CONTAINS MILD SPOILERS BUT NOTHING MAJOR
Simple version: this is Daniel Craig's best Bond film so far. Really, that's not saying a lot: for all the virtues of Casino Royale it was an unnecessary reboot that tried to start again from scratch and pretend all the previous Bond movies never happened, but then stymied itself by carrying Judi Dench's M over from that now non-existent canon. Far better to have abandoned the reboot idea and just continued pretending it's the same bloke. If Pierce was really supposed to be Sean, George, Roger and Timothy, why can't Daniel be too? It's called recasting: far simpler and we don't have to sit through the emotional baptism of fire that made this Bond the way he is. And we also wouldn't have had to suffer Quantum Of Solace's journey of closure. We just want them to get on with the adventures.
Right from the pre-credits sequence, Skyfall is an immeasurably better film and a (sorry) quantum leap forward and upward with a car chase, motorbike chase and unarmed combat on top of a train as Bond pursues the man who stole the hard drive out of a laptop containing the names of every Western agent embedded in terrorist groups across the world. But Bond is shot, believed dead....and it's only when an explosion rips through MI6 headquarters in London that 007 reports for duty once more. But is he up to the physical demands any more? The trail leads to the skyscrapers of Shanghai, a Macau casino, then back to London and the Tube, and ultimately to the wilds of Scotland....
The action sequences are a vast improvement on Quantum's, for the simple reason that you can tell what's going on: Quantum tried to make the chases and fights exciting by flinging a million tiny snippets of film in your face for a fraction of a second each; Skyfall makes them exciting by simply showing them to you. The photography (by Roger Deakins, the real star of the film) is just terrific: whether it's the glass and neon of Shanghai, the rich and aromatic darkness of Macau or the damp bleakness of the Scottish moorlands, it looks utterly wonderful. It's a pity Thomas Newman's score isn't massively memorable (it's perfectly decent, but it lacks that essential Bondian swagger and I'm hoping that David Arnold is rehired for the next one); Adele's title song is an undoubted improvement on Alicia Keys and Jack White's unlistenable contribution for Quantum but I have no idea what the tune is or what the lyrics were.
On the downside, there's far too much of M again, though this time the plot devices that put her at the heart of the film are more plausible than in, say, The World Is Not Enough. I was getting fed up of Judi Dench's M as some kind of a substitute mother figure (freaky-haired villain Javier Bardem refers to her as "Mommy was very bad" at one point, which is even in the trailer) and I don't want to watch Bond wrestling with his own repressed childhood demons and inner angst. Indeed, we even get the gravestone of Bond's parents and his mother's name, Monique, even begins with M! Much more mother-fixating like this and 007 will be putting on a frock and stabbing girls in the shower. You can't imagine Bernard Lee's M putting up with any of this lavender-scented sentimental rubbish.
Fortunately there's a generally light tone to the movie, with much more humour than in the last two (though we're still along way from the awful puns of the Roger Moore years), and Craig is much less terse this time around. More of a surprise is Judi Dench's gratuitous dropping of the F-bomb towards the end: I suppose it was only a matter of time, but post-watershed bleepables have thus far been largely absent from the Bond canon, and I'm not sure I'd like to see them creep in any further. All that aside, it's still Bond on much better form than he's been for some considerable time: it's not just Craig's best but it's better than any of the Brosnans (partly thanks to not having nearly as much CGI) and many of the Moores, though I don't think it touches my personal favourites You Only Live Twice, On Her Majesty's Secret Service and Live And Let Die. That opening extended action sequence with the motorbike chase over the rooftop of Istanbul is worth the ticket price alone, Javier Bardem's cyber-terrorist is an unsettling and creepy villain, every frame of the whole Shanghai segment is drenched in gloriously vivid colour, and with a nicely geeky new Q (Ben Whishaw) the final wrap-up looks to be setting up Bond 24 along the more traditional lines of vintage Bond. Bring it on. Meantime, I want to see Skyfall again because I just enjoyed the hell out of it.