Film review: Skyfall

Skyfall 

(M) ****

Director: Sam Mendes.

Cast: Daniel Craig, Javier Bardem, Judi Dench, Ralph Fiennes, Naomie 

Harris, Ben Wishaw, Berenice Marlohe, Albert Finney.

 AS outstanding as Casino Royale was, many Bond fans felt it wasn't quite "Bond" enough - no gadgets, no one-liners, no Q, fewer shags.

And the less said about the poorly edited plot-hole mess that was Quantum Of Solace the better.

But now that the film-makers have established Daniel Craig's Bond style ('angry', with a hint of 'emotionally damaged'), they appear prepared to re-embrace the Bondishness of the series more fully with Skyfall.

Q is back, there's a gadget or two, and Craig's 007 is even prepared to smirk out a droll gag to punctuate a moment of insane action.

But these are not what make Skyfall great. 

There is a strong plot, some excellent scenes, and the pitfalls of cheesy dialogue and silly ideas are largely ignored, but Bond has often worked best when it's gotten personal, whether it be in its connections between 007 and the villains/lovers/M or when it has made Bond into real man.

Skyfall is full of such moments, succeeding on the strength of the links between its characters, who actually seem like a real person, even it's frighteningly psychotic villain Silva (Bardem).

The lengthy set-up (featuring an opening chase that almost rivals the parkour intro of Casino Royale) leaves Bond "dead", but of course, he always lives twice.

His return to active service (looking almost as shabby as a post-torture Bond in Die Another Day) is sparked by a terrorist attack on MI6 that appears linked to a lost list of undercover agents.

The interplay between M and Craig's Bond was a highlight of Casino Royale and its a firecracker here. The added bonus is throwing Silva into the mix, whose own issues make him an unhinged danger.

Bardem adds another wonderfully distinctive villain to his belt to go with Anton Chigurh, managed to ride a fine line between demented and over-the-top.

Bond's arc is the best of the series, as is M's, but this isn't all about the angry brooding of Quantum Of Solace.

The introduction of a new Q (Wishaw) gives a nod and a wink to the past, as does the reappearance of a classic Aston Martin and some typically Bond-like quips.

These flourishes represent the old (it is the 50th anniversary after all), but the presence of director Sam Mendes adds some impressive new touches, such an excellent visual style, best seen in a back-lit fight scene staged amid neon signs.

Skyfall takes its time, dragging its final showdown out in particular, and perhaps overplays its "old ways vs new ways" theme, but this makes the list of truly great 007 films alongside the list of Goldfinger, Thunderball, Live And Let Die, Licence To Kill, Goldeneye and Casino Royale.

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