Bond is back in action for 23rd nostalgic romp
Time waits for no man, not even the suave and sharply attired 007 in Skyfall, says film critic Damon Smith
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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.
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Sean Connery married flirtatiousness with rugged machismo and bare-chested sex appeal, providing a template that successors have struggled to match.
George Lazenby invested his short-lived 007 with tender romance while Roger Moore arched an eyebrow with impish glee, doling out innuendo-laden one-liners with aplomb.
Timothy Dalton added darkness and grit to his emotionally tortured agent, then Pierce Brosnan restored parity between athleticism and charm, coming closest to the glory days of the 1960s.
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.
This tour-de-force supporting cast encourages Craig to raise his game but also exposes his weaknesses as an actor.
In the brilliantly orchestrated action sequences, Craig is in his element and Mendes opens with a breathtaking 12-minute pre-credits sequence. 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.
A database of MI6 assets has fallen into the wrong hands, compromising undercover agents around the world.
This dereliction of duty puts M and the department's Chief Of Staff, Bill Tanner (Rory Kinnear), in the firing line and they are summoned to Westminster before a committee including the new Chairman of the Intelligence And Security Committee, Mallory (Ralph Fiennes), and ambitious rival Clair Dowar (Helen McCrory).
While M fends off sustained attacks on her reputation, news filters through that Bond has survived and M engages her physically bruised agent to track down menacing cyber terrorist Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem).
Working alongside Q (Ben Whishaw) and Eve, Bond traverses the globe in search of Silva, crossing paths with the mysterious Severine (Berenice Marlohe) in a casino in Macau, which facilitates a steamy shower sex scene.
As the investigation continues, Bond unearths dark secrets from M's past that threaten to bring down the whole of MI6.
Skyfall looks stunning courtesy of cinematographer Roger Deakins and action sequences don't disappoint.
Bardem is deliciously camp and menacing, recalling classic villains of yore and Dench is wonderful as ever.
Whishaw asserts himself as a gadget geek with a terrific introductory scene in an art gallery, warning Bond that "age is no guarantee of experience."
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.