NAOMIE HARRIS (left) with Daniel Craig in a scene from “Skyfall.”

‘Skyfall’ soars

Believe the hype. Believe the promos. The latest James Bond film starring Daniel Craig is even better than his 007 debut “Casino Royale,” and miles ahead of its lukewarm follow-up, “Quantum of Solace.”

Bond movies by their very nature are an acquired taste. Fans of the films have their preferences and argue vehemently about the very best Bond actor (most agree Sean Connery). And Bond movies are usually pretty cerebral, too. Sure, you’ve had plenty of cool gadgets and action in the franchise’s 50-year history, but the Bond films released in the New Millennium ramped up the action quotient and chose Daniel Craig, an almost anti-Bond. Drop the excessive suavity, and replace it with a leaner, more ruggedly handsome version. Grittier and less polished, Craig’s Bond is anything but refined.

“Quantum of Solace,” which, in its way, was a lesser extension of “Casino Royal,” and basically a direct sequel to the film, while certainly well made, didn’t move audiences. “Skyfall,” from its opening moments, makes it quite clear that this is going to be a different Bond film and things are going to be harder for our hero.

There’s something about taking our protagonists through the worst days, moments or weeks of their lives, tearing down their spirit, and watching how they find a way back from the darkness. In “Skyfall,” Bond starts off in plenty of trouble, and really doesn’t work his way out of it, even as the film tumbles to a riveting conclusion. As the body count mounts, so too, does Bond’s troubles, but it’s worse for his handler, the ever likable M (Judi Dench), who has served as a bridge between the ’90s Bond revival and the darker ’00s. A major security breach becomes her responsibility, as the identities of secret agents are posted on YouTube by a disgruntled former super agent, Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem), every inch Bond’s superior, and M’s intellectual equal, Bardem’s character basically steals every scene he’s in.

Action? Check. Bond girl(s)? Check. Gadget genius, Q? Check. International intrigue? Double check. All the basic tropes established from the Ian Fleming books are here, but it’s as if the pieces have been assembled in a martini mixer, shaken, and poured out in no particular order. The Bond chronology isn’t even a fixed point in time anymore. All we know is that the reset button was hit for “Casino Royale,” and this is Bond early in his career.

“Skyfall” goes as far back as Bond’s childhood home and the name of his parents. The movie’s title is not only a metaphor for what happens early in the film, “Skyfall” actually deepens our understanding of Bond the man, something none of the classic films gave us. They always presented 007 the archetype, but never Bond, the man.

Bardem’s Raoul Silva will go down as one of the most charismatic and memorable villains in the history of cinema, not just Bond movies. You’ll love to hate him, and best of all, you’ll kind of understand his motivation, even if you don’t agree with his methods.

Critics are going to call this one the best Bond film in years, and with good reason. This is a Bond film for audiences who wouldn’t ordinarily watch a Bond film. Like “Empire Strikes Back,” “The Godfather Part 2,” and other successful sequels, “Skyfall” rises high above its predecessors and approaches something close to art.

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