As British superspy James Bond turns 50 with “Skyfall,” he's demoted by his doubtful MI6 handlers, saddled with middle-age aches and pains, nagged by a sense of creeping mortality, confronted with a shadowy new world of cyber terrorism and accosted by perhaps the most deliriously, floridly lunatic villain since SPECTRE's Ernst Stavro Blofeld.
In short, this is an older, perhaps not wiser but at least wilier James Bond facing the 21st century realities of aging, virtual villains and computer-spiked mayhem.
Daniel Craig, now in complete command as both a throwback to the man's-man 007 of Sean Connery and a modern-day knight errant jousting with existential angst, handles both the daunting action duties and the deeper psychological plumbing of the character with equal aplomb.
While this 23rd installment of the official 007 franchise certainly pays apt tribute to the cheeky, old-school conventions that fans expect — flashy cars, breakneck stunts, smoking guns, evocative music, exotic locales and lovely femmes fatale (those juicy Bond girls) — “Skyfall” ups the ante by importing the high-class talents of Oscar-winning director Sam Mendes (“American Beauty”) and celebrated cinematographer Roger Deakins to give the old traditions an uncommon sheen and to invest the story with real-world urgency and surprising emotional resonance.
Following the requisite opening credits, festooned with swirly, sexy graphics and a brassy title tune penned and performed by Adele, there's the customary, logistically dazzling, 10-minute action sequence featuring a chase through the bazaars and across the tiled rooftops of Istanbul and then atop a lumbering train.
Then Bond, badly battered and facing a loss of his top-secret, license-to-kill status, finds himself pulled into a web of intrigue involving his mentor M (Judi Dench, grand in her seventh time out) and a formerly favored agent gone rogue — the silky, sinister Silva (Javier Bardem, in floppy blond Andy Warhol hair, delivering a lip-smackingly campy performance).