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After 50 years of Bond films, "Skyfall" arrives in time to prove why the British secret agent deserves 50 more. A testament to the lasting appeal of 007, the newest installment in the long-running franchise is thrilling, witty and dark. Powerhouse acting performances and stunning cinematography make up for its scattered flaws.

"Skyfall," Daniel Craig's third outing in the iconic role, centers around Bond's presumed death in the field and return to MI6 after M (the leader of MI6, played by the incomparable Judi Dench) is threatened. This threat comes from Silva (Javier Bardem), a vengeful psychopath with a long-simmering hatred for the woman he refers to as "Mother."

One of the most interesting things about the new film is that it strays away from the typical Bond formula. While there are exotic locations and nefarious villains, "Skyfall" is brave enough to deviate from its predecessors. There are no ridiculous gadgets, over-the-top evil lairs, or essentially even "Bond girls." That position is filled by M, who acts as our hero's partner for much of the film.

The film brings together a rather large cast of characters, which is both a strength and a weakness. It lends to the movie by providing it with a range of interesting, colorful personalities. The problem is that several of these remain undeveloped. Gareth Mallory (played by Ralph Fiennes), for example, is a government worker sent to watch over MI6 in a particularly turbulent time period. While the role is important, the audience doesn't learn enough about him to make a connection with his character. Sévérine (played by acting newcomer Bérénice Marlohe) is built up in promotional materials as a major character, but she only has about five minutes of total screen time.

Despite its inability to develop certain characters, "Skyfall" is blessed with talented actors that make each role distinct and fresh. Craig returns, balancing humor with the struggles of an emotionally complex James Bond. Dench is as resilient and masterful as ever, although I wished the film would have delved more into her past due to the very M-centered plot. Q is now a young computer genius with a comedic bite, and is played brilliantly by Ben Whishaw despite a small role.

As for Silva, Bardem delivers the best Bond villain ever created, and perhaps the most riveting screen antagonist since Heath Ledger's Joker in 2008. An unhinged, relentless cyber terrorist with a tragic past, Bardem makes his creation simultaneously amusing and frightening. He is the first Bond enemy to have a believable motive, and his malicious acts are laced with a surprising humanity.

"Skyfall's" story has massive amounts of potential, but blunders slightly in its execution. Without revealing too much, there are a few key emotional moments toward the end of the film that simply don't get the attention they deserve. The movie falls flat and wraps up far too quickly after its climax. It feels as if the writers were desperately trying to finish before a fast-approaching deadline. The first half is arguably too long, some of which could be distributed to the last half hour, and there is one major subplot that is left dangling at the end, without explanation.

That being said, the movie has moments of brilliance. The action-packed opening shows that director Sam Mendes is perfectly capable of creating electrifying action sequences, and he is superb at balancing these scenes with character-building dialogue. There are multiple moments throughout the film that can be described as nothing but mesmerizing, and they prove that "Skyfall" is not your typical 007 film. The exhilarating climax is probably one of the best moments in Bond history. Not only is it spectacularly exciting, but it is charged with overwhelming emotion and beautiful images.

The film is a technical success as well. The cinematography by Roger Deakins is stunning, and never before in an action movie have I seen such magnificent and rich photography.? Whether it ?be the

dominating neon lights of Shanghai or the gloomy mist of a Scottish manor, the entire movie is a visual triumph, every scene a sensory treat. While the musical score by Thomas Newman is a bit over the top and doesn't always have the appropriate intensity, the set and costume design, editing and lighting are all fantastic.

"Skyfall," while it does have its flaws, is a wonderfully made Bond thriller. The acting and technical work remain superb throughout, and it has massive amounts of jaw-dropping, heart-stopping moments. After a period of financial trouble in which the fate of the franchise remained in jeopardy, James Bond has returned stronger than ever. He not only proves why the films have been around for so long, but why Bond still has so much relevance after all these years. That, in and of itself, is a triumph.

Stephen Spoth is a junior at Williamsville North High School.

***

"Skyfall,"

PG-13

3 1/2 stars (out of 4)