Skyfall ★★★★½

Skyfall gives Casino Royale a run for its money as the best Bond film of the Daniel Craig era. Where Casino Royale is a gritty Bond origin story, Skyfall takes that same grittiness, character depth, and world building and adds the final iconic elements of a Bond movie -- the return of the gadgety Aston Martin and classic one-liners (although for once the best ones come from Q and M).

The common element of greatness between the two is how engrossing the stories are. Bond movies have always been formulaic -- a memorable Bond girl and a quirky villain set in exotic international locations. But the storylines are typically superficial and overly complex -- filler until an action sequence or some other James Bondery takes place.

Whereas the storyline of Casino Royale is essentially a romance, the drama that ties Skyfall together is the karmic relationship M has with her agents, especially Bond. M is immediately painted as the machiavellian "mum" -- too easily willing to trade her agents lives for what she perceives as "the greater good." But Karma's a bitch and Javier Bardem's fantastically realized villain seeks revenge on M for leaving him to die.

Craig's Bond series has introduced a ton of "Best of's," including one of the best villain's in Silva. It's almost like Bardem took the iconic villains of The Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal Lecter and Buffalo Bill, and combined them into the blond effeminate genius of Silva. The shot where Silva slowly saunters up to a tied up bond in a server rack room is beautifully shot.

In fact, this is one of the most beautifully shot Bond films I can remember, especially the scenes in Shanghai, Macau, the abandoned China island city, and the Scottish Highlands.

I think this also has to have one of the best finales of a Bond movie. M, finally realizing the impact her decisions have made over her life, becomes more vulnerable and human as she realizes she actually cares for her 007 protege.

Albert Finney is fantastic as the unrecognizable Kincaid, caretaker of Bond's estate. The last act is the least "Bondish" finale ever with a Home Alone style home invasion backlit by a fire-fueled orange hue. As Finney's Kincaid dryly states to a recently dispatched bad guy: "Welcome to Scotland."

If there is any proof point how important a good story is for a film, it's how the film's length feels to you when watching or re-watching. Quantum of Solace was a relatively lean one hour and 45 minutes and it felt like a slog. Skyfall was lengthy at two hours and 30 minutes, and I didn't notice that length one bit.

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