Agent 007 isn’t getting any younger.
The new James Bond outing, “Skyfall,” is all too aware of this, even pointing it out. The actor who plays him, Daniel Craig, is 44, after all. But you couldn’t tell. He’s as fit, fierce and agile as ever.
And if there were doubts that the Bond/spy premise is getting stale after all these years, “Skyfall” is anything but. Rather, it’s an entertaining, exciting return to the classic actioners of years gone by, with good old-fashioned stunt work that’s edge-of-your-seat thrilling and dazzling chase scenes.
It’s all updated with a modern sleekness by Oscar-winning director Sam Mendes (“American Beauty”), who keeps the pace swift. He’s certainly crafted one of the best Bond films to date.
“Skyfall” jumps right into action, as Bond chases a bad guy through crowded streets. This bad guy has stolen a computer that has the identity of all NATO secret agents, so it’s imperative that it be recovered.
But as Bond wrestles with the bad guy on top of a bulleting train, a colleague agent is pointing a gun at them. She can’t get a clear shot of the bad guy. But as time is running out, agency leader M (ever-great Judi Dench) orders her to shoot. She misses the bad guy and hits Bond instead, who plummets to a lake beneath them.
Everyone at MI6, the British intelligence agency where Bond works, thinks he is dead. M even writes his obituary.
The botched mission endangers MI6’s stature — and existence. The new chairman of intelligence and security, Gareth Mallory (Ralph Fiennes), is none-too-happy about it, telling M that she is due for retirement.
“You’re firing me,” she says matter-of-factly.
But she won’t have it, refusing to step down until she makes the situation right and captures the thieves who now have all their identities.
Meanwhile, Bond is living it up as a dead guy, partying on the beach, bedding beautiful women and generally enjoying his non-existence.
Even though he feels betrayed by MI6 and particularly M, he returns to London when MI6’s operations are bombed.
From there, clues are unraveled about the thieves, who now vow to reveal the identities of five agents every week, putting them in grave danger. Bond is sent back into the field to track them down, even though his spy abilities are rusty.
The story overall is thickly plotted but not hard to follow. It’s refreshing that the film is as interested in the action scenes as what happens between them.
Grounding it all, though, are fine performances, especially a deliciously villainous turn by Javier Bardem, no stranger to playing bad guys (he won an Oscar for “No Country for Old Men”). When was the last time you admired an action film for its acting?
It’s certainly emotionally charged, with a dark, melancholy subtext here about how everyone’s past comes back to haunt them. M particularly grapples with this, and it becomes a focal point of the story.
Craig wins the title as coolest Bond ever (even cooler than Sean Connery). He gives Bond an emotional edge, making him a complex human, not just a suave stud.
He also makes Bond lightning-quick smart — we see his thoughts jolt around in his head as he plans his next move.
We also get a deeper understanding of Bond here, a few things about his childhood are revealed that might explain his inability to be really emotionally connected to anyone.
Other than M, that is. And their relationship here is explored as more than boss and employee, but of mother figure and loyal son.
The film’s ending is explosive — literally. And hints at things to come in the next 007 adventure.
Here’s hoping it’s as good as “Skyfall.” Because as we’re finding out, Bond is only getting better with age.