The twenty-third installment in the James Bond film franchise, Skyfall, debuted last week in the U.S. to strong reviews and packed houses. It’s worthy of the praise as one of the best Bond films ever.

Skyfall is a long-awaited oasis for Bond fans, with numerous references to previous Bond films, beautiful visuals, and all the clichés James Bond movies are known for- but better. Skyfall reenergizes the Bond franchise with great plot, fantastic cinematography and opulent visual style. What is noteworthy about Skyfall is that, unlike some Bond films, it actually does elevate the Bond film franchise to a much-needed new level while paying homage to the existing films in a subtle and dignified way. Add incredible visuals and you have a holiday blockbuster and one of the best Bond films ever, a delight following the dingy and depressing Quantum of Solice.

The imagery in Skyfall is captivating, no small feat in the age of advanced computer generated imagery that often looks phony. What sets Skyfall apart is photography, composition and creativity, not just lavish computer generated imagery, which is applied sparingly and convincingly with perhaps one exception, a slightly clunky if typically “Bond” scene when monitor lizards attack Bond and an assailant.

The Bond film franchise is about clichés, some of them Fleming and Bond originated, others quite openly borrowed from other films and other series. Director Sam Mendes and Barbara Broccoli of Bond film fame were obviously influenced by the “Bourne” film series as some of the scenes are a bit  close to beach scenes in Goa, India from The Bourne Supremacy. Nonetheless, those scenes were good for Bourne, and they are good for Bond too. Apparently another cliché of disenfranchised film spies is a temporary respite in the beatnik beach communities of India.

Opening scene stunts, titles and the theme song are a staple of Bond films and this one returns faithfully to the first five-minute formula of previous bond films. The opening stunts are masterful, if borrowed, and refreshingly free of any clunky effects. They wrecked a lot of cars and broke things to film the opening sequence. Opening titles are a treat with Adele’s theme song as a fitting soundtrack, among the very best from previous Bond theme songs. It’s been in the top five songs of the British charts for five weeks. The graphics revisit previous Bond movies and make the avid Bond fan feel at home.

Visuals like this fight scene in front of a giant, deadly jellyfish projected onto a skyscraper in Shanghai make Skyfall a breathtaking treat.

One masterful scene is the brutal fight that unfolds against a massive Portuguese man-of-war laser graphic being projected on a skyscraper in Shanghai. It’s beautiful Bond style. Add to that the sweeping landscapes that are visually opulent in style and composition, such as the arrival scene in Macau, and you have one of the best Bond travelogues ever. Lighting is used in many scenes in place of overblown digital effects to achieve a more elegant and authentic appearance. All of it is done in the stylized visuals Ian Fleming was known for in his writing. Fleming would approve of Skyfall.

The pace of Skyfall is snappy with the typical Bond globetrotting locations shot on location in the United Kingdom, India (where the production crew ran into trouble with the state government early on), China and Turkey.

While nearly all of Skyfall is masterful, Berenice Marlohe misses the mark as a captivating Bond girl in here role as “Severine”.

What is missing from Skyfall is a developed and captivating Bond girl character. While Berenice Marlohe as Severine makes a stab at the mandatory Bond girl cliché role, her character in the movie is minor, somewhat mercifully so, as Marlohe lacks allure and personality as a Bond girl. She is, like some Bond girls, merely a victim.

A character who shares the spotlight with Bond to the greatest degree ever is the previously underused Dame Judy Dench as “M”. Dench is the best “M” in the modern Bond era and interprets the character masterfully across her seven appearances in Bond films as “M”. She takes a more active role in Skyfall and provides a new conduit to the next generation of Bond films.

If you are a Bond fan you will love Skyfall. In the two public screenings I attended the theatre was packed. It was obvious who the Bond fans were from their reaction to scenes with reference to previous films. This Bond has won Bond fans over. The local Hollywood Reporter projected $80M in ticket sales for the opening weekend. For moviegoers who aren’t rampant Bond fans it is an elegant and visual action film that provides a delightful escape and a visual vacation from lesser films. Skyfall adds momentum back to the Bond film series after losing steam with Quantum of Solace and the four-year hiatus from MGM’s financial problems during the recession.

Skyfall is the perfect extension of the Bond series, a worthy celebration of its 50th anniversary and a  must see holiday film. It’s a strong assertion that Bond is, indeed, back.

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