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Skyfall is the perfect film to accompany the 50th Anniversary of the first big screen Bond movie, Dr. No. The movie is a crossroads for 007; the spy is an old soul with unconventional, archaic methods, struggling to exist in a high-tech world with enemies who swap laser beams and nukes for Internet viruses and data infiltration. This conflict is the core of Skyfall — perfect for director Sam Mendes (American Beauty, Revolutionary Road) — and the human drama gives every moment of the espionage thriller additional weight. Sure, there are the grandiose set pieces we've come to expect from the series. But like the older films, Mendes keeps most of the action contained, the focus always on star Daniel Craig as he evades and confronts danger. He even pushes further, allowing the evildoers into MI-6's home and, through the magic of performance, the audience into the mind of Bond.

After a botched mission sends him off the grid, James Bond returns to his homebase in London to discover the MI-6 in disarray. The target of system attacks seemingly designed to screw with M (Judi Dench), MI-6 calls upon a noticeably shaken (not stirred) Bond to get back on his feet and track down the nefarious face behind the online terrorism. While politico Gareth Mallory (Ralph Fiennes) would prefer to use the magic of computers and drones to dig up the bad guy, M knows even Bond at 50% is unlike any machine in the world. A few training sessions and a weapon upgrade from Q (Ben Whishaw) later, Bond hits the road.

In pure Bond fashion, Skyfall traverses some beautiful landscapes. From China's glowing, waterside gambling epicenter Macau, to the remains of a South Pacific isle to the foggy country side of Scotland. Departing from action movie aesthetics and embracing shadows, atmosphere, and imperfection, Bond's journey feels even more tangible than the ''realistic'' approach of Casino Royale. The haunting locations reflect his deeply personal mission. It helps, too, that Bond is faced by one of his best villains yet: Javier Bardem as the charming, psychopathic Raul Silva. Silva acts another mirror for Bond, albeit a version completely off the rails. Like a mix of Hannibal Lecter and Heath Ledger's Joker in The Dark Knight, Silva is determined to burn his opponents in any fashion possible. Bardem plays is all with a sinister smirk — a twist on the maniacally-laughing Bond villains of yesteryear.

Skyfall's concentration is on the dramatic, but continuously delivers in the action department. Mendes finds innovative new ways to stage classic Bond moments; a one-shot fist fight in the windows of skyscraper bubbles over with intensity, while another in the Chinese casino tips its hat to the campier side of the franchise. And the movie goes big, with an opening sequence on par with any of Bond's past outings, and a foot chase through London's Tube that tests Craig's limits as a physical performer. He never misses a beat.

Impressively, Skyfall is a movie pulled from this moment in history, while encompassing everything that made James Bond a long-lasting character. It's one of the best Bond entries of all time, a heart-pounding action flick from start to finish (with a rousing conclusion evoking everything from Terence Young to Sam Peckinpah), and one of the best movies of the year.

What do you think? Tell Matt Patches directly on Twitter @misterpatches and read more of his reviews on Rotten Tomatoes! rated this film 4 1/2 stars.