CASINO ROYALE (2006)
Re-watch the scene in "Dr No" where the assassin breaks into Bond's room, and shoots the bed, only for Bond to switch the light on from his corner hiding spot. "That's a Smith & Wesson... and you've had your six." Bang. Sean Connery's initial outing was as a stone-cold killer, a far cry from the double-entendres and wise-cracks of Roger Moore. Helped along by some obvious influences from the recent Bourne movies, Casino Royale is a great mix of action, stunts (including a brilliant construction-site chase, with Bond's target played by one of the founders of Parkour), and suspense at the casino table.
Mads Mikkelsen, who I knew previously from "King Arthur" and TV's "Unit One", plays villain Le Chiffre, banker to the world's terrorists. Charming, chilling, and downright creepy at turns, he almost steals the show from Daniel Craig.
The first time I saw this, I enjoyed it, but it did take a while to believe Daniel Craig as a blue-eyed, blond Bond. Then those final frames, with Craig in a tuxedo, gun in hand, finally uttering his famous introduction. "Bond... James Bond." Credits rolled, and I was sold.
QUANTUM OF SOLACE (2008)
While there is continuity to the earlier films, the Bond films don't really need to be watched in any order to be understood. QOS relies heavily on the audience having seen CR, and I think this is where it loses a bit of Bond-ness for me. Looking at them as if CR and QOS existed on their own, without a literary or cinematic history of James Bond behind them, then Quantum works as a solid sequel to Casino. But as an entry in Bond canon, it rates fairly low on my list.
Great sequel... just not a great Bond movie.
Skyfall also sees the return of Q (who plays an active role in the plot, rather than just being there to hand out gadgets), Moneypenny and even a new (male) M.
Sure, it's not as gritty or realistic as Casino Royale and Quantum, but it has "classic Bond" written all over it. All the right boxes are ticked - over-the-top fight scenes (on top of a moving train!), car chases, pretty girls, casinos, vodka martinis (while we never hear Bond order it, the camera follows every step as the bartender prepares it shaken, not stirred), a disfigured supervillain, exotic locations, and the Aston Martin DB5 - complete with the same number plate as in its first appearance in 1964's "Goldfinger".
And then there's the title song, "Skyfall" by Adele. Hearing it pre-movie on YouTube immediately brought classic Shirley Bassey-sung Bond themes to mind. I thought "This better have a good title sequence to go along with it...", remembering Quantum's rather forgettable rolling sand dunes morphing into women. And once I got to the cinema, I wasn't disappointed. Bond's fall into deep water after being shot (SPOILER: He survives. HINT: He's Bond.) segues into surreal images, Union Jacks, guns, and naked female silhouettes. Yep, we're about to see a Bond movie.
With Daniel Craig apparently signing on for a few more Bond films, it'll be interesting to see which way the franchise heads next. Gritty like Casino Royale? Or classic like Skyfall? I guess we'll find out in 2014.