Movie review: Skyfall

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From the November 8, 2012 edition

As the James Bond film franchise continues to get a vigorous shaking, consider this critic sufficiently stirred.

In the three films since Daniel Craig took the Bond reins, the series has gotten grittier, more grown-up and more modern.

With “Skyfall,” it also boasts arguably its most distinguished director, Oscar-winner Sam Mendes (“American Beauty”), a perfect fit for a series trying to embrace character-fueled drama over gadget-fueled action.

The plot is hardly earth-shattering from a Bond perspective, but the stakes are high, as the release of sensitive information threatens the British intelligence agency MI6.

The fallout from the leak threatens the career of Bond’s boss M (Judi Dench). And, of course, we have a new Bond supervillain named Silva (Javier Bardem, in one of the most inspired bits of casting in franchise history).

We’ll leave the twists for you to unravel. It’s a plot that feels like classic Bond with a thoroughly modern twist.

Mendes isn’t exactly known for action, and this is a little evident in a hyper-cut opening action sequence that feels just a bit shaky. But as he settles in to the characters, Mendes brings out both the drama and great performances from a great cast.

There’s set-piece action, of course — and one of the most beautifully shot fight sequences we’ve seen in a while — but it’s the sophistication of the drama that makes this Bond tick.

Craig is making this Bond more vulnerable, an aging agent who wonders whether he still has it, and with support from actors of the caliber of Dench and Ralph Fiennes, you won’t find many cracks.

But it’s watching Bardem gleefully diving into his best villain since Anton Chigurh that is worth the price of admission alone. I’ve haven’t found careful enunciation this unnerving since Hannibal Lector.

After the muddled — and terribly titled — “Quantum of Solace,” it’s good to know the rebooted Bond is back on track. I raise my martini to you, Mr. Bond.