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Movie Review: 'Skyfall' -- 3 stars

Daniel Craig, left, and Javier Bardem in

Daniel Craig, left, and Javier Bardem in "Skyfall" Photo Credit: Daniel Craig, left, and Javier Bardem in "Skyfall."

Skyfall
3 stars
Directed by Sam Mendes
Starring Daniel Craig, Javier Bardem, Judi Dench, Ralph Fiennes
Rated PG-13

"Skyfall," the 23rd James Bond movie, is a character study and an action flick, a film that explores 007's origins and insecurities with the same fervor with which it depicts the stunts and pyrotechnics.

Oscar-winning filmmaker Sam Mendes ("American Beauty") is a big reason for the shift toward toned-down, melancholic human drama.

Not content to simply rely on an assortment of gadgets, Bond girls and cheeky one-liners, Mendes revives Ian Fleming's famed secret agent as a 20th century relic, a victim of changing times in this century, out of touch with modern, "impersonal" forms of espionage.

That's not to say Bond (Daniel Craig) isn't still the best at his job. When ex-MI6 agent Silva (Javier Bardem) launches an assault on his former agency, and its boss M (Judi Dench) in particular, 007 returns from a self-imposed exile following a botched mission.

The screenplay, credited to Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and John Logan, offers a standard globe-trotting adventure, sending Bond everywhere from Istanbul to Macau and Scotland.

There are crisp, exciting action scenes, ranging from a chase atop a train to hand-to-hand combat set amid the gleaming electronic lights of Hong Kong.

At the same time, the film offers the expected high-end glamour, though the movie's less about Bond and the beautiful Eve (Naomie Harris) and Sévérine (Bérénice Marlohe) than it is the surrogate mother-son bond of 007 and M.

Sporting a mop of unruly blond hair, Bardem has a blast as Silva, chewing scenery and carving his way into the pantheon of the best Bond villains.

But with the British government launching an investigation into MI6 and a young Q (Ben Whishaw) representing the agency's high-tech future, "Skyfall" stands out by bringing Bond into a real world milieu. For many reasons, things aren't so comfortable and secure anymore.

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