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. "Skyfall"

When you can't have Sean Connery because of the flow of time, all his successors and substitutions have shown what difficulty there is in meeting the standards he set. The shoes are just very hard to fill without a need for stretching.

Now, 50 years after the first Bond, there's the matter of updated style and hugely updated effects. Here, this series has always exercised a degree of taste as befits the movie culture of the time and that practice is one of the pluses of this 007 chapter.

But, the best news is that the new Bond, Daniel Craig, in his third episode, at last puts the pining for Connery in the drawer, out of sight, and wiped from the neccesity to make comparisons. He's smart and athletic, with the tasteful style one might want in a modern Bond. He wears clothes like he wields a gun: smartly. Long live the new Bond.

Besides the honors for impeccable choices and some of the most creative ideas that have kept the series alive for, now, 23 films, there is always the opening sequence as a major introduction of who you're about to spend a movie with. "Skyfall" is no exception, with a chase sequence that pins you to your seat in amazement and wish fulfillment. It's in the astonishment category of openers. The last one I enjoyed this much for shock and awe was "Fast Five." Of course, that's where the resemblance ends.

The chase, on motorbikes over rooftops in Istanbul until it winds up as hand combat between Bond and the terrorist who has possession of a top secret list of MI6 agents on a rushing train traversing a mountain route that includes tunnel with little overhead clearance. Bond must retrieve that list or agents will die. He has the help of agent Eve, who will become Moneypenny, once an MI6 office worker with a "thing" for Bond, here a hot Naomie Harris ("Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End") out in the field with what seems the same kind of veritable attachment to 007.

She's not the only character who pretty much remained at HQ while Bond performed his exploits out in the field. In fact, the character we know as "M" (Judy Dench, "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides"), is at the center of the drama as the target of supervillain Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem, "No Country For Old Men"). He's an ex-MI6 agent who dislikes her so much, his purpose in life is to assassinate her. After releasing five of the field agents on that list with a promise to release five more every week, he begins his terror with a bomb attack on MI6 itself.

It's an updated Bond world, in fact, one that recognizes and trades in anarchy and power through unhindered destruction and the technological weapons of digital superiority.

"Skyfall" puts everyone in the vise of danger like never before or, at least, we feel it more. The always above-it-all mentor, M, has taken on an edge of worry, as though there's something out there that makes her and the agency unusually vulnerable. Bond might be the more assured one in this developing spyworld, but he gets banged up like never before. But, for us, it's a positive thing. We not only connect to this realism, but can rest easily that the thrills and chills of the Broccoli franchise has just received a shot of some kind of steroidal juice. Sony Pictures, you can be sure, is smiling.

Of course, the nervousness of M is leading to something major as Dench foresees her own mortality and is ready, with the excellent formulations of a script arc by director Sam Mendes' ("Jarhead") "Quantum of Solace" and "Casino Royale" screenwiters Neal Purvis and Robert Wade (and two others), to accept a receding, perhaps final, arc. If this superb installment tells us anything it's that it was time for a freshness pill and it got one.

Gareth Mallory (Ralph Fiennes, "Wrath of the Titans") enters the picture up at the aging agency as the new Intelligence and Security Commitee's new chairman who is the means and embodiment of changes to come. Even Bond is in his sights, especially when the man with the license to kill fails the test of readiness to return to the field to deal with that very pesky Silva goon. As we know, however, 007 at 80% is well over anyone else's 110%.

The inventive "Q" is played by Ben Whishaw ("Cloud Atlas"), who brings his own brand of quirkiness to the nerdly perspicacity of this beloved character.

Besides Eve as one of the ladies we expect to get encoiled with the agent we love, at least eventually, the exquisite exotic Severine in what may be a debut as Berenice Marlohe is the Bond Girl of the hour, and she fits like a fine piece of exquisite art in the Bond gallery. Bardem seems to have not a moment of doubt in his new portrayal of evil and villainy in the series' style and context. He invests his terrorist with an arch ingenuity that puts Bond and the agency back on its heels. Will James B. find a way to restore balance, especially after becoming Silva's captive?

It's not that the series depends on it -- that's a given. It's Mendes' and Co.'s astutely cunning way they have to keep our blood pumping every minute of the latest and, arguably, best time we've had with the enduring Bond in years.

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                                              ~~  Jules Brenner  

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Site rating: 2

This man must be watching different films. SKYFALL was a mess; ridiculous plot, some bad acting, overlong...the list is too long. Mr. Brenner must get some access to actors and such because his reviews are so laudatory that he clearly has special prism lenses. He should focus on being a CRITIC, not a SHILL.

                                                           ~~ S C M
[Ed. note: Mr. S is entitled to his opinion. So am I and 271 of the critics on Rotten Tomatoes out of 294. That's a critical score of +92% for this film. 'Nuff said? But, hey, opinions expressed here don't have to be agreeable ones. And, to his point about shilling for actors whom I may know, he should read some of my other reviews before making such a wrong guess.]

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Daniel Craig in his third time out as James Bond
Ensuring his place in the roll and the continuance of the series.

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