A sumptuous celebration, and send-up, of five decades of 007.


A clean break with the tech-addled absurdities of Pierce Brosnan’s Y2K-era tenure, Casino Royale rebooted Bond in the post-millennial mold of the brooding, wounded anti-hero typified by Matt Damon’s Bourne and Christian Bale’s Batman. Sam Mendes’ Skyfall goes one better, drawing on the occasion of 007’s golden anniversary to attempt both a renaissance and a reintegration. The franchise’s 23rd official instalment is a meta-minded fusion of old and new, and bids to reconcile Daniel Craig’s previously dour take with the iconic tropes and irreverent spirit that have come to define the martini-swilling spy in his five decades on Her Majesty’s secret service.

Naturally, there’s also the matter of a nefarious international intrigue that 007 must foil along the way. His nemesis du jour is turncoat agent Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem), a bottle blond dandy with a penchant for cyberterrorism and a bitter antipathy towards Bond’s boss M (Judi Dench). Taking his cues from the cartoonish rogues of the Roger Moore years, Bardem proves a memorably flamboyant addition to Bond’s catalogue of foes, though his performance is ultimately more amusing than menacing. Indeed, apart from a crackerjack pre-credits set piece, Skyfall is only modestly successful at generating thrills.

Its chief pleasures, rather, are its sumptuous visuals, and its simultaneous capacity to both celebrate and send-up the Bond brand. Cinematographer Roger Deakins and production designer Dennis Gassner achieve an aesthetic thoroughly suffused with Bond’s trademark style, exemplified by a shadow-shrouded, neon-backlit brawl atop a Shanghai skyscraper. The scene unfolds like one of the series’ signature op-art title sequences brought to life, and is nearly matched by the film’s incendiary, crimson-skied climax. Fittingly, the source of that fiery glow is a symbol of Bond’s past burning to the ground, as though to set the stage for another 50 years of indelible 007 adventures.