It has been 50 years since James Bond first burst onto the screen in Dr. No.  Not only is Bond still relevant, but in the hands of writer John
Logan and director Sam Mendes, the franchise is better than ever.

Skyfall is a complete and utter triumph.  It melds the 007 traditions with modern realism and delivers a thrilling, intelligent and dramatically
strong film.

Skyfall isn’t just a great Bond movie; it’s a great movie by any measure.

In his third go as the famous British agent, Daniel Craig has become the best actor to take on the role.  Sean Connery may have set the
standard, but Craig’s Bond is much more than just a suave playboy.

Just as in Craig’s excellent debut, Casino Royale, Skyfall humanizes Bond.  He is a haunted individual who seems (despite his confident
exterior) to be deeply conflicted about his job and his life in general.

But Craig is too good an actor to turn Bond into a sad sack and he delivers quips as well as anyone.  There is also a lot of fun to be had in
Skyfall.

The film opens with a glorious first shot as an out of focus Craig darts into frame to the Bond theme’s trademark stinger.  As he walks down
the darkened hallway and comes into focus, we can already tell that this is no ordinary Bond film.  It’s a great example of Mendes’ creative,
but steady direction and of Roger Deakins’ outstanding cinematography.

This exhilarating opening action sequence is the thing 007 dreams are made of and we are introduced to Naomie Harris as fellow operative,
Eve.  Harris is excellent and has a great flirtatious chemistry with Craig.

After the operation goes awry, Bond is shot and presumed dead.

As you may be able to guess, however, James Bond will return.

As Bond lays low while “enjoying death,” we get to see his sense of isolation and perhaps even depression.  He takes pain killers and
drinks and drinks and drinks.  There was always a slight self-destructiveness present in the character’s lifestyle, but never has it really
been explored as in Skyfall.

After MI6, and specifically M (Judi Dench, once again), come under attack by an unknown cyber-terrorist, Bond finally finds his reason for
resurrection.

Dench’s character has been given far greater significance in Craig’s films, and her role here has expanded far beyond the exposition
device she was wasted as during some of the Pierce Brosnan pictures.  M is a fully-fledged character and the plot revolves around her
demons, past and present.

Bond’s pursuit of the villain takes him Shanghai, where Mendes and Deakins once again create an incredible visual feast.  There is a
sequence where Bond pursues an assassin through a sea of neon lights and glass that is quite stunning.  The fight choreography is also
superb.  It’s brutal without ever going over the top.  The action sequences in Skyfall always serve the story.  The difference from the
disappointing Quantum of Solace is night and day.  In that film the story only served to bridge the action.

When we finally get to meet our villain, Skyfall is already a superb entertainment.  But Javier Bardem as Raoul Silva boosts the film to a level
the franchise has never seen before.  His exquisitely unnerving performance is enthralling and terrifying.  If you were expecting a reprise
of Anton Chigurh from No Country for Old Men, you will be pleasantly surprised to find that Bardem has crafted a wholly unique work of
horror that is more alike to a flamboyant, chemically imbalanced Hannibal Lector.

Silva is both extraordinarily intelligent and extremely unstable.  In one moment he is supremely confident and the next he is distraught and
on the verge of tears.  He appears to be someone whose past has hurt him so badly that he has lost his humanity.  He is a wounded animal,
always a split second away from unspeakable acts.  We never know what to expect from him and that is a very scary notion.

His introduction is magnificent as he recounts a story of exterminating rats from an island.  He slowly walks towards the camera in one
unbroken shot.  He gets closer and closer as his story gets more and more disturbing.

There is even a wonderfully unsettling moment where Silva attempts to intimidate Bond with a subtle sexual advance.  Bond handles it
rather well, though.

The film eventually shifts back to London and eventually Scotland for its unique, thrilling and emotional finale.

In a refreshing change from series history, the climax actually scales down from the earlier massive action sequences to allow for a more
dramatic, character-driven affair.

Few films in the series have put such care into the characters and none have executed it as well as Logan and Mendes do.

The ending is a perfect resolution to Skyfall’s story as well as a wonderfully nostalgic tribute to the franchise.

Speaking of nostalgia, gadget-master Q finally returns to the franchise in the form of a very young computer nerd brilliantly portrayed by
Ben Whishaw.  The banter with 007 is hilarious and it proves to be a great fresh take on a classic piece of Bond history.

Skyfall really does get almost everything right.

As mentioned, the cinematography is extraordinary.  But the art direction, sound mixing and film editing are all superb.

Adele’s title song is fantastic and Thomas Newman’s score walks a nice line of modern cool and retro charm.

With Skyfall, Mendes and company have delivered a rousing thriller that takes Bond to new heights while never losing sight of his roots.  
Daniel Craig is at the top of his game, giving perhaps the singular best performance as James Bond ever, and the supporting cast is
exceptional as well.

For 50 years Bond has been a film icon.  And 50 years on, nobody does it better. The fact that after 22 films we can still have a film that is so
unexpected, relevant and superbly made is astounding.  James Bond will return and if he can inspire this kind of filmmaking, he always will.

* * * *
(out of four)
SKYFALL
Directed by: Sam Mendes

Written by: Neal Purvis & Robert Wade and John Logan

Starring: Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Javier Bardem, Ralph
Fiennes, Naomie Harris, Berenice Marlohe, Albert Finney

Music by: Thomas Newman

Cinematography by: Roger Deakins

Released: November 9, 2012; 143 Minutes