In the new 007 movie "Skyfall," James Bond engages in chases in cars and on motorcycles, dukes it out on top of a moving train, uses a steam shovel to help him pursue a bad guy, gets shot and plunges to his apparent death.
And that's all before Adele belts out the first note of the title song over the opening credits montage.
Yes, James Bond films reliably have delivered big action sequences for 50 years now. But the best films in the series deftly balance an assortment of ingredients - action, seduction, sophistication and a playful outrageousness.
"Skyfall" is one of the best Bond films.
The Daniel Craig incarnation of the suave British super spy delivered the first three ingredients along with an intensity the series hasn't featured since Sean Connery was behind the wheel of the Aston Martin. But they also were kind of grim and not particularly different than other post-9/11 action thrillers. Comparisons to the "Bourne" films were a common refrain from critics and fans.
With "Skyfall" director Sam Mendes keeps the action firmly rooted in the real world, one where intelligence agencies have to battle political whims as well as potential terrorists, while at the same time adding some of the grand theatrical flourishes that used to make a Bond movie distinctive from anything else.
STARS: Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Javier Bardem, Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris, Ben Whishaw, Albert Finney and Berenice Marlohe.
STORYLINE: A villain targeting MI6 and M in particular brings James Bond out of hiding.
DIRECTOR: Sam Mendes
RATING: PG-13 for intense violent sequences throughout, some sexuality, language and smoking.
Javier Bardem brings that quality to "Skyfall" as Silva. He doesn't make an appearance on screen until an hour into the film, but it's a memorable entrance. And it's best to discover his agenda and his motivations in the theater instead of in advance so I'll only say that Silva is likely to join the pantheon of great Bond villains, unlike any of 007's foes for the last two decades. And it's the first time in recent memory (or ever?) that a performance in a Bond movie is generating Oscar buzz.
But before Silva appears on screen, it's clear that he has a beef with M (Judi Dench), the head of the MI6 unit. That opening sequence has Bond chasing an encrypted computer file that contains the identities of every NATO agent fighting terrorism around the world.
The thief escapes, and it's not a spoiler to say that Bond survives that shooting and freefall. He does decide to stay in hiding, though, until there is an attack on MI6 that is used to unlock the secrets on the hard drive. The identities of five undercover agents are revealed online with the promise to reveal five more each week. M is not only under attack from Silva but also from some in the British government, who believe the leak is a sign that M's best days are behind her.
"Skyfall" finds a way to provide a fresh look at familiar characters. The screenplay by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and John Logan gives Dench more to do than in the last six Bond films combined, and it also offers a peek into Bond's past, offering a hint at the childhood that shaped his steely character.
Mendes handles these elements and adds other little tidbits to tantalize long-time Bond fanatics without disrupting the narrative drive of the story at hand and without reducing "Skyfall" to an homage or an exercise in nostalgia.
It's fun and intense, rewarding the return customers while offering plenty to entertain those who never have heard the phrase "Shaken, not stirred" before.
And the movie introduces several characters that likely will play vital roles in future movies. And if those movies can build on what Mendes does in "Skyfall," the future of the Bond franchise never has looked brighter.