While Skyfall marks the 23rd installment in the James Bond franchise, it also happens to be one of the best. Thrilling, gorgeously shot, expertly acted, and with the return of the classic Bond humor missing from the past few outings, Skyfall is a major step in the right direction, one that can stand on its own, while promising the best is yet to come from the franchise.

Coming off a bit of a swing-and-a-miss with Quantum of Solace, Skyfall gets off on the right track fast with an elaborate chase sequence to start things off. While it works as a thrilling piece of entertainment, it also sets into motion and intriguing plot. But perhaps best of all, it reintroduces humor and fun into James Bond. It doesn’t hit you over the head with it as other films have, but adds just the right amount to make things interesting.

The film opens up with MI6 in shambles at the hands of a mysterious and evil power, Silva (Javier Bardem). M (Judi Dench) is fighting to keep her job with a new overseer Gareth Mallory (Ralph Fiennes) keeping a close watch on everything, including 007. With the help of fellow agents Eve (Naomie Harris) and Tanner (Rory Kinnear), a young Q (Ben Whishaw), and a gorgeous mystery woman, Severine (Bérénice Marlohe), Bond attempts to track down Silva to protect M and the rest of MI6. The issues in the story are there, but Mendes and company never really give them much room to distract the film from moving forward at an impressive rate.

Skyfall

The three major newcomers to the franchise all make an immediate impact, with cinematographer Roger Deakins and director Sam Mendes crafting a gorgeous, exhilarating film from the onset. Javier Bardem, meanwhile, is as terrific as any Bond villain we’ve seen, as he channels a sort of Christoph Waltz-like performance from Inglorious Basterds to create a terrifying, yet entertaining villain that deserves attention.

As the film crosses the globe, Deakins proves why he’s been nominated for 9 Oscars, as he gorgeously crafts each scene with a different palate. Credit must also go to Mendes, who’s clearly one of the most talented directors the James Bond franchise has had. Skyfall is simply an expertly made film on top of the entertainment value that comes along with these films.

While his previous installments were more of revenge films, Daniel Craig is given a little room to breathe here. There’s still a much darker tone throughout the film, and Bond goes through some serious personal struggles, but he is still able to explore that which makes Bond such a fun character: the little things. Where past James Bond entries have gone overboard on the camp and silliness, Skyfall is subtle about it, which makes each barely-noticeable joke and hat-tip to past Bond traits that much more enjoyable.

Skyfall

While underutilized, Marlohe is terrific as the femme fatale of the film. Where past Bond films would have simply utilized such a character for sexual chemistry, Severine has some layers to her character that really makes her one of the better Bond girls of late. It’s a shame the chemistry between Bond and Eve wasn’t as strong, given the film gives more attention to that relationship. Harris is a strong presence on screen, but the way the story chooses to explore this relationship doesn’t always work.

In fact, this really leads to the major issue with the film: Bond’s character development. Not to say that it’s all bad, because a large portion of the film is given to exploring the character of James Bond, but there is stuff here that is problematic. Skyfall in essence reinvents the character a bit by introducing the problem of Bond aging, becoming a bit behind the curve. Because of that his relationships with those in MI6 and the British government are given a brand new element. This does give a fresh feel to Bond as a character, and there’s plenty of potential going forward, it’s just that not all of it works here.

With some developmental issues, and moments where the plot struggles in moving forward, Skyfall is nevertheless a success. Immensely entertaining, brilliantly acted, and with absolutely gorgeous visuals from Sam Mendes and Roger Deakins, this is not only a return to form for the Bond franchise, but one of the best Bond films period.

Grade: A-

Rated: PG-13 (for intense violent sequences throughout, some sexuality, language and smoking)

Skyfall opens in theaters on November 9, 2012.

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