Skyfall ★★★

At once the most aesthetically sophisticated and the most creatively retrograde of the Craig-starring installments. Thanks to cinematographer Roger Deakins, nearly every frame of “Skyfall” is gorgeous, particularly the fight scene in the Shanghai tower, and the fire-lit meadow scene in the Scottish highlands. But it’s all weighed down with Sam Mendes’s tiresome fixation on illuminating Bond’s background story in a way no asked for or needed. As the director laboriously reassembles the artifices that Craig’s first two outings so successfully set aside, the proceedings are focused less and less on storytelling in the way that both “Casino Royale” and “Quantum of Solace” imperfectly but satisfyingly were, and more on fan service for fans who have shown they’re willing to move beyond the arcana. I’m not sure what use it serves to reveal that Bond was literally to the manor born, except to inadvertently undermine the deft character building in “Casino Royale” where discussions of Bond’s orphan roots were both less explicit and more genuine. But as we also saw in “Spectre” that’s the gist of what Mendes does with Bond; he adds unnecessary details that distract from rather than enhance the character and the story.

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