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Review: Bond Is Back in 'Skyfall'

The pleasures of this 007 movie, Daniel Craig's third, recall 50 years of thrills

Director: Sam Mendes
Rating PG-13. Running Time: 143 minutes
Stars: Daniel Craig, Javier Bardem, Naomie Harris

The first two James Bond films in the early 1960s were pretty good, but it wasn't until the third, Goldfinger in 1965, that the spectacle, action, wry humor, naughtiness and sense of public peril were all measured in precisely the right proportions. At the same time, Sean Connery ceased to be merely a handsome Scottish actor playing an action character — he truly became Bond, James Bond.

The first two Bond films of the Daniel Craig era were likewise pretty darned good, but they seemed so determined to set themselves apart from the others in the franchise that they bordered on not being Bond movies at all. Both Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace could have been Jason Bourne movies, or even slightly under-the-top Mission: Impossible installments.

Not Skyfall. As Commander Bond celebrates 50 years on the big screen, his latest movie is neither too hot nor too cold; too hard nor too soft. Director Sam Mendes (American BeautyRoad to Perdition) got it all just right, and for the first time in a long time, when the words "James Bond Will Return" appeared at the final fade-out, I felt a chill of anticipation.

Skyfall opens with a jaw-dropping motorcycle chase through the streets, across the roofs and into the Grand Bazaar of Istanbul (I had planned to ration my box of Sugar Babies throughout the film — but I'd nervously chewed through nearly all of them by the time Bond and his prey were halfway through their life-and-death tussle atop a speeding freight train).

That's just a prelude, though, to the main storyline: The headquarters of Bond's spy agency, MI6 — and in particular his boss, M (Judi Dench) — are under siege. A computer-hacking madman (Javier Bardem), bent on revenge against M and the British spy establishment in general, will stop at nothing to kill, maim and cause generalized mayhem in the process.

Blessedly, that's the whole story, a refreshingly streamlined affair, free of the convolutions that plague far too many action films these days. And so Skyfall presents one stunning scene after another, each one spectacular in its own way. My favorite involves a crashing train in the London Underground. A truly magnificent stunt, it would be the centerpiece of any other film, but here it explodes unexpectedly off the screen, then gives us a mere moment to contemplate the damage before we move on.

For those of us old enough to remember the visceral impact of Bond's earliest outings, Skyfall pays playful homage to the 50 years' worth of 007 films that came before. A true aficionado would probably find references to all 22 previous films — I spotted references to, among others, GoldfingerOn Her Majesty's Secret ServiceMoonraker and Die Another Day. Bardem's blond-tressed villain, Silva, is a delightfully unmistakable echo of Christopher Walken's psychopathic bad guy, Max Zorin, in A View to a Kill. Like Zorin, Silva isn't just a villain; he can't imagine anything more fun than being a villain.

Those fleeting bows to Bond's past are never intrusive, but they offer an essential ingredient that the previous two films lacked: a true sense of continuum; a concession to the fact that you can shake him and stir him, but you can never really reinvent James Bond.

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