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(Reuters) - James Bond is back and better than ever, according to early reviews on Friday, as the latest movie featuring Britain's smooth-talking, martini-drinking super-spy soared with critics and audiences after an advance screening in London.
Newspaper critics rushed to print and celebrities took to Twitter after seeing "Skyfall," with many calling it the best Bond film in the franchise's 50-year history.
Reviewer Robbie Collin at British newspaper The Telegraph said director Sam Mendes' Bond was comparable to Christopher Nolan's darker, grittier "Batman" from the "Dark Knight" franchise.
"Mendes is unafraid to let the quieter dramatic moments breathe ... and ace cinematographer Roger Deakins makes the wildly ambitious action sequences the most beautiful in Bond's 50-year career," Collin said.
Geoffrey McNab at the Independent gave "Skyfall" four out of five stars, criticizing the film for being "occasionally ... repetitive." But he praised Mendes for "throwing in far greater depth of characterization than we're accustomed to in a series of films that are often proudly superficial."
"Skyfall," the 23rd film in the Bond franchise, opens in UK theaters on October 26 and in the United States on November 9. It is Mendes' first time directing a Bond film. The British filmmaker won a best director Oscar in 2000 for "American Beauty."
The 22 Bond films have to date amassed $5.1 billion at the worldwide box office according to The-Numbers.com, which tracks box office performances. The last film, 2008's "Quantum of Solace," grossed nearly $600 million globally.
"Skyfall," produced by privately held studio MGM, will be distributed in the UK by Sony Pictures Entertainment and in the United States by Columbia Pictures, both units of Sony Corp.
"Skyfall" sees actor Daniel Craig return as the suave agent, on a mission to bring down a dangerous villain, played by Javier Bardem. Judi Dench returns in the role of "M" along with co-stars Ralph Fiennes and Ben Whishaw, while Naomie Harris and Berenice Marlohe became the latest Bond girls.
Baz Bamigboye at the Daily Mail gave "Skyfall" five stars on Friday, calling it "pure classic 007 fare, back on firm footing after the less than memorable 'Quantum of Solace.'"
Reviewers on Twitter praised the explosive action scenes, Mendes' directing, Dench's darker portrayal of "M" and Bardem's turn at playing a Bond villain.
British GQ magazine tweeted: "Just seen #skyfall. Daniel Craig is magnificent - you will not be disappointed." The Times film critic Kate Muir tweeted that she gave "Skyfall" five stars, calling it "a return to classic form and a great British bulldog of a movie."
BBC Radio 1's film critic Rhianna Dhillon tweeted: "WOW! You have a massive treat in store for you! Don't want to review it on air in case I give anything away! It's just so good!"
British comedian Graham Norton, who hosts a TV talk show on BBC 1, tweeted: "Skyfall is perfection!!!!!"
Reporting by Piya Sinha-Roy in Los Angeles, editing by Jill Serjeant and Eric Beech