Skyfall intense violent, some sexuality, language and smoking

By Forrest Hartman

Hollywood studios are releasing a host of home video titles this week, including an Oscar-nominated animated film and the 23rd entry in the James Bond movie franchise.

4 stars (out of four)
Rated PG-13 for intense violent sequences throughout, some sexuality, language and smoking
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray, digital download and on demand

When director Martin Campbell rebooted the James Bond franchise in 2006 with “Casino Royale,” fans were delighted. The series received a superior new Bond in actor Daniel Craig, and the plot was fresh and exciting. It seemed as though producers had come up with a reasonable plan to keep secret agent 007 alive for years to come.

Then, “Quantum of Solace” undid much of the magic. When that film moved into theaters in 2008, it was disappointing not only because of the so-so execution but because it seemed that the Daniel Craig era might burn out before really taking hold.

If time has proven anything, however, it’s that James Bond is resilient. The movie franchise celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2012 with a massive Blu-ray boxed set and the theatrical release of “Skyfall,” a film that is arguably the best in series history. Directed by Sam Mendes (“American Beauty,” “Revolutionary Road”), “Skyfall” embraces Craig’s new reading of Bond while offering plenty of nods to the franchise’s iconic trappings. The movie has Bond girls, booze and a dangerous villain, but it also has a plot that is exciting and emotionally compelling.

Craig’s reading of Bond was great from day one, but he’s at his best when the character is allowed to show vulnerability. There are plenty of opportunities for this in “Skyfall” because the movie starts with an astonishing action sequence where Bond is seemingly betrayed by M (Judi Dench), the leader of MI6. Then, MI6 comes under direct attack, and the aging spy must decide whether to put the past behind and return to action. When he does, he finds himself pitted against an adversary (Javier Bardem) who seems to know the British secret service better than he does. Bardem makes an excellent villain, and the scenes where he and Craig face off are particularly strong.

Mendes takes every opportunity to pay homage to James Bond history by creatively incorporating everything from music and props to beloved characters, but “Skyfall” avoids falling into the nostalgia trap. Longtime fans will appreciate the references to earlier movies, but they are subtle enough that newcomers should let them slip by unnoticed. “Skyfall” would be a great espionage film even if James Bond weren’t involved. The fact that he is – and that he’s played by Daniel Craig – makes it a classic.

DVD and Blu-ray extras include an audio commentary by Mendes.

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