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Excellent ‘Skyfall' delves into Bond's past

Nov. 9, 2012 - 08:45AM   |   Last Updated: Nov. 9, 2012 - 08:45AM  |  
Skyfall
Skyfall: Bond's loyalty to M is tested as her past comes back to haunt her. As MI6 comes under attack, 007 must track down and destroy the threat, no matter how personal the cost.
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Daniel Craig plays James Bond in "Skyfall." (Francois Duhamel / Sony Pictures via AP)

‘Skyfall’

Rated PG-13 for violence, some sexuality and language.

Amid the heavy buzz for the arrival of "Skyfall," the new James Bond film, there's an important thing to know going in: It's a different kind of Bond film.

It may not seem that way at first, since it bolts out of the gate like a thoroughbred on steroids with a classic chase scene as good as any I've seen in this venerable series, which now totals 23 films.

We open with Bond (Daniel Craig) and his wheel-woman sidekick (Naomie Harris, the steel-hard zombie killer from "28 Days Later") in Turkey, in hot pursuit of a killer (Ola Rapace, ex-husband of Noomi).

Cars barreling down crowded streets, motorcycles skidding across tile rooftops, hand-to-hand battle atop a moving train, ending with … the villain getting away and Bond falling to his death?

Whaaaa?

Of course, he's not really dead. But that twist serves as a trap door into one of the most introspective and inward-facing entries in the Bond film canon.

It's still hugely entertaining, with plenty of action, but it's a more subtle, brooding vibe, with details on Bond's background that I don't recall hearing mentioned in any of the previous films.

That early "death" scene is also a launch pad for a deep and sometimes melancholy riff on whether old-school "spy" outfits like MI6 are aging dinosaurs in a new digital age against a new kind of shadowy enemy.

After his "death," Bond goes off the grid for a spell before heading home to his boss M (Judi Dench), who is in hot water over the botched mission.

Turns out the target had stolen a hard drive with the names of every undercover NATO agent in terrorist outfits around the world. Whoever has the hard drive now is outing agents a few at a time — and taunting M about it.

Then the faceless bad guy sets off a bomb in MI6 headquarters. The political fallout is so bad that the new British intelligence chief, Gareth Mallory (Ralph Fiennes), bluntly tells M it's time to retire. But she's not going down without a fight — and neither is Bond.

The trail snakes through Macau to Shanghai, where a gorgeous dragon lady (Berenice Marlohe) leads Bond to Silva (Javier Bardem, the hulking assassin in "No Country for Old Men"), a bleached-blond former MI6 agent who has gone waaaay rogue and nurses a huge grudge against M.

Bardem's Silva is a superb Bond antagonist, but it's the interplay between Craig and Dench that powers this franchise reboot. The quirky relationship between M and Bond is mostly about stern mother/wayward son, but at times it also seems to give off a hint of May-December romance.

Craig continues to be my absolute favorite Bond (sorry, Sean), because he's drawn the closest to novelist Ian Fleming's original vision — a savage, steel-hard, remorseless, blunt-force object.

"Skyfall" has plenty of in-jokes homages to the rich Bond canon while evolving in fresh ways, including a new Q (Ben Whishaw) and a neat twist on Harris' character (there's a good reason we never learn the character's name until near the film's end).

Fittingly, however, the best touch has to do with that classic automobile. As Silva learns to his everlasting regret, you never mess with 007's Aston-Martin.

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