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Movie review: "Skyfall" is Bond at its best

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(8 out of 10 stars)

143 minutes, Rated PG-13 for language, violence, and adult situations.

"Skyfall" is everything that a James Bond movie is suppose to be — and then some.

Don't for a second think you're getting an Academy Award-nominated film-in-waiting here. There's no intricate plot, no deep character development, or complex dialogue anywhere to be found. But with "Skyfall" being the 23rd official James Bond film, I do not think that was much of a surprise to anyone.  You kind of know what to expect going into it.

And as expected and hoped, this movie both celebrates its lineage and gives its audience a great time at the theater. There are more than a few nods to its past — references that have so ingrained themselves into pop culture — that they brought spontaneous applause from the audience. Surprisingly, at the end of the movie, everyone walked away realizing that the James Bond series may have re-invented itself and thus ensured its future.

The plot is pretty simple. In the first scene we find out someone has captured the worldwide list of MI-6 agents (this storyline is getting old, too; when will the CIA or MI-6 simply put this list on a computer that isn't attached to the Internet or living outside of London?) and is using it to terrorize M, played brilliantly by Judy Dench. Not wanting to create a spoiler alert, the remainder of the story doesn't stray too far away from that initial setup. Sure, there's a few twists and turns, but don't expect to see "Hamlet" here.

What makes James Bond a lot of fun and a great couple of hours in the movie theater is everything else that comes with it.

The fight/chase scenes in this movie are plentiful and fantastic. The opening scene set in Istanbul gives us a great chase with automobiles, motorcycles and trains. The backdrop of this beautiful, ancient city makes it all the more stunning. As the film moves to and from London, Shanghai, and Macau, the sets get more glamorous and elegant as we see where the ultra-wealthy live and work and play.

The Bond girls? They are supposed to be the most beautiful, sophisticated, and perhaps dangerous women in the world and "Skyfall" doesn't disappoint. Naomie Harris shows up in the first scene as a fellow MI-6 field agent and dots the movie throughout. In her biggest production since the "Pirates of the Caribbean" epics, she very much holds her own on screen, not only by virtue of her incredible good looks, but with her acting prowess as well. 

I just read that in the 50-year history (that'll make you feel old if you remember the original "Dr. No"  from 1962) that James Bond has had 52 conquests. Between Harris and the arresting newcomer Bérénice Lim Marlohe, you will have to go for yourself to find out if Bond gets to make another notch in his well-worn headboard.

What was odd about the film may have given it some longevity going forward. We see a different side of Bond that we have ever seen before. Bond struggles a bit with drink (and not martinis) and with his age (a slap at Craig, 44, given that Roger Moore was 57 in his last Bond movie). We also get a little backstory into Bond's early life, which brings us closer to him than ever before. Personally, I prefer the darkness and mystery that surrounds the Bond persona. It's the type of thing that allows your imagination to express itself. It's the type of thing that made "Raiders of the Lost Ark" a top 100 AFI movie and infinitely better than its sequels. Others seemingly liked all that, so I fear to be in a very small minority.

The secondary characters were spectacular, albeit a bit underutilized when it came to screen time or plot points. Dame Judy Dench, retiring from the Bond series after her seventh film, was as brilliant as ever creating a character that scared me — and she was a good guy. Q made a welcome reappearance, played by Ben Whishaw (who did play Hamlet very famously in England), and was well-written and uniquely well-crafted by Whishaw. Finally, one of my favorite actors, Ralph Fiennes, was posed to play a major role early in the movie, but seemingly disappeared until the end, and to my great disappointment nothing much happened with him.

And of course, every Bond movie must have a bad guy and Javier Bardem ("No Country for Old Men" and "Biutiful") was excellent. Bardem is not afraid of maintaining image on screen and he does not disappoint here. Playing a disenfranchised former MI-6 agent who is both brilliant and effeminate yet dangerous, Bardem steals his scenes. Unfortunately, there aren't enough scenes with him.

With any Bond movie, it starts and ends with how good Bond is and Craig exceeds expectations. We are past Roger Moore (far too conservative), Timothy Dalton (far too ugly), and Pierce Brosnan (far too effete. Plus I kept waiting for Stephanie Zimbalist to pop up on the screen) and onto an actor who can provide everything that Sean Connery did when he made the character.

In his third Bond film, Craig deftly handles the character development the script throws at him, yet looks like he's taking a punch when he's getting punched. He also has that ornery and mischievous twinkle in his eye on lockdown that we should see from an independent yet loyal Bond character.

Given that when he was cast he went up against a worldwide net of 200 other candidates for the part, including Jude Law, Orlando Bloom, Colin Farrell, Ewan McGregor, Hugh Jackman and Gerard Butler (sorry, no Americans allowed), the producers hit a home run with their choice of Craig.

"Skyfall" was directed by Sam Mendes ("American Beauty" and "Road to Perdition") and filmed by renowned choreographer Roger Deakins ("A Beautiful Mind" and everything Coen Brothers). They made good use of their talents, their actors and their sets. The writer, Neil Purvis, wrote the last five Bond movies and does a nice job of moving the series forward regardless of my objections.

Go see "Skyfall". Go see it while it's still in parking lot-sized, ear-shattering IMAX, which makes every movie better.

I give it 8 of 10 stars.

About the Author
Who was that mysterious man you saw in the theater last night? You tried to get a look at him but he quickly disappeared in a puff of smoke, his cackle trailing in the air, leaving behind his calling card: a half-eaten box of popcorn and a lukewarm soda. He is Our Movie Reviewer named Tim!