In "Skyfall," when James Bond meets gadget guru Q, the young newcomer hands over a gun and a radio transmitter.
"Not exactly Christmas," 007 remarks.
"Were you expecting an exploding pen? We really don't go in for that anymore," Q counters, in a clever exchange that embodies the past and present, just as the movie so brilliantly and often breathlessly does.
It harkens back to the franchise's roots, with a trip that follows up on a family reference in the Ian Fleming novel "You Only Live Twice," plants the seeds for the return of new characters and moves around the world with speed, stealth and silky style. It's not just a good Bond movie, but a good movie, period.
3.5 stars = Very Good
- Starring: Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Javier Bardem.
- Rating: PG-13 for intense violent sequences throughout, some sexuality, language and smoking.
"Skyfall" stars Daniel Craig for a third time as Bond and introduces fresh faces such as Ben Whishaw from "Cloud Atlas" as Q, Ralph Fiennes as a government official with oversight of MI6, Naomie Harris as a field agent, Berenice Marlohe as a mysterious woman Bond meets overseas, and Javier Bardem as a blond bad guy.
Dame Judi Dench is back for a seventh time as M, and she not only gets out from behind her desk but also shows the muscular mettle that landed her there.
The movie opens with a roughly 12-minute chase that moves from car to motorcycle (across the requisite rooftop, as if this were Bourne instead of Bond, and then through a window bouncing into a Turkish bazaar) to train, with Bond and his adversary fighting atop the speeding cars. By the time the Adele theme song kicks in, it appears that Bond may have met his match or even his maker.
In fact, Bond is declared and believed dead. When he resurfaces, the British Secret Service is under cyber and actual attack and 007 is needed for duty, if he's up to the physical and emotional task.
This is a world where bytes can be more powerful than bullets, where Bond girls are more than eye candy rising like mythical goddesses from the sea, and the villain doesn't enter until halfway through but then is portrayed by an Oscar winner working wacky hair once more, as in "No Country for Old Men."
As with Shakespeare, what's past is prologue, even as the action moves around the globe to such locations as Turkey, England, China and Scotland.
"Skyfall," directed by Sam Mendes ("American Beauty") and written by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and John Logan, seems very mindful of the passage of time and the consequences of long-ago actions. There is talk about retirement, about how MI6 is a "young man's game" along with a reference to "old dog, new tricks."
It's a vastly changed world, as one veteran observes. "We can't keep working in the shadows. There are no more shadows."
But there are thrills in the dark as, with each installment, Mr. Craig makes Bond his own, even drinking a name beer now and then, thanks to product placement.
"Skyfall" provides plenty of reasons to toast the 50th anniversary of the franchise, the 23rd movie installment and an iconic character who still leaves us shaken, stirred and satisfied.