James Bond had an identity crisis. After Pierce Brosnan reassured the world 007 was still pertinent following the collapse of the Berlin Wall with Goldeneye his next three outings veered into Roger Moore territory. Daniel Craig then displayed in the brilliant Casino Royale Bond was a comforting presence in the post-9/11 era, only Quantum of Solace undid all that good work with a rushed-straight-to-video mess. Royale took leaves out of Jason Bourne's book, Quantum took chapters.
Skyfall takes its own leaves too, but from Ian Fleming's source material of MI6's most famous agent. And the 23rd James Bond film is a wonderful homage to the unrivalled Sean Connery era that nevertheless still emerges as a splendid contemporary film.
It is also a personal addition to the franchise in the vein of On Her Majesty's Secret Service and Royale. Director Sam Mendes, rarely accustomed at handling action sequences in his five commentaries on different facets of American life, implements his own understanding of character development and relationships. Judi Dench's M is the main Bond girl (or as her late husband Michael Williams remarked, 'Bond woman') to spar with Craig, a wonderful foil as Bond's background is explored in greater depth than ever before on screen.
This fresh approach is married with numerous hallmarks which amplify the Bondian nature of Skyfall. As adrenaline-fuelled as the opening sequence in Istanbul is, the arrival of Adele's vocals and Daniel Kleinman's visionary titles are just two outstanding assets which emphasise the return of Bondian grandeur. Skyfall is the best theme song since Carly Simon's beautiful Nobody Does It Better accompanied The Spy Who Loved Me in 1977.
Seeing the return of the iconic Aston Martin DB5 (avec number plate BMT 216A) and Ben Whishaw's fresh take on Q are other heartening 'classic Bond' gems, but Skyfall boasts something even the Connery era didn't in the guise of its villain.
Javier Bardem's Raoul Silva is destined to be remembered as the best Bond nemesis. His memorable entrance, in which he gives a speech about the survival of rats on an island filmed in one take, is camp, funny and disturbing. Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy had a big influence on Royale and its fingerprints are evident on Skyfall, with Silva Bond's Joker. Bardem is a sardonic yet chilling antagonist who revels in the psychological trauma Silva has experienced, with a hidden deformity to boot. He has the gall in threatening to steal your sympathy but gives such a splendidly villainous performance it remains impossible to root for him.
Perhaps a repeat viewing will clarify his credentials, but it is not so ridiculous to suggest Bardem as a contender come awards season. One man who should be in the reckoning is Roger Deakins, who produces the most beautiful Bond film to date. Shanghai dazzles, London glows and Scotland lurks like a ghost of 007's past. Bond does Shakespeare in act three.
Humour was a notable absence from the joyless Quantum but it too makes a triumphant return in Skyfall. There are nods and winks to past Bonds and Mendes capitalises on Craig's underrated comic talent. He made a Catherine Tate sketch funny five years ago and amused in a promo for his recent appearance on Saturday Night Live, but has rarely had the chance to air his dry quips as Bond. His interaction with Dench and newcomer Whishaw are droll highlights, while some witty verbal jousting is enjoyed with Naomie Harris' Eve.
Despite the throwback theme, it is predictable fare. Complaining about the plot of a Bond film seems foolhardy, and fortunately this one makes it irrelevant due to the exceptional filmmaking on display in every scene. However the film's trailer, as suspected, does bafflingly include the death of a character, bringing the issue of over-publicising films with too much pre-release footage to the forefront. The Fleming factor also compromises the scale of the film's money moments but purists will gladly overlook that.
But Skyfall is a reminder why Bond endures throughout the decades. Britain has enjoyed diversions in 2012 courtesy of the Queen's Golden Jubilee, the Olympics, and 007, celebrating his cinematic jubilee, delivers his another source of escapism with his own inimitable identity. The Bond identity.