Skyfall ★★★★½

An impressively textured variety of gorgeous shots. Not just lush night photography dripping with shadow and color, but also memorable day-bleached ruins, mournful grays over the Scottish Highlands. Full credit to Sam Mendes and Roger Deakins for making this a visual spectacle even when the spy action isn't popping.

People celebrated Skyfall as a return to form after the underesteemed Quantum of Solace. Tonally, at least, the two are surprisingly similar. They're both melancholic, deeply skeptical over whether "Queen and country" is a sufficient excuse for the bloodshed of the espionage game. Javier Bardem embodies this ambivalence with the best Bond villain performance of the century so far, wearing the personal emotive aspects of his grudge campaign on his sleeve. He leaves nothing to subtlety as he caresses Bond's chest and unashamedly calls Judi Dench "mother," and his introductory speech about cannibalistic rats is just a delicious monologue, the kind of things that supervillains from The Venture Brothers would applaud as being appropriate to the villainous old school.

The tension between old and new is constantly discussed, in such explicit dialogue terms that it swells to fill the thematic space. Yet this is probably the lone fly in the ointment. I love Daniel Craig's swallowed sadness as a wrecked-up, past-his-prime Bond, but the way the film's ending sets the stage for a return to classic form reeks of nostalgia, as if Bond had handily triumphed over the new-fangled moral complexities of the world rather than barely held his soul intact against them. James Bond the commercial project cannot end and so cannot change. Restoring a venerable status quo is perhaps a considerate custodial move, like a superhero comics writer putting the toys back in the same alive or dead places where they started, but it suggests a limit to the creative depths that Skyfall is trying to plumb from this material.

Max liked these reviews