FRESH from his triumph at the London Olympics, James Bond (Daniel Craig) is back for a new adventure, which delivers exactly what the ads suggest: more than two hours of lavish, ingenious commercial entertainment.
Skyfall is not, of course, ''darker'' or more serious than previous Bond films, but it's more knowing about its own conventions, in the same way as the current TV versions of Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Who.
The plot, which unfolds mainly on British soil, works as an allegory for the character's return to the screen. Shot down before the opening credits, he rises almost literally from the dead and has to prove his value in a changing world.
That means defeating Raoul Silva, a Eurotrash cyber-terrorist with a blond dye job and terrible teeth - in short, the abstract idea of a Bond villain. As played by Javier Bardem he's as enjoyably crazy as you'd hope, though not nearly as scary as the same actor in No Country For Old Men.
Silva has the customary sexual ambiguity, and flirts with Bond as Donald Pleasence might have in the old days: what makes this a 21st-century film is that Bond flirts back. That's a nod to what the kids are supposed to like, and so too the scene where Bond is supplied with gadgets by the youthfully fey Ben Whishaw, looking like a lost member of Belle and Sebastian.
Probably the artiest director yet for the series, Sam Mendes achieves some striking, if isolated, visual effects: one action sequence takes place in a glass Shanghai skyscraper where Bond and quarry seem trapped in layers of reflections.
John Logan's similarly posh screenplay has his usual fussy craftsmanship, fondness for ten-dollar words (''provocatrix'', ''ignominiously'') and Freudian subtext. Bond is forced to work through some heavily signposted family issues, with Silva cast as the brother he never had and Judi Dench's M, the film's real star, as the mother he lost long ago.
Craig's acting still has a counter-intuitive awkwardness: this Bond is the opposite of suave. But within the space of two films he has gone from being the new guy to embodying a retro toughness that we're invited to view with amused nostalgia. His quips after knocking off bad guys are what people now call ''Dad jokes''; Craig delivers them apologetically, as if to say that old habits die hard.