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License to thrill: Latest Bond film showcases talented cast against breathtaking backdrops

4.5/5 Popcorns

There is nothing quite like a great Bond movie. The exotic locations, fast-paced action sequences, voluptuous Bond girls and the criminal masterminds — all handled with suave charm and deft skill by the debonair MI6 agent.

“Skyfall” has everything we have come to expect from the iconic spy franchise, but unlike the last installment, it all unfolds into a complicated and rewarding story. After the chaotic mess that was “Quantum of Solace,” Daniel Craig’s third turn in the tailor-made suit is a riveting experience that ranks among the best Bond films of all time.

Oscar-winning director Sam Mendes (“American Beauty”) revitalizes the aging secret agent with an action-packed and emotional story that delves deeper into Bond’s past than ever before. It features masterful performances from veteran actors like Judi Dench, Ralph Fiennes and Javier Bardem, not to mention Craig’s transfixing performance as James Bond himself.

The chapter also marks Bond’s 50th anniversary, commemorated with plenty of callbacks to the days of Sean Connery and Roger Moore. This film marks the return of Agent Q, the Aston Martin DB5 and familiar soundtrack trademarks scattered throughout. Bardem ties everything together as the creepily maniacal cyber terrorist Silva.

The opening Istanbul chase scene is itself a welcome back to the Bond of old: a car chase, rooftop motorcycle pursuit and fight atop a moving train all within the first ten minutes. It ends as Bond falls tragically from the train into a bay, and as he sinks into the darkness, the screen fades into Adele’s brooding theme song — a moody orchestral ballad evoking elements of the vintage Bond theme.

Bond is enjoying pseudo-retirement on a nameless tropical island, content with allowing the world to believe he’s dead until an explosive attack on MI6 shocks him back to life. He returns to track down the cyber terrorist Silva (Bardem), who also has a stolen list of all undercover MI6 agents. In addition to releasing the names of five poor souls a week, he also enjoys toying with M (Dench).

The 44-year-old Craig inhabits Bond with the agility and quiet intensity of a much younger man, but his incarnation of 007 is more layered than a dashing agent with deadly skill. He woos a foreign beauty (Berenice Marlohe), trades blows with killers and shoots down an army of thugs. Craig exudes a damaged fragility bubbling just below his charming surface.

M’s leadership has come under fire from the government, so aside from running a battery of tests to get clearance for active duty, Bond has to contend with a new boss, Gareth Mallory (Fiennes). Armed with new gadgets from Q (Ben Whishaw), an ailing Bond and his alluring partner Eve (Naomie Harris) set off to find the terrorist leader behind it all.

Judi Dench speaks for herself. The noble thespian delivers every line with precision and a piercing stare. She’s especially enjoyable when M comes out from behind her desk and dives into the action.

Like all Bond films, “Skyfall’s” dazzling locales enhance its excitement and mystique. Bond’s mission leads him through the beaming skyscrapers of Shanghai, the Scottish highlands and the candlelit canals of Macau. But the majority of the film takes place in London with the time-tested game: How much senseless chaos and damage can we rack up in this historic city.

Bond’s best moments are when he is playing off Silva, an unsettling madman with a distorted face and a positively awful haircut. Bardem’s performance is haunting, unsettling and quite simply brilliant. His first scene with a captive Bond is electrifying, as he unfurls his exceedingly clever plan, reveals a serious mommy complex and dips into vaguely homoerotic territory. Bardem dives into the role with madcap enthusiasm, creating a distinctly memorable villain who’s destined for the bad-guy hall of fame.

Craig, Bardem and Mendes bring 007 roaring back with a clever, thrilling and touching entry into one of the most popular film franchises in history. As “Star Wars” is set to rise from the dead once more, there’s always the question of whether to keep a classic series going or let it die.

“Skyfall” reminds the world why we still need James Bond.

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