Bond -- James Bond -- is famous for the gadgets MI6 provides to make him a better assassin. Cars with guns under their headlights, pens that do all manner of useful and dangerous things.

But at one point during the latest Bond outing, 007 (Daniel Craig) declares, "I like to do some things the old-fashioned way." The trickery here, in fact, is kept to a minimum.

"Skyfall" arrives in theaters 50 years after the very first Bond film, "Dr. No." It does Ian Fleming and the franchise that his books spawned proud. More than that, "Skyfall" does Great Britain proud. This film is a celebration not just of the beloved secret agent and his hobbies -- cool cars, gorgeous women and dry drinks. It's an unapologetic hymn to the island nation.

On screen
3.5 out of 4 stars
Stars: Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Javier Bardem
Director: Sam Mendes
Rated: PG-13 for intense violent sequences throughout, some sexuality, language and smoking
Running time: 143 minutes

Bond films are always big spectacles. But "Skyfall" marks the first Bond flick made by an Oscar-winning director, "American Beauty" helmer Sam Mendes. Three men get credit for the script. Peter Morgan does not, but many of the ideas of one of the best screenwriters working today ("Frost/Nixon," "The Queen") made it into the final draft. The result is a weightier Bond film -- with all of the wit and fun left intact.

I don't think it will be giving anything away to say that Bond doesn't die in the first 15 minutes of the movie, though M16 head M (Judi Dench) believes he has. Bond enjoys his life after death far more than Sherlock Holmes did. But he gives up the exotic beauties and potent drinks when he sees MI6 headquarters on fire in a news report.

Whatever villain is responsible -- a deliciously creepy Javier Bardem -- has a particular bee in his bonnet about M. Bond came close to death trying to retrieve a list of agents embedded in terrorist organizations around the world. Bardem's Silva releases the first five names on the list, and most are immediately killed.

M is blamed for the breach; government representative Gareth Mallory (Ralph Fiennes) insists she prepare to step down. Mallory thinks M and Bond are both too old to play this game. But though Silva causes much of his havoc using a single computer, M and Bond know that only old-fashioned values can stop him.

"Skyfall" features many beautiful shots of the Union Jack, Big Ben and other symbols of Britain. It's never eye-rolling because Mendes and Morgan and the rest don't sugarcoat the messy compromises necessary to keep these things, and what they represent, alive.

"Skyfall" is an exciting, tense thriller in which Alfred Lord Tennyson is quoted to great effect. "Argo" also tries to be an action thriller that matters, but it undermines itself by not believing in the heroes it presents. "Skyfall," anchored by the masterful Craig, is just the escape the Anglosphere needs right now.