In this 50th year of the James Bond series, with the dismal "Quantum of Solace" (2008) still in our minds, "Skyfall" triumphantly reinvents 007 in one of the best Bonds ever. This is a full-blooded, joyous, intelligent celebration of a beloved cultural icon, with Daniel Craig taking full possession of a role he earlier played well in "Casino Royale," not so well in "Quantum" -- although it may not have been entirely his fault. Or is it just that he's growing on me? I don't know what I expected. I don't know what I expected in Bond No. 23, but certainly not an experience this invigorating.
The movie's innovations begin in its first shots, which abandon the familiar stalking silhouettes in the iris lens, and hit the ground running. Bond and another agent are in Istanbul, chasing a man who has stolen a crucial hard drive, and after a chase through city streets (involving no less than three Fruit Cart Scenes), 007 is running on top of a train. We know from earlier films that Bond can operate almost anything, but "Skyfall" incredibly has him commandeer of a giant Caterpillar and continue the chase by crushing a flatcar filled with VW Beetles.
It's the kind of absurd stunt we expect in a Bond movie, but this one relies on something unexpected: a dead-serious M (Judi Dench), following the action from MI6 in London and making a fateful decision. After an enemy agent grabs Bond as a human shield, M's other agent, Eve (Naomie Harris), has both men in her gun sights. The stakes are very high. "Take the shot!" M commands. Bond seems to die, although since this happens around the 20-minute mark, we're not very surprised that he doesn't.
M begins to compose the obituary of Commander James Bond, and she might as well also be writing her own. Time has passed her by, she's older, and her new boss, Mallory (Ralph Fiennes), convenes a public (!) hearing requiring her to defend her tenure. It's time for a generation to be put out to pasture. Even Q and, as it turns out, Miss Moneypenny are practically kids.