After 50 years and 22 films, one might suspect that James Bond had already used and reused every trick in his spy handbook. But critics across the globe are lauding 007's latest mission, Skyfall — which opens in the U.S. tomorrow — as more than just a great James Bond movie: They're calling it the greatest James Bond movie ever. (Watch a trailer for Skyfall below.) What makes this new entry stand apart from the 22 previous films in the franchise? Here, five reasons Skyfall beats out all the other Bond movies:
1. Daniel Craig gives his best-ever Bond performance
Craig earned praise for his icy performances as 007 in his first two Bond films, but in Skyfall, he's "even more comfortably settled" in the superspy's tuxedo, says Betsy Sharkey at The Los Angeles Times. Sean Connery kicked off the James Bond franchise by giving the character "a sly, wry elegance," and the actors that followed him emulated his performance. But Craig has made 007 his own, playing a character "angrier and more haunted by indecision" and who possesses great emotional depth under his stoic exterior. With Skyfall, Craig "has evolved into arguably the best Bond ever," says Charlie McCollum at the San Jose Mercury News.
2. Judy Dench's M character gets fleshed out
Though she has played MI6 boss M in every James Bond film since 1995's Goldeneye, Skyfall is the first in the series that "provides a role worthy of Judy Dench, one of the best actors of her generation," says Roger Ebert at the Chicago Sun-Times. Though the character has had a supporting role in previous films, Dench is "all but the co-star" of Skyfall, playing the British spy organization's troubled boss as a character "far more complex and sympathetic than we expect in this series."
3. Javier Bardem is perfectly cast as the villain
The protagonists are terrific, agrees Keith Phipps at The AV Club, but Skyfall is also smart enough to give Bond a worthy antagonist in Javier Bardem, playing Silva, "a sociopath who could have long conversations with Hannibal Lecter and Heath Ledger's Joker." Bardem's villainous ex-agent "doubles as a dark reflection of what Bond might have, and might still, become." Bardem's Silva is "the best movie villain since, well, Bardem in No Country For Old Men," says Chris Vognar at the Dallas Morning News.
4. Skyfall goes back to the 007 franchise's roots
Departing from the premises behind newer action movie franchises like the Mission: Impossible or Bourne movies, the creative team behind Skyfall has "smartly reset the Bond clock all the way back to 1963, before the wild gadgets and ever-more-improbably plots took over," says Stephen Whitty at the New Jersey Star-Ledger. With Skyfall, the Bond series is letting other spy franchises have the "truly outrageous" stunts and gadgets and embracing its characters — pointing 007 in a direction simultaneously "new to young fans and as old as From Russia With Love."
5. And it embraces the modern era
Skyfall may take pains to pay homage to a bygone era of 007 films, but it also feels "more seriously connected to real-world concerns than any previous entry," says Todd McCarthy at The Hollywood Reporter. The Bond series has transitioned away from the "colorful megalomaniacal villains" of its old films and into "the vexing world of shadowy terrorists and cyber warfare." By embracing the contemporary, the long-in-the-tooth franchise has never felt so cutting-edge.