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Skyfall

Released 2012. Director: Sam Mendes

JAMES BOND IS DEAD. SHOT BY A FELLOW MI6 AGENT ordered by none other than his boss herself, M.

This happens in the pre-title sequence, which has always served as a mini movie in Bond tradition. Bond always succeeds and escapes in some spectacular fashion but not this time. The unthinkable act of Bond failing – and shot – signals a different approach to the Bond movie template. Audience with a keen eye would have noticed a dramatic departure in the very first scene, where Bond doesn’t walk into the signature aperture, but a variation of the same visual. So in Skyfall, Bond dies, only to return and save MI6, and more importantly, M herself, from one of their own.

Since the relaunch in 2004 with a new timeline and a new actor, the series has been refining its tone, mood and direction. By the time it gets to Skyfall, there is none of the silliness seen in the Roger Moore era. Not even the macho invincibility embodied by Pierce Brosnan. The character of Bond is serious in a careful mix of professionalism and introspection. Whilst the super-spy is still macho and brute, he is also sophisticated and isn’t afraid to let his emotions take him where he shouldn’t go. Poke him and he feels pain. Cut him and he bleeds. He has no time for innuendos or cheesiness. The reputation and relevance of James Bond was in danger of being eclipsed every time a Bourne movie comes out. Not any more. Bond is triumphant in Skyfall, a man, a secret agent, a loyal employee and by far the most human of all Bond portrayals.

In the two previous Bond movies, Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace, he has witnessed the death of the woman he loved and avenged her. Now, he has resurrected to protect ‘mother’. We also learn for the first time he’s an orphan and see the house where he grew up.

Once again the high-octane action sequences are there, breathtakingly choreographed and superbly edited. Jackie Chan would be proud of the physical stunts. It doesn’t seem to stop, from the opening chase through crowded Turkish streets and motorcycle zipping on rooftops to the final showdown with a literal backstabbing, and a shoot-out at a parliamentary hearing, a train crashing underground and Bond escaping from a burning house. Fluid, energetic, muscular, and Daniel Craig’s steel blue eyes never blinked once.

If we could judge a movie by the people who made it, then perhaps that explains why Skyfall is this good. This is most probably the Bond movie with the most impressive pedigree – Roger Deakins on photography (10-time Oscar nominee by 2012), Stuart Baird on editing (credits include Superman, The Omen, Lethal Weapon, Casino Royale) and Sam Mendes in the director’s chair (American Beauty, Road to Perdition, Revolutionary Road).

As M, Judi Dench is the only person who has ever made the character of Bond’s boss more than a supporting role that appears simply to give an order in one scene. Over the previous six movies she has steadily built up the character of M and it comes to a full realization in Skyfall.

In Javier Bardem we have a slightly camp and very disturbed villain not after world domination like Dr Evil but simple revenge in an elaborate set-up that is anything but simple. His motive stems not so much from lunacy but a more personal place of deep anger from being wronged, betrayed and damaged by those he worked for. Careful of disgruntled ex-employees!

Skyfall delivers everything any Bond fan could ask for and more. By the time the dust settles after a poignant ending, Skyfall is quite simply the best Bond movie in all 50 years. Long live James Bond.

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