Skyfall ★★★★½

“Sometimes the old ways are best.”
I missed Spectre upon release, but from what I’ve heard, I’m going to go out on a limb and reemphasize this third entry as the best of the Craig bond films. Though Casino Royale reinvented 007 for a new generation and remains the most popular, Skyfall takes its new-school grit/pathos and mixes it with the fun escapism of the old days. 
Indeed, many of Skyfall’s narrative themes focus on a return to tradition while also shaking up the establishment to make way for the future, whereas Sam Mendes utilizes a reoccurring visual motif of reflection (mirrors, windows, water) to highlight how the “Then and Now” are inexorably tied.
Though in another filmmaker’s hands the same story could have been just a stale rehash of old ideas and familiar action sequences, Mendes’ confident cinematic flourishes and his reverent take on the mythos demonstrate how an protracted franchise is still capable of entertaining an audience in recognizable ways without feeling archaic. 
Bardem’s turn as the frightening, dashing, verbose madman overshadows an ensemble that offers otherwise terrific performances, including Dench’s best work as M and new, high quality supporting players in the form of Ben Whishaw, Ralph Fiennes, and Naomie Harris.
From his opening scene where he mocks Bond’s sexual identity via an audacious homoerotic pass, to later sequences behind a Hannibal Lecter glass enclosure where he reveals his damaged history, Bardem renders Silva into one of the best, most intimidating, most unforgettable entries in the James Bond rogues gallery. It’s an Oscar-worthy performance from a gifted thespian able to instill horror, humor, and depth into an unsettling role. 
As a helmer of frequently emotionally harrowing and deep dramas such as Jarhead and Revolutionary Road, Mendes has never made an action movie before this one (though he followed it up with 1917); but his technique behind the lens provides the events with considerable gravitas in eacy scene, as though there’s something hidden to every character.
There’s no black-and-white comic book valor or wickedness here. Skyfall operates in a gray area. In conveying as much, Mendes and editor Stuart Baird linger on their shots and resist the now-standard frenetic cutting style of action movies (a big mark against Quantum), allowing the viewer to fully take in the stunning cinematography by Roger Deakins. 
While Casino Royale was something totally and awesomely new, and Quantum of Solace was little more than a lazy follow up to Casino Royale, the enthusiastic Skyfall is, in a way, more noteworthy than its forebears in that it doesn’t require adjustments to the typical formula to make it a resounding success.

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