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'Skyfall' sends Bond franchise soaring again

4:51 PM, Nov 9, 2012   |    comments
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Video: Trailer: 'Skyfall'

Actor Daniel Craig at the Germany premiere of 'Skyfall' at the Theater am Potsdamer Platz on October 30, 2012 in Berlin, Germany. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images for Sony Pictures)

(USA Today) -- What a difference 50 years makes. It might sound blasphemous, but in Skyfall Daniel Craig has it all over previous 007s.

Since taking on the James Bond mantle in 2006 with Casino Royale, Craig has injected a vital transfusion of fresh plasma into a franchise that began in 1962 with Sean Connery in Dr. No.

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In Skyfall (3.5 stars out of four; rated PG-13; opens Friday nationwide), Bond is essentially reborn after being shot and left for dead. (The same could be said of the franchise, after 2008's disappointing Quantum of Solace.) Re-booted in intriguing ways, Skyfall still respects its predecessors. Nods to classic Bond-isms are duly meted out, incorporating the super-spy's distinctive martini order, classic Aston Martin and array of snazzy gadgets

The 44-year-old Craig owns Bond now. He's a 007 who's no super-hero, with his graying stubble and slight tremor when firing a gun. Those details help humanize the ultra-suave character. Craig is still believable as a guy who can leap on a moving train and tussle with a bad guy. And, terminally cool, he looks ever-dashing in an exquisitely tailored suit.

Director Sam Mendes' take on Bond sizzles with style and substance. With breakneck-paced action sequences, Skyfall is also a superbly cast, witty and grown-up escapade.

As dictated in these tales based on Ian Fleming's novels, a cartoonish arch-villain menaces Bond. And who better to play a malevolent creep than Javier Bardem, whose blood-curdling murderer with bad hair in No Country for Old Men is the stuff of nightmares. As it turns out, Bardem's Silva is a new-fangled nemesis: settling old scores via cyber-terrorism. The film intriguingly raises the question of whether traditional espionage methods are being rendered obsolete in an age where cyber hackers can instantly gather covert information with far less risk.

Before we meet Bardem, in yet another bad coif - this one blond - there's an eye-popping opening credit sequence with a title song by Adele that recalls Shirley Bassey's signature Goldfinger theme.

The story takes off with a series of suspenseful chases, in a style closer to Bourne than Bond. To root out evil, 007 trots the globe from Turkey to London to Shanghai to Macau, and finally to remote Scotland.

Chases through exotic bazaars, across precarious bridges and on the windswept moors are exhilarating, as is a scene in which Bond dangles on a skyscraper's elevator just before sneaking up on a bad guy, silhouetted against the dazzling neon of Shanghai at night.

Bond's boss, M (Judi Dench) is threatened by the nasty Silva, a computer genius, and the fates of M, Bond and all of MI6, Britain's intelligence agency, are imperiled. .After being off the grid a while, Bond returns, spurred by his loyalty to M.

Even at nearly 2.5 hours, the spectacle is consistent, though a climactic explosive battle goes on a bit too long.

As superb as the special effects can be, it's the cast that renders it irresistible. Bardem is sneeringly fiendish as Silva, Judi Dench is an intriguing blend of stern Machiavellian matriarch and honest vulnerability. Fiennes is spot-on as M's efficient boss Mallory and Ben Whishaw is droll as research whiz and gadget maker Q.

Over the past half century, audiences have been shaken and stirred by 007 movies, and entertained in varying doses by a succession of brawny Bonds. Consistently high-caliber, Skyfall is the ideal way to celebrate the 50-year mark.

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