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SkyfallJust when it seems like everything that could possibly be written about James Bond and the 23 official movies chronicling his super spy exploits, along comes “Skyfall,” a movie that pays homage to the past, while redefining the future of the franchise.

After a mission in Turkey goes awry, James Bond (Craig) is presumed lost. His boss and mentor M (Judy Dench), declares him deceased, but when a terrorist hacker leads a deadly cyber attack on MI6 headquarters 007 returns to his post, tired, haggard and injured but eager to get back into the spy business.

Retrained—ie: various shots of Craig doing push and chin ups plus a word association game where Bond associates “murder” with “employment”—Bond is sent back into the field to track down the villain behind the attack. His investigation leads him to Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem), a psychotic criminal mastermind in the best Ian Fleming tradition. Except that Silva isn’t interested in a ransom of “one mee-lee-on dollars” or aiding Soviet missile development. No, he wants something more personal and deadly—revenge.

The movie’s tone is established in the opening moments of “Skyfall’s” stylized opening sequence. It’s a psychedelic montage in traditional Bond style, set to a new Adele song that evokes the Bond themes of old—before they started hiring Duran Duran and a-ha to warble the opening numbers—but despite the nod to the history of the series, it feels fresh. A blend of old and new, it shapes the understanding of Bond as an old dog in new times, who, by the end of the film will literally and figuratively blow up the past to ensure the future.

It is the most thematically mature Bond movie yet—even the action sequences are a comment on old versus new, pitting Bond’s street smarts and savvy against Silva’s high-tech machines of destruction. A new Q (Ben Whishaw) spends more time behind a computer keyboard than devising gadgets.

Of course, most of us don’t go to Bond movies looking for subtext. We want a Bond girl, a fight scene or three, at last one cool gadget and a cackling villain.

“Skyfall” delivers on most of that. Bérénice Marlohe and Naomie Harris split Bond girl duties, while Craig battles bad guys, feeding one to a hungry reptile. As for gadgets, director Sam Mendes seems to understand that less is more. “Exploding pens?,” Q says at one point. “We don’t really go in for that anymore.”

As for the villain, Javier Bardem, who doesn’t show up for over an hour, makes a quiet but spectacular entrance, with a speech worthy of the best Bond villain. With wild blonde hair, and an uncharacteristically (for a baddie at least) understated demeanor he oozes Oedipal menace. He is a Bond bad guy for a new generation, and his presence is one of the great pleasures of the movie.

The connection between Bond and M lies at the heart of the film. For the first time their relationship is explored, revealing a deeper connection than has been hinted at in the past. Dench’s performance adds dimension to a relationship that has been taken for granted in previous entries.

A near perfect blend of old and new, “Skyfall” is a heady mix of action and intellect that will leave you shaken and stirred.

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