By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Bond. James Bond. Fall. Skyfall. Umph. Triumph. Okay, enough. But how about this?

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Is it possible that the 23rd entry in the James Bond series of spy thrillers is actually the best one yet?

Time will tell and perhaps Goldfinger will regain that glowing reputation at some point, but, improbable as it seems, Skyfall sure feels like the new gold standard when you’re watching it.

(4 stars out of 4)

Dr. No, the first Bond flick to emerge from an Ian Fleming-authored novel, made it to the movie screen fifty years ago.

So happy anniversary, James. And we won’t cash in those Bonds just yet.

That’s because director Sam Mendes and star Daniel Craig, the sixth actor to take on British agent 007 (for a third time) have collaborated with spectacular results in no small measure because of a multi-faceted screenplay by Neil Purvis, Robert Wade, and John Logan that is much more grounded in reality than virtually all of its predecessors.

In this adventure – and let’s face it, the specifics hardly matter: we’ll follow 007 anywhere – Bond’s loyalty to M is tested when MI6 comes under attack.

If you need M or MI6 defined or explained, you’re not a Bond buff. But the knowing screenwriters have wisely kept things lean, mean, and simple so even viewers new to the franchise will have no trouble hanging in there, even if they do miss an in-joke reference or two.

Says here this fantastic film will bring many new fans aboard.

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Mendes – who won the Best director Oscar for American Beauty and subsequently helmed Road to Perdition, Jarhead, Revolutionary Road, and Away We Go – becomes the first Academy Award winner to take on and deliver a Bond movie. His offering is both elegant and intelligent, as he tweaks the 007 formula but not so much that it’s unrecognizable.

It would appear, then, that, given the results of Mendes’ exhilarating excursion into Bondage — to borrow from the Bond catalog — nobody does it better.

Skyfall starts off like gangbusters, opening with the expected extravagant, high-energy action sequence that is gloriously mounted and truly thrilling. Too often in previous installments, however, the opening sequence seemed in retrospect a highlight rather than a kickoff.

Not this time. Skyfall gets things off to a rousing start, but it’s only the beginning of a film that gets better as it goes along.

This Bond has matured.

Skyfall has, in addition to the usual exotic locations (Istanbul, Shanghai, Macau, Scotland), breathtaking cinematography; superb editing; a knowing, non-intrusive score; and a wisely limited amount of high-tech gadgetry. It also has wit and warmth and wonder, to say nothing of nostalgia, gravitas, and – will wonders never cease – character complexity.

Thus does it take its place alongside Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight flicks and the Bourne thrillers as further proof that neither comic book-inspired movies nor action thrillers need be shallow.

Add to all that a terrific supporting cast that includes Javier Bardem as a formidable and flamboyant terrorist villain and Judi Dench as M, Bond’s commanding officer in MI6 (there you go) – both of whom get to give full-bodied performances, a rare occurrence in a Bond film – as well as Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris, and Albert Finney, the latter in a role that seems to have Sean Connery Cameo stamped all over it. Pity.

Bottom line: if you’re already a Bond buff, you’ll remain one. If you’re new to the party, you’ll become one. Either way, you’ll look forward to further adventures. And rest assured, there will be more.

So we’ll shake but not stir all 4 stars out of 4 for an exciting, gripping, and satisfying spy thriller. Skyfall is not a great Bond movie. It’s just a great movie.

More Bill Wine Movie Reviews

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