‘Skyfall” best Bond in years

In seeing the new James Bond adventure, “Skyfall,” today, I was struck by the thought that I don’t believe I’ve seen a movie that seemed so much like the first film in a series and so much like the last film in a series simultaneously.

I’ll tread lightly in the spoiler department here, have no fear, but let’s just say that director Sam Mendes debut in the Bond series – and Daniel Craig’s third outing as the durable British spy, marking his 50th year in movies – wraps up and reinvigorates the character at the same time.

The recent “Star Trek” remake left me with much of the same feeling. Although it featured a mostly new cast, the presence of so many familiar “Trek” elements – not to mention the presence of Leonard Nimoy as classic Spock – made the movie feel like a new beginning and a summation.

Much the same can be said of “Skyfall,” which opens with Bond and fellow agent Eve (her full name is withheld for obvious reasons by the end of the movie) in pursuit of an agent with the names of MI6 operatives working undercover in terrorist organizations.

After a chase through very familiar-to-moviegoers street markets, over rooftops and on top of  a moving train, Bond is lost and presumed dead.

M (Judi Dench) mourns but has other matters to think about. There’s not only the list of agents’ names but someone seems to be targeting her for death.

It is an attempt on M’s life that brings Bond back from an island hideaway. M sends him back to work, but not before he meets British intelligence official Mallory (Ralph Fiennes) and the new quartermaster, Q (Ben Whishaw), an impossibly young tech expert.

Before long, Bond finds that M’s tormentor is Silva (Javier Bardem), a former MI6 spy who feels he was abandoned in the field by M.

That’s one of the elements of “Skyfall” that seems most interesting. While Silva has some destructive plans and a bizarre lair on an abandoned city/island, he’s no Dr. Evil-style global extortionist. This is personal between Silva and M and it quickly becomes personal for Bond too.

As much of a feel as we get for M and her life and personality in “Skyfall,” we get the most personal look at Bond we’ve had since he fell in love and married in “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.”

We learn the circumstances that propelled Bond into the spy game. We see his childhood home. And we see a transformation in Bond during the course of the movie.

I’m not sure if Craig is continuing in the role. It would be a shame if he and Mendes don’t come back for another entry. By the end of this movie, everything is in place for a truly stirring Bond follow-up.

Some random observations:

Rumors circulated that Mendes briefly considered asking Sean Connery to take a small but pivotal supporting role in the movie. He didn’t, and wisely so, thinking it would be too distracting to have a former Bond on hand. Albert Finney does a nice job with the part.

I really enjoyed the origin of the name Skyfall.

I don’t think I’ve seen a komodo dragon menace someone so effectively since “Jonny Quest.”

The movie’s action takes place in a couple of far-flung locales, as usual, but the best scenes are in steel-gray Britain and Scotland.

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