There's never been another film series like that of fictional secret agent James Bond, at least in terms of sheer numbers and longevity. Twelve Bond novels and two short-story collections written by British author Ian Fleming in the 1950s and early '60s have inspired 23 feature films over 50 years from the small Eon Productions studio, plus two additional movies produced elsewhere. There's no question Bond has had his ups and downs — especially in recent times — leading to understandably low expectations among legions of 007 fans. Gadgets, girls, wry humor, exotic locales, splashy villains — can it really be so hard to make a good Bond movie?
You wouldn't think so after seeing Skyfall, the most enjoyable Bond film in decades and one of the strongest entries in the entire Bond series. Still controlled by the heirs of co-founder Albert Broccoli, Eon Productions hasn't always been known for hiring visionary filmmakers likely to put a personal stamp on its uniquely lucrative franchise. But help for Skyfall arrived in the form of director Sam Mendes (American Beauty) and co-writer John Logan, author of the recent Broadway smash Red and films like Gladiator and Martin Scorsese's Hugo. They bring together all the familiar Bond elements in support of a solid, straightforward spy story, and they nail the elusive tone of classic Bond while bringing it squarely into the world of the present day.
The past haunts Skyfall like a noontime shadow. The story begins with a failure by Bond (Daniel Craig) and his boss M (Judi Dench) to prevent a list of agents embedded in terrorist organizations across the globe from falling into the wrong hands, with predictably lethal results. All that follows is directly tied to Bond's and M's lengthy personal histories with British spy agency MI6. Can they adapt to a world in which gadgetry is no match for computer hackers?
Their characters' late-career troubles set the stage for Craig (in his third film as Bond) and Dench (her seventh film as M) to bring real flesh and blood to the proceedings. And then there's Javier Bardem. It should come as no surprise that he makes an ideal Bond villain given his flamboyantly evil turn in the Coen brothers film No Country for Old Men. Bardem makes an impossibly grand and elegant entrance almost halfway through Skyfall, and it's enough to make you want to watch the entire movie again.
Skyfall turns its frequent implausibilities into simple pleasures in the manner of all the best Bond films. A 12-minute opening sequence reportedly took two months to shoot and includes a stunt so preposterous, it made at least one local movie critic laugh out loud at a recent screening. But that's exactly what you want from Bond, especially on the occasion of his 50th anniversary on film. – KEN KORMAN