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Skyfall (2012)

If Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes in Game of Shadows was a little more Bond than Holmes; here, it’s the other way around. Bond does the Reichenbach in the opening sequence, plunging to his supposed doom over a waterfall, and even indulges in a little detecting, telling Bérénice Marlohe’s Severine exactly what sort of gun she’s got hidden under her dress. Javier Bardem’s cartoon-psycho villain is reminiscent of Moriarty in the BBC’s modern day Sherlock, too.

But there is no doubt that this is Bond, even if the action is sparing and the gadgets minimal. Suspension of disbelief is already stretched to breaking point before the ridiculous opening credits, by an implausible rooftop motorcycle chase. And the film is stuffed full of tongue-in-cheek references to its own identity as a series, from Q telling Bond they don’t go in for exploding pens anymore to a familiar car making an appearance in the final half an hour.

Bond has always been a slightly insufferable celebration of imperialist heterosexual manliness, travelling the world and shooting the evil foreigners while every woman who crosses his path drops her knickers at the sight of him. This is mitigated somewhat in this instalment by several factors – the prominent role of Judi Dench’s M, Naomie Harris as an actual agent (even if her knickers don’t stay up long), and the villains not hailing from any particular country. There’s still an amount of exoticism, though, and there’s something uncomfortable about Bardem’s 1970s camp in his portrayal of Silva. (Most eye-rolling moment, though, was when Bond walks up behind Severine in the shower, uninvited, and she’s apparently fine with that. Of course.)

The key to Bond’s longevity as a series is its ability to regenerate without either retreading old ground or losing sight of its history (as with so many ‘reboots’ these days), as well as making each film so entirely standalone that it’s not at all necessary to have seen the previous ones.

Skyfall also seems to capture a certain 2012 zeitgeist of a culture of inquiries and accountability alongside worries about security, terrorism and our reliance on technology which can be easily hacked, topped off with a layer of Britishness. Which is really quite clever (or lucky) of it.

After returning from what appears to be a belated gap year, Bond is allowed back on active duty to help hunt down a missing list of undercover agents and the person who has infiltrated MI6’s computer systems and blown up their headquarters. The film jumps from impressively rendered location to impressively rendered location on the flimsiest of pretexts, encompassing Silva’s lair (apparently located in Inception’s limbo), a shoot-up at the (Leveson) inquiry and a chase sequence on the underground.

The dialogue is smarter than the actual plot, especially Bond’s interactions with M and Q, more than a few lines that made me smile. Even the cheesy lines are delivered with a sort of irony that is worlds away from the smugness of Pierce Brosnan’s tenure. Judi Dench and Ben Whishaw are both excellent (they always are). I felt Bardem’s villain was misjudged in many ways, but he was much more effective in the final showdown, leather coat contrasting with his silver hair as he stalks Bond and M accompanied by his posse of goons and an implausibly low flying helicopter.

The film’s real strength, though, is its cinematography. It looks absolutely dazzling.

Although it’s got its issues, this is the best Bond film I’ve seen. I enjoyed it more than I expected.