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:: Skyfall

The Bond saga has seen its highs and lows; peaks and troughs. We have had Bonds that can act, Bonds that cannot; pansy Bonds, ice-cold Bonds; good Bonds in bad films and bad Bonds in good films - of course we won’t name names. Thankfully however, at the 50-year anniversary, we are riding a welcome high point for this enduring cinematic legend, albeit of a considerably darker ilk.

When Bond’s most recent mission goes fatally wrong, the identities of several undercover MI6 agents are exposed followed by an attack on MI6 headquarters. As a result, a political scapegoat is sought and M (Dame Judi Dench) finds herself in the cross-hairs of not only the British government but also those of a terrorist. Amidst this national and personal crisis, M turns to the only person she can trust, Bond (Daniel Craig). As they track down the mysterious cyber-genius, Silva (Javier Bardem), both must confront a rapidly changing landscape of espionage, one in which modernity is out to aggressively usurp antiquity.

A film series that has often been associated with the kitsch and unbelievable, director Sam Mendes retains the franchise’s contemporary darker tone without forsaking the quintessential Bond presuppositions. Within its tightly scripted framework, Skyfall revels in its harmony of elements that not only make a good Bond flick but that make a good film in general. Themes, character and plot are seamlessly intertwined with the expected array of stunts, action, intertextuality, humour and sex sprinkled playfully throughout. It engages you at every level and even at 143 minutes (making it the second longest running Bond film), the pace does not slacken for even a second.

It was also reassuring to see that the commitment to the exchange of gadgets and stunts for character remains the trend with the post-Brosnan Bonds. It’s rawer, more relevant and much more grounded in a real world. Of course it doesn't completely divorce itself from the stunts and quintessential Bond moments, but it offers welcome restraint and a greater respect for the audience - you won’t find anyone nocturnally parachute-surfing debris here, a la The World is Not Enough.

Skyfall is one of those rare pieces of franchise cinema that firmly posits itself within its own canon while simultaneously operating as a strong, individual film in its own right. The utility of its central theme draws upon, and firmly grounds itself within, the larger mythology and yet is still effective on a universal level. By the end of the film, as we descend into a fiery psychological inferno (that I don’t think it remiss to compare to such harrowing showdowns as those in Friedkin’s The French Connection and Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket), you feel as if Bond has been elevated into the highly cinematic, even poetic, realm of the dark and grandiose. The Bond-as-tragic-hero of Casino Royale, a depiction much more in tune with Fleming’s original literary hero, is here revisited in fascinating depth.

From the outset, with the heart-pounding chase scene and Adele’s beautifully befitting title song, it is made abundantly clear that Bond is still very much in business. Skyfall is a mult-layered, thematic and character-focused action-drama that proves an absolutely worthy celebration of Bond’s 50th birthday.