It'll strike you very early on in Skyfall—no later than a fraught fight sequence set in a neon-and-crystal Singapore skyscraper—that there has never been a prettier James Bond movie. Cinematographer Roger Deakins, of course, earns the majority of the credit for the gorgeous location shots and beautifully framed scenes, but director Sam Mendes deserves some praise, too. Mendes, after a string of deflated "serious" films, seems to be rejuvenated as a director by venturing into franchise territory. The set pieces are confident (not jittery, thank God), and the personal moments are nuanced. Mendes's competence allows everyone else involved to relax and do their job to the best of their ability.

Daniel Craig innately understands that James Bond is a caveman with a fancy gun, martial arts training, and a brilliant tailor. In Skyfall, his Bond loses his mojo after a near-death experience: He can't shoot straight and his focus is blown, and that seems to make him even more dangerous, like a bomb with a malfunctioning fuse.

Bond's opponent this time is an ex-spy named Silva whose backup plans have backup plans. Silva clearly shares DNA with The Dark Knight's Joker, although Javier Bardem gives him an energy of his own with some truly wacky line readings that alternately inspire laughter and chills. (Bardem's choice to play Silva as gay-acting will undoubtedly cause some controversy, and it might not age well—think Tommy Lee Jones's now wince-inducing Clay Shaw in JFK—but it's certainly not a mocking caricature.) Silva's plans affect Bond on a human level, targeting his employer (Judi Dench) and striking at his pre-superspy roots. By reducing its scope to a personal scale, Skyfall makes a strong case for itself as possibly the best Bond movie ever. Let the Bond-nerd arguments begin. recommended