From Batman to Indiana Jones, the film industry has no shortage of enduring macho icons. But the James Bond franchise, with its (nearly) bi-annual returns, catchphrases and highly anticipated opening gambits, is more than an icon—it’s a year-end ritual that’s lasted for half a century. Bond films are also a celebration of a certain lifestyle; they are Esquire (or GQ) magazine made film: suits are perfectly tailored, cars are impeccably polished, drinks are ordered with a connoisseur’s flair. If 50th anniversaries and Tom Ford tuxedos don’t particularly move you, what’s left though? In the case of Skyfall (directed by Sam Mendes), an action flick with decent characterization and a dazzling first half—too bad it can’t keep up its momentum as its (very long) runtime drags on.

The movie opens with Bond (Daniel Craig) running after a computer hard-drive full of very important names. It’s a breathless action sequence that sees him tearing through the streets of Istanbul in a 4×4, by foot, on a motorcycle and in a bulldozer set on a train. Just as memorable is a tense, slow-moving sequence in Shanghai that’s so stylized it’s even edgier than the opening titles. But it soon becomes clear that the bad guys have their sights trained on MI6. And while the movie kicks off with lavish sets, gorgeous women and jet-setting from the Mediterranean to Shanghai and Macau, the second half’s return to London and the Scottish Highlands lacks Asia’s electric urgency—and production values. Case in point: the chase (if you can call it that) where the bad guy ambles down the London tube with Bond following would barely be OK for television.

With the action shifting back to the UK also comes a lot more talk: about the changing nature of terrorism, about the bad guy’s feelings, about Bond’s early childhood, about what it’s like to grow older… We like the fact that Bond is the rare action film not made for 14-year-old male movie-goers. And Craig, Javier Bardem, Ralph Fiennes and Dame Judi Dench all put in superb performances. But is this grittier, aging Bond fighting old demons on his home turf (a direction that reminds us of Nolan’s Batman reboot) all that interesting? We would have preferred 007 cavorting with beautiful women in over-the-top bad guy lairs and exotic destinations for the film’s full length (or at least for 90 minutes, as opposed to the whopping 143 minutes Skyfall lasts). Skyfall is a very good action thriller, but the fresh breath of life that Casino Royale (2006) brought to the franchise has grown fainter.