James Bond is back for another adventure in the 23rd installment of the popular spy franchise. Oscar winning British director, Sam Mendes (American Beauty, Road to Perdition), is the man at the helm for Skyfall, the third feature starring Daniel Craig as 007.

A figure from M’s (Dame Judi Dench) past – a rouge agent named Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem) - resurfaces and targets MI6. Bond (Craig) with the assistance of his new Quartermaster (Ben Wishaw) traverses the globe in his attempts to take down this dangerous new threat.

Admirably, Mendes and his Academy Award-nominated cinematographer Roger Deakins (No Country For Old Men, True Grit) ensure that the film’s locations and epic set pieces look absolutely stunning. The framing and compositions are beautiful and the colours explode off the screen. The steady, controlled action sequences in Skyfall prove that it is possible to create frenetic thrills and still ensure that the audience can see it. Though the action was about the only feature worthy of praise in Quantum of Solace, the Bourne-esque shaky cam and rapid-fire editing was an aesthetic that needed to go.

Apart from a bit of an exposition-heavy lull when Bond acquaints himself with MI6’s new digs, this film brims with energy. If you thought the opener to Casino Royale was a cracker, Skyfall poses a very strong challenge. When the story shifts to Shanghai, Macau and the London tube system, Mendes’ eye for spectacle follows and with a dazzling fight sequence atop a neon-illuminated tower, amongst other impressive sets, the Shanghai episode is faultless.

Skyfall is exciting and a lot of fun – the grittier modern take on the franchise is infused with throwbacks – but it's not completely satisfying. Being somewhat of a Bond novice, it’s likely many of these aforementioned references went over my head. There are stretches that feel unnecessarily expanded and Silva’s ingenious scheme outside of revenge is alluded to but then forgotten about. Though the situation gets quite bleak, there was surprisingly little dramatic impact at times.

While Bond is evidently the film’s hero, and his physicality is tested throughout, ‘M’ is given a great deal of emotional weight. More secrets are revealed as the narrative unfolds, but being doubly taunted by a shadow of the past and having her authority questioned by her superiors, places her in a vulnerable position. It is clear how much she relies on Bond, and what makes the mission even more thrilling is the fact that Bond is unfit, and his foe is formidable.

Craig's Bond looks significantly older than previous installments. This may have been a decision to complement Bond’s ailing physical attributes, but he genuinely looked unwell. Craig continues to nail Bond’s gift of the suave – and the chemistry he shares with Bardem and Harris particularly impresses - but his character has a refreshing darker edge here too.

Bardem is a chameleon-like actor who seems to revel in portraying villains. Silva’s entrance is fantastic, but you get the sense that every decision made by this flamboyant narcissist – who delivers his threats with a creepy smile – is “all part of the plan”. The rest of the supporting cast are solid – especially Dench and Wishaw. The latter looks the part (some sharp attire) and has pitch-perfect comic delivery. I am looking forward to his future involvement in the franchise.

With jaw-dropping action, Mendes’ steady direction, Deakins’ astounding visual spectacle and the return of a memorable villain, there are lots of reasons to check out the return of Bond to the big screen.

[rating=4]

Andrew Buckle - follow Andy on Twitter here: @buckle22