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Skyfall: James Bond has Returned

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Monday 18 February sees the release of the latest Bond film, Skyfall, on DVD. After the film's BAFTA and SAG awards, there should be no need to convince you that this is a film worth checking out, Bond fan or not. Before the film was released, I was lucky enough to get my hands on a ticket to the press screening at Leicester Square's Oden cinema. If you're still unsure about whether Skyfall is the film for you, check out my review below:

After the mis-fire of 2008's Quantum of Solace, Bond returns in Skyfall, a film every bit as ambitious as Craig's first turn as 007 in the brilliant Casino Royale.
Anticipation has been high for Sam Mendes' first film behind the Bond cameras and thankfully, Skyfall does not disappoint.

The plot (which you should be familiar with by now) centres around Dame Judi Dench's M as a decision from her past comes back to haunt her. This calls for a much meatier role for Dame Judi, and it is only fitting that producers have waited until a director as skilled as Mendes came on board with the skills to craft a film of such high quality to act as the backdrop to what is an outstanding performance.

It's a much more physical role for M this time around, but one that Dame Judi carries off brilliantly. There are also some fantastic moments of dialogues throughout the film, many of which come from M herself. When told by Ralph Fiennes' Head of Intelligence, Mallory, that she will be stepping down soon and should do so with dignity she snaps, 'Dignity be dammed. I'll leave when the job's done.'

Getting the job done seems to have been on everyone's mind this time around. The job here was to make a 'classic Bond movie', according to Daniel Craig. Classic, that is, in the sense of making a movie that will stand the test of time, rather than a carbon copy of the Connery films or a Moore-esq film full of gadgets and raised eyebrows.

However, fans of previous incarnations of 007 need not worry; references to previous films abound, as is only fitting in Bonds 50th year. A pit of exotic creatures, spanned by a single narrow bridge in an Oriental casino brings to mind Blofeld's piranha pit from You Only Live Twice. A familiar car also makes a return (warranting a round of applause from the audience) and gets to do what Sean Connery never let it. Craig's Hawaiian shirt from the opening sequence of Casino Royale is alluded to as Bond enjoys 'retirement' in a tropical beach paradise and Bond instructs an MI6 office worker to give a document to M and that it is 'For her eyes only'.

Indeed, much of the film is dedicated to Dame Judi Dench, who for the most part, takes on the role of Bond-girl. Thankfully she does not become a victim of Bond's hedonism, rather, M takes on the role of the matriarch. Despite M's loyalty to her agents being questioned, Bond chooses to protect her, as he never could his own mother. Thankfully, as M says, 'Orphans make the best agents.'

If M takes on the role of Bond's mother, Albert Finney is the closest thing to Bond's father as Kincaid, the caretaker of Bond's old family home in Scotland (a nod to Connery?). With the naming of Finney's Kincaid, one cannot help but think of writer Jamaica Kincaid. Jamaica, of course, was where Fleming wrote all of his Bond novels, at the Goldeneye beach resort. It seems likely that this is an allusion to Jamaica Kincaid, but it's interesting enough to consider: If Fleming is Bond's literary father, then Jamaica certainly had a hand in shaping him, as did Finney's Kincaid who acted as the young Bond's guardian.

For fans of the Bond novels, this glimpse into Bond's life pre-MI6 is fascinating, and is something that previous bond films have only touched upon lightly, most notably in Goldeneye when Sean Bean's Alex Trevelayn quips about Bond being an orphan.

Craig's bond, of course, has been famously dubbed 'a blunt instrument' by M, and whilst his raw brutality surfaces when needed, Skyfall deals with a much weaker Bond. Rather than the emotional weakness displayed in Quantum of Solace following Vesper's death, Skyfall's Bond is a physically weaker agent, still recovering after being accidently shot by a fellow field agent played by Naomie Harris. Harris inhabits the role and gives a fantastic performance. It's likely we'll see her again as a Dark Knight Rises style reveal of her character's name at the end of the movie might go some way towards satisfying those who clamour for a black Bond.

So then, brilliant performances all round from team MI6, but what of the villain? As we all know, Javier Bardem takes on main villain duties as Silva, an old MI6 agent who feels betrayed by M and is back for revenge. This sounds familiar -the return of the disgruntled ex-agent- however, Silva is not simply a reincarnation of Alex Treyelayn (formerly 006), a villain bent on destruction and bank robbery. No, Silva is a new breed entirely. He only makes his first appearance halfway through the film and begins by comparing himself and Bond to two rats (appropriate as a good deal of the film is spent scurrying through tunnels).

Bardem is an actor who knows how to play a psychopath (see No Country For Old Men) but here he pulls something special out of the bag and does not play the role straight. One of the only issues I found with this film is that Bardem is not given enough screen time, and his character's background is slightly underdeveloped.

Physically too, Bardem is a worthy adversary for Bond, a nice touch after the somewhat lacking LeChiffre and Dominic Greene of the last two Craig movies. He's a villain who can also be funny and he has some of the best lines of the film, without verging into the territory of some of the more comical Moore-era villains.

Craig and Bardem, then, are two capable adversaries, both ready to slug it out. Thankfully, the action scenes do not disappoint. Many have questioned Mendes' ability to carry off action sequences; remember, Jarhead was a war film where the protagonists never got to shoot at their enemies. However, Mendes is quick to dispel such concerns and after a rather standard pre-title sequence, the octane remains high. There are many more extremely satisfying action sequences throughout the film and the final action sequence is every bit as impressive as anything from the best Bond films, if not better.

It is refreshing also, to see so much of this action take place on British soil, whether in London or Scotland. Mendes has succeeded in making London his own and his depiction of Scotland offers some of the most beautiful shots of any film this year. Watching Bond shoot it out amongst the mountains and mists of the highlands is truly breathtaking. It is rare that a Bond director pays this much attention to crafting not only a high octane, engaging film, but also a visually stunning film. Another visual highlight comes when Bond and an assassin fight in silhouette whilst a giant jellyfish swims against a blue background on a giant LCD screen behind them.

So, after the dip in quality that was Quantum of Solace, Mendes and Craig have come back stronger than ever and have certainly succeeded in crafting a classic Bond. The last scene will have fans of Connery and Moore's Bonds salivating in their seats as we're shown a very familiar office and a very familiar door. Skyfall could easily be the prequel to Dr. No, but rather than feel like the franchise has come full-circle, it feels like Craig has finally established the Bond he created in Casino Royale. Rest assured Bond will return, with dignity, until the job is done, which hopefully won't be any time soon.

4/5 Stars