Time waits for no man, not even the suave and sharply attired 007.
In the 50 years since Ian Fleming’s debonair secret agent introduced himself to Sylvia Trench at a card table in Dr No, global politics have changed beyond recognition.
Actors, who have been licenced to kill during these five turbulent decades, have brought something new to the party.
The latest Bond, Daniel Craig, has rugged physicality in abundance but his one-note interpretation of the spy who is shaken but never stirred remains devoid of personality.
It’s telling that the abiding memory of Casino Royale and Quantum Of Solace is a pair of tight, blue swimming shorts.
Skyfall will do nothing to dispel those concerns but is undoubtedly the best instalment of Craig’s tenure to date.
Director Sam Mendes sensibly surrounds his leading man with an ensemble of award-winning actors, who bring gravitas and humour to their iconic roles.
In the brilliantly orchestrated action sequences, Craig is in his element and Mendes opens with a breathtaking 12-minute pre-credits sequence, which draws heavily from the Bourne franchise to propel Bond and field agent Eve (Naomie Harris) through the winding streets of Istanbul.
The mission ends in apparent tragedy, heralding the sombre chords of Adele’s soaring theme song that harks back to the belting ballads of Shirley Bassey.
With Bond reportedly killed in action, section chief M (Dame Judi Dench) pens an obituary as a political storm rages around her.
Skyfall looks stunning courtesy of cinematographer Roger Deakins and action sequences don’t disappoint.
Bravely, the 23rd Bond assignment pares back the slam bang thrills to concentrate on characterisation and plot, putting Dench’s authority figure at the centre of the betrayal.
The film dazzles during verbal jousts and Dench is wonderful as ever and really excels when she abandons her desk for the field of action.
Supporting actress Oscar nominations have been bestowed for far less.
Ben Whishaw as Q asserts himself as a gadget geek with a terrific introductory scene in an art gallery, warning Bond that “age is no guarantee of experience.”
A throwaway visual gag with his coffee mug is a hoot.
Ralph Fiennes and Naomie Harris acquit themselves well but sultry Bond girl Marlohe is forgettable.
The closing 20 minutes are the only obvious misstep by screenwriters Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and John Logan, who telegraph their intentions early on when Severine asks Bond if he will kill Silva and 007 responds “someone usually dies”.
To tie up the loose ends, the writers hurriedly introduce an additional character, Bond’s old gamekeeper Kincade (Albert Finney), who exists purely to manoeuvre characters into the correct positions.
Director Mendes gets high on nostalgia to the obvious delight of Bond purists.
However, he spends slightly too long looking back and not enough looking forward, and consequently stumbles with the lacklustre final showdown more befitting of an episode of The A-Team than the second biggest film franchise in history.
by Damon Smith