: Sam Mendes
: Daniel Craig, Judi Dench
Popular fiction may not be dominated any more by Ian Fleming's novels. After all, for five decades since Fleming went off to the pearly gates, Robert Ludlum, Stephen King and Jeffrey Archer have spilled thrills that are more contemporary. But for sheer high-octane, though archetypal, entertainment, no one quite compares with Britain's espionage icon, who has just completed a run of 50 years and 23 globe-spanning adventures. 007 rocks, but he always has, with his girls, guns, gadgets and martinis, which could be shaken, stirred or both. Happy golden jubilee, Mr Bond.
Punchy one-liners, designer costumes, the best cinematography that money can buy and stunts that will no doubt be imitated extensively -- Skyfall has them all. But wait. This slick spy versus mega-megalomaniacs may have all that the script doctors ordered - but with a difference. The result is not the usual formulaic, superficial action film. It has a dark edge, which may not be cheered universally. There's a shade of bitterness and a doom-laden undercurrent in the plot, which was to be expected perhaps from director Sam Mendes, who won an Oscar for American Beauty.
Mendes uses the stock material alright, complete with a stunning pre-credits sequence, a song crooned by Adele and jaw-dropping action. Adventurously, as the film proceeds, it's not only fun and games. For decades, audiences wondered why the agent didn't show his human side. Bond has been critiqued for being robotic and not the slightest bit inward-looking, if not deeply introspective as identified with the film version of John Le Carre's The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. Bond-baiters can now rejoice, even if it's at the cost of the commercial jackpot expected of a Bond movie. Mendes is more in tune with the Batman series, which has explored the greyer aspects of the Gotham superhero.
In his third outing, Daniel Craig must prevent his nation and secret service from incalculable damage from the evil element. That evil is incarnated by Javier Bardem, dependably excellent. We are thrust into a deadly combat between 007 and the power-hungry demon who doesn't play by any rules. At stake are the survival of M (Judi Dench) and the sovereignty of Britain. At times, it seems as if the fate of Britain will indeed reflect the future of the world. But then, that's Bond -- with a somewhat stiff upper-lip but the forefather of Jason Bourne and Ethan Hunt born again with heroic agility. Is that agility unbreakable? Mendes, pertinently, questions the notion of invincibility.
As always, the peripatetic Bond whizzes through exotic locations, from London, Shanghai (an astounding action set-piece here), and Macau to Istanbul. The glamour quotient (Berenice Marlohe) simmers but doesn't steam the way it has with the spy who appears to catch some sleep only when he's next to a bare back under the satin sheets. Again, the script situations are mainly intended to gravitate towards the death-defying combats, topped by the climactic conflagration in Scotland.
Those who relish a slight twist to the Bond series won't be disappointed. Those who seek a mindless 007 may nitpick. It's certainly smarter than the last few Bonds that have zipped in and out of the viewer's mind. The impact of this espionage adventure lasts after it has ended.
However, it's still not among the best of the suave spy's extravaganzas. Most diehard fans will accord that honour to Dr No, From Russia with Love or Goldfinger.
Skyfall is worth a look right away because it's a cut above the pop-cornish Bond, reassuring us that cinema would just not be the same without the periodic reappearance of the spy with the licence to storm the ticket counters.