James Bond lumbers back to his roots. A Bond film is supposed to deliver mayhem and eye candy in exotic locales; Skyfall offers memorable set pieces in Shanghai, Scotland, and an abandoned island factory compound. A Bond film needs gadgets; Skyfall knowingly gives us a personalized Walther and a radio transmitter. (Honoring the brand, but not indulging it.) A Bond film should feature a menacing villain who’s also just a touch daffy; Javier Bardem has more fun than anybody else onscreen as a rogue agent with a mommy complex and a come-hither leer. But most of all, a Bond film needs a proper Englishman who can do his bit for crown and country while dazzling the ladies and wearing a tuxedo like it’s a second skin. Here and there, Daniel Craig manages the trick, but too often, he comes off like a canny street tough, a musclebound Steve McQueen with a posh accent. Along the way, his boss M notes that “orphans always make the best agents,” but that shouldn’t mean they get to skip out on charm school. (Craig's delivery on the trademark Bond banter labors harder than the seams on his trousers, which is saying something.) But it’s not all his fault: he’s not the one who blends Mother and the Mother Country in a story that takes much too long to say much too little beyond, “Spies — like the one in this old-timey franchise — are still relevant!” With Judi Dench, Ralph Fiennes. (2012) — Matthew Lickona
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