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Introspective 'Skyfall' one of Bond's best

7:10 PM, Nov. 11, 2012
XXX _CASINO ROYALE MOV 546 .JPG A ENT
Daniel Craig took over the role of James Bond in the 2006 film 'Casino Royale.' / Columbia Pictures
Naomie Harris and Daniel Craig star in 'Skyfall.' / Columbia Pictures

‘Skyfall’

Star rating:★★★½
Rated: PG-13 for intense violent sequences throughout, some sexuality, language and smoking.

Daniel Craig returns as James Bond in 'Skyfall.' / Columbia Pictures
Daniel Craig, left, and Berenice Marlohe, appear in a scene from the motion picture 'Skyfall.' (Gannett, Francois Duhamel/Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures/Columbia Pictures/File) / GANNETT

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It is a bittersweet thing to watch someone once so full of youth and vitality start to age, to lose a step.

Especially when he has a license to kill.

“Skyfall,” the latest in the 50 years’ worth of James Bond films, finds Agent 007 not just aging physically but also as a kind of institutional relic at a time when a few strokes on a computer keyboard from an office in London can accomplish much of what he can (or so the bureaucrats would like to think).

The echo of current-day debate over the value of on-the-ground spy work versus anonymous, high-tech intelligence is obvious and well played.

It is an interesting notion, all this, the idea that the man who so many times singlehandedly saved both Great Britain (and, by extension, the world) by being good with a gun, better with women but mostly just cooler than everyone else, might be slowing down.

Director Sam Mendes and Daniel Craig, returning for his third film as Bond, hit this theme early and often, and with exceptional skill. “Skyfall” has plenty of ridiculous chases and a few quips, but more than anything else it’s an introspective, personal entry in the Bond canon, and one of the best.

The requisite pre-credit chase scene ends with a cold reminder for Bond that he is a cog in the British intelligence game.

Without giving too much away, events conspire to make him question his fitness and value to the crown; if he needed any help, Gareth Mallory (Ralph Fiennes), M’s boss, is there to reinforce the point.

M (played brilliantly, again, by Judi Dench) fares no better in Mallory’s eyes. It’s a young man’s game, he insists, and both M and Bond begin to wonder if he’s right.

Not to worry. Once yet another unhinged psychopath arrives on the scene, both Bond and M know that his way of doing business is the only way to bring the villain to justice. So put on the tux and grab a martini. It’s time to save the world again.

The villain is a blond-haired nut job named Silva (Javier Bardem, enjoying the lunatic complexities of the role so much that you can’t help liking the guy, no matter how evil he is). He’s a cyberterrorist who has, among other things, commandeered his own island. Silva has a personal grudge to settle, which is always more fun. I’m not sure Bond ever turns on a computer, much less uses one; he leaves that to Q (Ben Whitshaw), a full-on nerd whose age and manner makes it hard for Bond to, well, bond with him.

In Q, Bond sees the future of MI-6, and he doesn’t like the way it looks. There are many glances back in “Skyfall,” including a spin in the beloved Aston Martin, whose presence is both commented upon and lightly ridiculed. It’s the perfect pitch, and Mendes maintains it throughout.

Screenwriters Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and John Logan even manage to work in a little of Bond’s childhood; thankfully, not too much. It’s no surprise that it will all come down to the modern way of doing things versus the old-school way, so much so that at one point Bond and his companions are practically fighting with muskets.

The great success for Mendes and Craig, however, is that while “Skyfall” obviously has a great fondness for the past, it’s not trapped there. It also anticipates Bond’s future.

In this immensely satisfying movie, so do we.

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