This Friday, "Skyfall," the twenty-third James Bond adventure -- and the third starring Daniel Craig as the super-spy -- opens in cinemas nationwide. After a prolonged absence, 007 is back and better than ever. This time, he faces off against an evil terrorist who is exposing the identities of secret agents around the world, and seems to have a particularly nasty vendetta against M (Judi Dench), who runs MI-6 and has served as a mother-figure to our beloved, martini-drinking spy.
"Skyfall" holds particular weight because it's being released on the fiftieth anniversary of the series (originally created by British novelist Ian Fleming), and as such you can expect some nods to the character's previous incarnations, as well as some sizable readjustments to the franchise as a whole. This, and not "Casino Royale," feels very much like the beginning of a new series. Is this a good thing or a bad thing? Read on to find out!
PRO: It Might Be The Best James Bond, Like, Ever
In my estimation, "Casino Royale" was slightly overrated while "Quantum of Solace" was sort of underrated, and they both exist in an in-between realm of serviceability. "Skyfall" exists in a plateau high above these films, and, quite frankly, at this point I’m hard-pressed to think of a Bond entry that I like more. It's that good. The producers made a pretty serious decision in awarding control of the film to Sam Mendes, the arty, Academy Award-winning director of "American Beauty" and "Road to Perdition." Here, Mendes re-teamed with the amazing cinematographer Roger Deakins and heavily reworked the original script (by Bond stalwarts Neal Purvis and Robert Wade) with Tony-winning playwright John Logan. The results are a Bond movie that look and, more importantly, feel very different. Not only is the film shockingly gorgeous (particularly a set of sequences that take place in China) but it’s emotionally complex and deeply melancholic (to give anything more away would be downright criminal; I don't want MI-6 coming after me.)
PRO: The Theme Song/Sequence Is Amazing
By now, you've probably heard the Adele theme song (if not, head here), and know that the tune (co-written and produced by her "Rolling in the Deep" confederate Paul "King" Epworth), is one of the series' all-time best. It was so good, in fact, that I was a little worried about its accompanying title sequence, which in the last two entries have become too ornate and elaborate (and, with a dearth of scantily clad women, weirdly prudish and chaste); they might push the boundaries of technological derring-do but they left you cold. This is not the case with "Skyfall." It's a beautiful, inky sequence that, like the rest of the movie, tips its hat to title sequences of the past and forges bold new ground, particularly when it comes to divvying up imagery that appears later in the film and enriching the movie's thematic and metaphoric concerns. (Oh, and also the girls in the sequence appear to be actually naked; pretty sure I caught a nipple or two there.)
PRO: Two Words: Javier Bardem
It's been awhile since we've had a really great Bond baddie; most of the recent villains have been flat and colorless. Well, no more. The less you know about Javier Bardem's Silva, the better, so if you want to scurry along, I don't begrudge you, but just know that his bad guy is one of the all time greats -- slinky and savage and totally amazing. Nothing's worse than watching a movie where other characters talk up some unseen character, and when that character finally shows up, it's completely anticlimactic (a recent example being the puppetmaster in "The Man with the Iron Fists"). This is definitely not the case with Bardem. When he first appears, the movie shifts seismically and becomes an altogether weirder, more mesmerizing affair. Rocking blonde hair that suggests a more openly malevolent Julian Assange, and an exaggerated lilt, Bardem is a pansexual terrorist with mommy issues and a flair for the theatrical, made evident by his desolate floating island lair and his liberal application of explosives. What makes him all the more compelling, besides the fact that he's kind of the evil mirror version of James Bond, is how personally he takes all of this. Instead of world domination, Silva wants revenge in a very specific form, and it's downright chilling (particularly in the movie's breathless last act). Alternately funny and terrifying, Bardem's performance is one of the year's best and certainly one of the biggest.
RELATED: The 50 Best And Worst Bond Villains
PRO: Daniel Craig Replaces Sean Connery As The Series' Best Bond
There are a couple of really surprising character flourishes they've awarded Bond this time around, including the fact that he's injured, both physically and emotionally, (something they tried to saddle him with in "The World is Not Enough" to much lesser success), and that characters acknowledge how old he's getting. There are a good twenty minutes where Craig, looking sinewy and drawn, sports a thick layer of gray stubble and seems genuinely out of the game. But when he gets his mojo back, it's a triumphant moment. Craig also manages to successfully handle all the nuances of the character: the shadowy childhood, the history of violence, the issues with trust and, maybe just as importantly, the wry humor that had been all but deleted from the franchise with the previous two films. While Connery embodied the character in some spectacular ways, he was always smirking, and that superficiality could prove crippling. Daniel Craig is Bond, through and through. To borrow a phrase from one of the previous theme songs: Nobody does it better.
CON: It's Too Long
At 143 minutes, it's the longest James Bond movie ever. It's a con in the sense that maybe you can't see it twice in the same day if you love it as much as I imagine you will. Otherwise, it's perfectly acceptable and every second is nothing short of gripping.
PRO: The Action Set Pieces
This might be a "con" for some of you, but "Skyfall" is not a non-stop thrill-a-thon. The action sequences are doled out judiciously and the whole movie is bookended with two out-of-control amazing set pieces: a pre-title sequence set in Turkey and an extended siege sequence towards the end of the third act. This makes for a really interesting James Bond flick, in terms of tempo. It's much more luxurious and atmospheric than the past few movies (and, mercifully, free of 45 minutes of card playing), and doesn't attempt to bludgeon you to death with spectacle.
PRO: The Bond Girls
They're real pretty. They can also kick your ass. What's better than that?
25. Tanya Roberts, Stacey Sutton (‘A View To A Kill’)
Stacey, who's supposed to be a geologist who helps James prevent a man-made earthquake, takes the cake as the most useless girl to ever pop up in a Bond film. (And we're not just saying that because we think of her as Donna's airheaded mom on "That '70s Show.")
24. Denise Richards, Dr. Christmas Jones (‘The World Is Not Enough’)
It's a race to the bottom for Bond's bimbo-scientists (and Stacey Sutton wins by an '80s feathered hair) but Richards makes the least believable nuclear scientist ever. And frankly, we don't care how many times a year Christmas comes. Once is enough.
23. Mie Hama, Kissy Suzuki (‘You Only Live Twice’)
Okay, so Bond did marry her, but it was part of his cover, so it doesn't count. Kissy is sadly one of the most forgettable women to ever share the screen with Bond. Her predecessor, Ako, who died saving Bond's life, made a much more lasting impression.
22. Lois Chiles, Dr Holly Goodhead (‘Moonraker’)
Bond tries to suck up to this feminist doctor by telling her, "Of course you're more than just a beautiful woman," but that doesn't fly. At least, not at first. But soon this CIA agent-slash-astronaut is murmuring, "Oh, James," with the rest of them, except she's the only one to do it in space.
21. Maud Adams, Octopussy (‘Octopussy’)
Maud, you have amazing hair, your cheekbones are to die for and you were great in those two other Bond films (she was also in "The Man With the Golden Gun" and had an uncredited scene in "A View to a Kill") but there's no getting over how cringeworthy your character's name -- and this whole movie -- are.
20. Britt Ekland, Miss Mary Goodnight (‘The Man With The Golden Gun’)
Her punny name isn't as double entendre-iffic as, say, Plenty O'Toole. And although she makes for pretty eyecandy, she doesn't have much to do besides look good in a bikini, bed James and bonk the bad guy on the head when needed.
19. Carole Bouquet, Melina Havelock (‘For Your Eyes Only’)
Another smart Bond Girl who's not just along for the ride: She's after the man who killed her parents. She's also handy with a crossbow and makes scuba gear look good, which is lucky since so much of the film takes place underwater. We never get the sense that she and James are hot for each other -- at least not until the obligatory pre-credits clinch.
18. Lana Wood, Plenty O'Toole (‘Diamonds Are Forever’)
"I'm Plenty," this buxom beauty tells Bond and he can only reply, "But of course you are." It's a brief but memorable role, thanks to the eye-rolling name and Wood's ample cleavage. She has two unforgettable pool scenes that couldn't be farther from the usual Bond fare. (And she never even gets to sleep with Bond, poor girl.)
17. Barbara Bach, Major Anya Amasova (‘The Spy Who Loved Me’)
Anya is supposed to be Bond's enemy (the Cold War was still going on in 1977), but of course they're forced to team up against formidable foes like Jaws. She's also got her sights on Bond since he killed her lover but that's a mere road bump to 007. Her Russian accent is awful but James doesn't seem to mind.
16. Talisa Soto, Lupe Lamora (‘Licence To Kill’)
In the role of a supervillain's girlfriend whom James must seduce and win over to his side, Lupe gets a lot more mileage than most Bond Girls. She's also much smarter than the other villain's mistresses, since she manages to stay alive and land a less dangerous sugar daddy by film's end.
15. Halle Berry, Giacinta 'Jinx' Johnson (‘Die Another Day’)
Berry in a bikini! Her heart-stopping beach entrance may have actually eclipsed that of original Bond Girl Ursula Andress, and she's as tough as James and perfectly capable of taking care of herself. Granted, that Jinx spinoff never happened and some of her jokey lines fell flat.
14. Michelle Yeoh, Wai Lin (‘Tomorrow Never Dies’)
She's not your traditional Bond Girl, but an agent who's as well-trained as Bond, as capable (or more) of kicking ass and able to spot a life-saving exit in a split second. In another movie, their being handcuffed together might get kinky, but in this action-oriented pairing, it's just one more complication in a motorcycle chase.
13. Maryam d’ Abo, Kara Milovy (‘The Living Daylights’)
Kara at first appears to be a sniper, but she's really the most innocent of all Bond Girls, one who has no idea what's happening for most of the film. When she gets dressed up for a night on the town, it's the most covered-up of any Bond date in history, but there's still room for an "Oh, James" or two.
12. Daniela Bianchi, Tatiana Romanova (‘From Russia With Love’)
Another beauty that needs saving (don't they all?) but Tatiana, who's been trained to kill, also has a sweetness and vulnerability that endears her to Bond. That and her way of saying hello is to show up naked in his bed.
11. Camille Montes, Olga Kurylenko (‘Quantum of Solace’)
Camille is nearly as driven as James in his thirst for revenge. As the villain tells them, "You two do make a good couple. You're both damaged goods." It might not be a love match but it is a connection we haven't seen Bond make with many other women.
10. Teri Hatcher, Paris Carver (‘Tomorrow Never Dies’)
Hatcher was never lovelier than as one of Bond's old flames, who is now married to a power-mad broadcasting magnate. Although she's in the movie only briefly, Hatcher's scenes with James have more depth and heat than most of the other Bond girls combined.
9. Jill St. John, Tiffany Case (‘Diamonds Are Forever’)
Scheming Tiffany does come around to the right side, even if her mind is always on those diamonds. She's smart enough to take his fingerprints, but not smart enough to realize they're fake. (Thanks, Q.) As one of the most under-dressed Bond Girls, we applaud her choices in lingerie, bikinis and hot pants.
8. Izabella Scorupco, Natalya Fyodorovna Simonova (‘Goldeneye’)
One of the most independent and savviest of Bond Girls, Natalya manages to survive several attempts on her life, save James, outwit the villains and sass an interrogator. And she does it while dressed in a fairly sensible wardrobe. Nazdrovia!
7. Claudine Auger, Dominique Derval (‘Thunderball’)
As "Domino," Auger brings some European glamour to the Bond franchise. It's not just the '60s fashions that put us in mind of Audrey Hepburn and Sophia Loren, is it? She sports one sexy swimsuit after another, but her scene where she learns of her brother's death helps us (and Bond) fall for her.
6. Jane Seymour, Solitaire (‘Live And Let Die’)
She's gorgeous and completely off-limits, so of course James can't resist seducing her, even though a) she's a virgin, and b) it will rob her of her psychic powers. There's something very romantic and even a little old-fashioned about Solitaire. We get it, James.
5. Carey Lowell, Pam Bouvier (‘Licence To Kill’)
Who doesn't love a woman who has your back in a bar fight, who'll get a makeover to maintain your cover and who can fly a helicopter? She pulls out every tool in her arsenal, including an impromptu seduction of slick faux-evangelist Wayne Newton, which lets her swoop in and save James at the last minute.
4. Honor Blackman, Pussy Galore (‘Goldfinger’)
If we were ranking on character's names alone, of course Miss Galore would be first. After she huskily introduces herself, a groggy Bond marvels, "I must be dreaming." She can fly a plane and she knows judo, so we have a strong feeling she's equally adept in many other areas.
3. Ursula Andress, Honey Ryder (‘Dr. No’)
It's hard to top the original Bond Girl: Her iconic introduction in a white bikini with a knife strapped to her belt set a new standard for sexy. If only Bond weren't such a globe-trotter (and not so fickle), we imagine he'd have been quite happy spending his days -- and nights -- with Miss Ryder.
2. Diana Rigg, Teresa "Tracy" Di Vicenzo (‘On Her Majesty's Secret Service’)
The one and only Mrs. Bond was ready to kill herself until James came into her life. James picked a surprisingly sophisticated soulmate: She's independent, handy with a broken bottle in a fight and fiercely loyal. Too bad she's also doomed, since there can be no permanently happy endings for James.
1. Eva Green, Vesper Lynd (‘Casino Royale’)
One of the most complex and haunted of Bond's women and one of the most beautiful. Bond creates a drink in her honor, uses her name as an important code and then, when she's tragically killed, spends all of the next movie hunting down the men responsible. We'd say that makes her his favorite.