Skyfall ***

Is it worth $10? Yes

Slowly but surely, he’s once again becoming the Bond, James Bond we grew up with and dearly missed.

Though the last film in the franchise, “Quantum Of Solace” (2008), was a disappointment, Bond is back on solid ground in “Skyfall,” an exciting, top-notch action pic that reminds us how much fun a Bond movie can be. That said, it’s not perfect – at 143 minutes it’s easily 20 minutes too long, and it’s a mistake to wait 70 minutes before we get Javier Bardem’s deliciously nasty villain.

Still, much of “Skyfall” works because the story is smart and tense. After Bond (Daniel Craig) and fellow secret agent Eve (Naomie Harris) fail to retrieve a list of undercover agents from an assassin named Patrice (Ola Rapace), the new head of British intelligence, Mallory (Ralph Fiennes), asks M (Judi Dench) to retire. Then there’s a lull for a half hour as Bond trains to be reinstated, after which M sends him to Shanghai, where he eyes hottie Bond girl Severine (Berenice Marlohe). Bond then follows Severine to Macau, where she leads him to Silva (Bardem), a cyber terrorist who has a long history with M. All of this takes far too long to happen, but the wait is worth it as the second half of director Sam Mendes’ (“American Beauty”) film has very few flaws.

And why wouldn’t you get to Bardem sooner? He’s one of the finest actors working today, and the last time he played a villain he won an Oscar (for “No Country For Old Men”). Here he plays one of the juiciest Bond villains in recent memory; note the creepy sounds he makes, and how he gazes into Craig’s eyes during their first scene together. There are homoerotic overtones, and it’s not a mistake.

Mendes, heretofore a director of dramas, handles the action well enough, and he benefits from a smart script that’s full of Bond-isms that loyal franchise fans will appreciate. We also get the return of Q (Ben Whishaw) and other characters and traditions we’ve been waiting for since the franchise restarted with “Casino Royale” in 2006.

Now, if you’re one of those people who complain about the ridiculousness of Bond movies, go away. This isn’t real life, and it’s not trying to be. So during the opening sequence when, while atop a train, the bad guy is shooting at Bond while Bond sits inside a train-bound excavator, we should not be surprised when the bad guy decides to turn and run just as Bond exposes himself for an open shot. That’s what happens in these movies, and it’s what makes them fun. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: The appeal of Bond is that he’s pure male fantasy – women want him and men want to be him. Especially when he has the radiant blue eyes and the handsomeness of Daniel Craig.

When I interviewed Craig four years ago as “Quantum” was released, he said he was excited about the future of the series because they’d earned the right to bring back the things Bond fans know and love. With “Skyfall,” they have succeeded.

Did you know?
Though he had no right to do so, Craig offered Mendes the directing job while at a party in New York City. Thankfully the producers agreed Mendes was a good fit!

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