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In ‘Skyfall,’ Daniel Craig takes control of Bond franchise

  • This film image released by Columbia Pictures shows Daniel Craig as James Bond in the action adventure film, "Skyfall." (AP Photo/Sony Pictures, Francois Duhamel)

    This film image released by Columbia Pictures shows Daniel Craig as James Bond in the action adventure film, "Skyfall." (AP Photo/Sony Pictures, Francois Duhamel)

  • In this image released by Sony Pictures, Daniel Craig portrays James Bond in a scene from "Skyfall." (AP Photo/Sony Pictures, Francois Duhamel)

    In this image released by Sony Pictures, Daniel Craig portrays James Bond in a scene from "Skyfall." (AP Photo/Sony Pictures, Francois Duhamel)

  • This film image released by Columbia Pictures shows Daniel Craig as James Bond in the action adventure film, "Skyfall." (AP Photo/Sony Pictures, Francois Duhamel)
  • In this image released by Sony Pictures, Daniel Craig portrays James Bond in a scene from "Skyfall." (AP Photo/Sony Pictures, Francois Duhamel)

If you just looked at the cast and crew of Skyfall, you could easily confuse the assembled talent for a prestige costume drama. Director Sam Mendes, actors Judi Dench, Javier Bardem and Ralph Fiennes, and cinematographer Roger Deakins might just as easily be mounting a Shakespeare adaptation.

But Skyfall is, of course, a James Bond film, and not only that, it’s the 23rd installment in a blockbuster franchise marking its 50th anniversary with only slightly less fanfare than the Queen’s Jubilee. Skyfall is a touch more high-minded than those previous 22 films, but it’s also arguably the best crafted movie in Bond history.

Those involved in the 007 empire overwhelmingly credit the higher trajectory for Bond to one man: Daniel Craig.

Now in his third film as 007, Skyfall is Craig’s most emphatic statement yet on how he’ll define his stewardship of the beloved British spy. What’s clearest on Skyfall is that Craig has taken full ownership of Bond, not only filling out a tux, but molding the entire production.

“That was an ambition of mine,” Craig said. “They give us a lot of money to make these films. If we can spend the money in the right way . . . then we’re going to create something that’s very special.”

The result is the best-reviewed Bond film yet, one that’s already made a whopping $287 million in its first 10 days of international release. Skyfall is the culmination of The Daniel Craig Years, a chapter in Bond history that’s proving a resounding success.

Craig’s first Bond film, 2006’s Casino Royale, was a visceral introduction to his version of 007. Less successful was 2008’s Quantum of Solace, which was marred by script problems partly caused by the writer’s strike. The film’s somberness disappointed many and fueled the correction in tone on Skyfall.

After the postmodern deconstruction of Quantum, Skyfall puts Bond back together, restoring many familiar elements, albeit with certain twists. Ben Whishaw inherits the role of Q, Naomie Harris settles in as Moneypenny and Fiennes comes aboard as the new head of MI6. Bardem plays a flamboyant, effete former MI6 agent whose cyber destruction is motivated by a past with M, the role Judi Dench has memorably inhabited for seven films.

Overall, Skyfall is set in a more realistic world – particularly situated in London – where MI6’s activities are answerable to government and where the threat of terrorism has firmly displaced Cold War fears as the dominant concern.

It was Craig who, on a sudden instinct over conversation at a party, asked Mendes – better known for his stage direction and dramas like American Beauty than action movies – if he wanted to direct. The two had previously worked together on 2002’s Road to Perdition, before Craig’s stardom swelled.

“It mattered that it came from him,” Mendes said. “I don’t think I would have done it without Dan.”

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