The James Bond franchise turns 50 with a stellar entry that fires on all cylinders as an action picture but also casts a modest glance backward to its illustrious past. Oddly, the story this time revolves around not 007 (Daniel Craig) but his aging superior, M (Judi Dench), who's scrambling to keep her job after having lost a list of undercover agents to a simpering supervillain (Javier Bardem). The thrilling chase scene that opens the movie is cut short when M orders a kill shot that inadvertently takes out Bond; he's not really dead, of course, but he's plenty mad about having to take a bullet for queen, country, and his slipping boss. Screenwriters Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, knocking out their fifth consecutive Bond script, keep the plot beautifully simple and leave director Sam Mendes (Road to Perdition
) ample space to ponder the cost of loyalty and the power of tradition (including the Bond legacy itself).