"Skyfall" hits theaters Friday, and many of America's critics say that 50 years after James Bond first preened his way across screens, he's back with his license to thrill intact.
Directed by Oscar-winner Sam Mendes ("American Beauty") and starring Daniel Craig as the suave superspy, "Skyfall" pits 007 against a computer whiz baddie played with florid menace by Javier Bardem. With a whopping 93 percent "fresh" rating on the critics aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, it's the best reviewed Bond film in years. That's all the more impressive given that Craig's previous impeccably tailored turn in "Quantum of Solace," ranks as one of the least well-regarded outings — a doleful mess with a nonsensical plot about water rights.
All is forgiven, claims TheWrap's Alonso Duralde, thanks to a crack performance in "Skyfall." Indeed, Duralde raves that "Skyfall" is assured a place among the top five Bond adventures of all time with a string of creditable performances from a list of RADA greats like Judi Dench, Ben Whishaw and Ralph Fiennes. More important, he says a whip-smart script from Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and John Logan deftly ushers the Bond mythos into a new geopolitical era.
"With the film placing Bond into a realistically modern world of politics and terrorism, this crew helps place Her Majesty’s Secret Service into a context that makes Bond seem as relevant to life post-9/11 as he once was to the Cold War," Duralde writes.
Also pouring on the approbation was Roger Ebert. The Chicago Sun-Times critic labeled the 23rd Bond film "invigorating"; an adventure filled with stunning chase scenes but a more recognizably human 007.
"Just as Christopher Nolan gave rebirth to the Batman movies in 'The Dark Knight,' here is James Bond lifted up, dusted off, set back on his feet and ready for another 50 years," Ebert writes. "And am I completely misguided when I expect to see Miss Moneypenny become a Bond girl in the next film?"
Like Ebert and Duralde, The New York Times' Manohla Dargis praised the performances and Mendes' insistence on grounding Bond's globe-trotting in a story with real emotional stakes.
"Whether Mr. Mendes is deploying an explosion or a delectable detail, he retains a crucially human scale and intimacy, largely by foregrounding the performers," Dargis writes. "To that end, while 'Skyfall' takes off with shock-and-awe blockbuster dazzle, it’s opulent rather than outlandish and insistently, progressively low-key, despite an Orientalist fantasy with dragons and dragon ladies."
Even the congenitally snarky Rex Reed had only nice things to say about Mr. Bond. In his review for the New York Observer, he resorted to "movie-trailer speak" by branding the film "high-octane" entertainment.
"'Skyfall' may not reach the sophisticated heights of 'Casino Royale,' but it’s better than the lollygagging 'Quantum of Solace,'" Reed writes. "With buff, camera-ready Daniel Craig lending fresh fisticuffs to the role, and acclaimed director Sam Mendes adding more realism and fewer jokes than in most Bond pictures, it’s a satisfying entertainment that delivers a kangaroo kick from start to finish."
That's not to say that every critic felt the film went down as smoothly as one of Bond's signature martinis. In the Village Voice, Karina Longworth praised Mendes for trying to inject a bit of backstory into Bond, but griped that the movie was more preamble than payoff.
"'Skyfall's' fatal misstep is its slavish hewing to event-movie trends," she writes. "Like this summer's 'Spider-Man,' 'Batman,' and 'Avengers' movies, 'Skyfall' seems to exist primarily to set up the events of subsequent films."