WAY better than Quantum of Solace but not *quiiite* as awesome as Casino Royale, this 23rd installment in the 007 franchise delivers a pretty kick-ass thrill ride.

Genre(s): Action, Adventure, Crime, Thriller

Director: Sam Mendes

Actors: Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Javier Bardem, Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris, Bérénice Marlohe, Albert Finney ... Kincade, Ben Whishaw

Year: 2012

MPAA Rating: PG-13

Country: UK / USA

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Things aren’t looking too great for anyone when the film opens: super-spy James Bond (Daniel Craig) is presumed dead after a botched mission that simultaneously lands M (Judi Dench) in seriously hot water with the powers-that-be – including Ralph Fiennes – who calmly but pointedly suggest it might be time for her to pursue a voluntary early retirement. Then a bomb blows up a good chunk of MI6 and everyone’s back in the game.

Which is a good thing, since this film’s colorfully coiffed and kinda campy villain, Silva (Javier Bardem), is just getting started on his mission to unleash vengeful mayhem on our heroes.

Blissfully electric right from its opening frames, Skyfall starts fast and then keeps right on flying, whether it’s a rooftop motorcycle chase through Istanbul, a reflective shootout in Chinese skyscrapers or an explosive subterranean chase sequence from station to station on the London tube. Despite a beefy running of time of nearly two-and-a-half hours, the action never really slows down or lags… and neither does the story, which (this time around) is infused with a sense of emotion and melancholy that adds a little extra depth and feeling to the proceedings.

Thankfully, Craig has the chops to make his Bond believable as a brute as much as a broken man, and he will no doubt send many hearts a’flutter as his James Bond puts the pieces of his life back together. Dench is likewise (and not surprisingly) adept at allowing glimmers of humanity to shine through well-guarded cracks in her usually impenetrable veneer. And Bardem… well, he sort of chews on the scenery a bit as the deranged mastermind in their crosshairs – he’s as goofy as he is creepy, which is a combination that goes back and forth between “this works!” and “no, this is silly.”

The supporting cast are delightful across the board, but special attention must be paid to the brand new Q (Ben Whishaw), a bespectacled young computer geek who’s as good with a microchip as Bond is with the ladies. Fiennes is perfectly stiff and solemn; Naomie Harris and Bérénice Marlohe are fine, if not outstanding, as the requisite Bond bombshells; and Albert Finney pops up in a nice tough’n’cuddly role for the film’s final third.

Spectacularly shot and paced (under unexpectedly genre-savvy director Sam Mendes), Skyfall is an excellent addition the oeuvre, a fun way to spend a night at the movies and the first holiday-season offering that demands to be seen on a big screen.

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