Skyfall is my all-time-favorite Bond movie.

Mind you, this is coming from a guy who didn’t really get it when it came to James Bond. I’ve warmed up to him over the years, but I used to hate him. The first time I witnessed Bond in action was as a boy, seeing Sean Connery use a bikini top to choke her in Diamonds Are Forever. This act scared the shit out of me, and made me think Bond was some sort of bad guy. (I had similar child-brain confusion with Robert Shaw’s Quint in Jaws … he was just so mean.)

When I was “coming of age,” so to speak, Bond got silly, with Roger Moore and stuff like Moonraker and Octopussy. I turned my adolescent attention to the likes of Star Wars, Rocky and The Pink Panther movies. It wasn’t until Pierce Brosnan took over the franchise that I started to think the enterprise was OK. Then, I went back and watched the Sean Connery films, and realized those were actually a lot of fun. Sean Connery’s Bond was a misogynist, but he wasn’t a bad guy.

Which brings me to Daniel Craig (after skipping over George Lazenby and Timothy Dalton … hey, I have a limited word count). Craig IS James Bond to me at this point. He’s made three Bonds in a row that I can tolerate—and Skyfall is a showstopper.

It has a Bond villain that I count as the most memorable since, say, the goofy Jaws guy with the teeth from the Moore era. Javier Bardem plays Silva, a former agent who has a major bug up his ass regarding M (the awesome Judi Dench). His first meeting with a tied-up Bond is perhaps Bond’s best meeting ever with one of his adversaries. It’s also perhaps the most erotic, which took me a bit by surprise. Bardem relishes a good bad-guy role, as he proved in his Oscar-winning turn in No Country for Old Men. He’s a genuinely funny and nasty creep.

Skyfall has stunts and chases that had me fully engaged. When Bond faces off with an assassin atop a moving train crossing over a series of bridges and going through tunnels, it amounts to the year’s best action sequence … and that’s before the opening credits.

Those credits, by the way, are a series of astonishing visuals set to a beautiful Bond song—the title track delivered by Adele. As the opening credits played out, I was hooked already, and it only got better from there.

This one comes courtesy of director Sam Mendes (American Beauty, Revolutionary Road), and it’s clear that he has a tremendous amount of love and respect for the icon. While the movie gives us an older and arguably dated Bond, it also shows us that a man who is good with a gun and popular with the ladies might win out over megabytes after all.

As for the ladies, there are a few, and they don’t register as much as past Bond women. Naomie Harris is on hand as Eve, a fellow agent and sharpshooter. Harris is fine, and she shares an interesting shaving sequence with Bond, but she doesn’t make an indelible impression. Maybe it’s because she should’ve been called Serenity Bottoms or some other naughty name. Those tend to stick.

Bérénice Marlohe plays Sévérine, a girl with a tough past—and an even tougher future. She’s fine, but again, she doesn’t truly register.

The one lady who makes a big impression this time out is Dench’s M, who shares a funny, sometimes caustic and somehow sweet, motherly relationship with Bond. This movie pulls her into the plot more than past efforts (including those with Brosnan; she’s been around for a while). Mendes offers some great odes to past Bonds, including a sweet Aston Martin and some funny wordplay. By the time Bond faces off with Silva in the film’s finale, we get a true sense of vintage Bond as much as future Bond.

There’s also some typical product placement, including pitches for Cadillac, Heineken and, surprisingly, Sony VAIO. The film’s new and much-younger Q (Ben Whishaw) is seen prominently using a Sony laptop. I found this relatively implausible. Those things freeze up way too much for a high-level British agent to be utilizing one during a tense good-versus-evil showdown. I had one once, and it met its demise by being smashed on the corner of my coffee table after one too many blue screens of death.

This dark, brooding and somewhat deep Bond is a Bond I’m more interested in as a moviegoer. No more choking girls with a bikini top unless they’re brandishing a broken bottle as a weapon or something!

Bond has evolved over the years, while staying true to his origins. In Skyfall, he’s actually at his most mature … and his most badass.