Director: Sam Mendes

MPAA Rating: PG-13

Studio: MGM, Columbia Pictures and Sony Pictures Entertainment

Skyfall isn’t just one of the best-ever James Bond movies. It’s also one of the most rock ‘em sock 'em, intelligent, witty, dazzling and best-acted movies of 2012.

Stylishly and superbly directed by Sam Mendes, with a smart screenplay credited to Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and John Logan, this one delivers Bond with all the requisite Ian Fleming trimmings—fast cars, breakneck chases, ridiculously beautiful women, lush locales. Even the one-liners and sexual innuendo stage comebacks. But Skyfall is also a Bond for the age of doom, its action punctuated by acts of cyber terrorism and a heavy overlay of angsty, Dark Knight–style melancholy.

The plot is kept simple, clear and swift: a dangerous rogue agent reveals the identities of deep-cover agents. Chaos ensues. Loyal to the cause, Bond, aging, battered and believed dead, returns from hiding much the worse for wear but finally gets himself back into action courtesy of M, played brilliantly by Judi Dench, who is revealed as…well, you’ve got to see it for yourself. The movie also gives Bond, and the audience, a truly bizarre but not necessarily fully satisfying foil in Raoul Silva, played with psychopathic, omnisexual relish by Javier Bardem. His cat-and-mouse confrontation with Bond, rippling with erotic innuendo, is not only long overdue but also a highlight of the movie. By now, Daniel Craig wears Bond like he wears his Tom Ford suits—as a second skin. Unlike his previous 007 outings, to the brawn, intelligence, ruthlessness and pouty lower lip Craig now adds playfulness, regret and the poignant sense of time nipping at his heels.

Masterfully photographed in Istanbul, Shanghai and Scotland by Roger Deakins, the film boasts some dizzyingly beautiful, bravura sequences, including a Hitchcockian train sequence, the hot pursuit of an assassin through a steel-and-glass high rise and another set in a casino that reeks of opium, unimaginable wealth and menace. There is delightful, touching work from scrappy, lovely fellow secret agent Naomie Harris; gorgeous femme fatale Bérénice Marlohe; dweeby, tousle-haired new Q (Ben Whishaw) and Albert Finney, whose third act scenes with Craig and Dench are wonderful. Has there ever been a better-acted Bond movie?

It’s a movie filled with cherries on top, from the terrific throwback-style title sequence with a suitably minor-key theme warbled by Adele straight to the lump-in-the-throat finale. The James Bond franchise turns 50 this year and, from the invigorated aesthetics and point of view of Skyfall, 50 is the new 30. Just keep the current crème de la crème moviemakers in place for the next Bond movies, please. Skyfall is a delicious reminder of what a blast movies can be when so many talented people get things so right.