Ian Fleming's backstory for Bond (revealed in the novel You Only Live Twice) becomes a plot point for Skyfall, but for the most part, the film is intent on stepping out of the shadow of 007's immense legacy. That means Skyfall lacks the series' typically giddy charm, but there's enough cold-blooded intrigue to replace it. And it means Bond isn't finished evolving. Here's to a long, action-packed future.