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Skyfall

Year: 2012
Production Co: Eon Productions
Studio: Sony
Director: Sam Mendes
Producer: Barbara Broccoli/Michael G Wilson
Writer: Robert Wade/Neal Purvis/John Logan
Cast: Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Javier Bardem, Berenice Marlohe, Naomie Harris, Ralph Fiennes, Albert Finney, Ben Wishaw, Helen McCrory

On paper, the idea of James Bond going back to his ancestral Scottish home and dealing with issues about his dead parents sounds completely idiotic, the kind of cack-handed effort to give him 'vulnerability' and a 'soul' that's failed so dismally so many times before (most notably in The Living Daylights). Are writers Purvis, Wade and Logan (at the behest of producers Broccoli and Wilson) trying to brand associate with The Dark Knight Rises?

It's a strange coda but not an unwelcome one, and if it didn't come at the end of the best James Bond film since The Spy Who Loved Me it might have been much more jarring.

I'm not going to rail endlessly about how Bond movies swing on a pendulum between being stripped of all familiarity and being bloated and silly again – I'm sure I do it in every review and story I write about James Bond. But this is the upswing back towards the point where the relevant director in charge remembers the essential element in the whole series (one that's been missing for the last two films) – fun.

Where Casino Royale was a good action movie and a passable Bond movie and Quantum of Solace was a terrible Bond movie and a serviceable action movie, Skyfall is the best of both. The simple reason is because it has the Bond trappings in everything from the motifs to the mood, with the globe-hopping tone and the sly nods to the signature characters I (at least) loved about Bond movies as a kid.

Prior to Casino Royale, Broccoli and Wilson were telling anyone who'd listen they were taking Bond back to basics (a phrase that now makes me shudder). What they really meant was that they were scooping all the topping off the ice cream, that make the whole thing so entertaining, from Q and Moneypenny to the sweeping score and glamourous locations.

Where else but in a James Bond movie does the bridge into a Macau casino full of people in expensive evening wear lead across a pit of Komodo dragons which will get their dinner soon during a fight with some nameless goons?

Javier Bardem is the villain behind a bombing at MI6 headquarters in London, one apparently meant to get M's (Dench) attention rather than kill her. It happens while Bond is away boozing in a tropical paradise after narrowly surviving in an operation gone wrong.

Silva (Bardem) is holed up on an abandoned industrial island (inspired by the real life Hashima Island), and he's also behind a series of cyber-attacks that even the incoming computer genius Q (Wishaw) has trouble figuring out.

Revealing Silva to be a former spy with the service was a risky move – rogue agent figures seldom work in the Bond series. When James himself goes rogue for a cause (as he has a few times), he loses all his ice-cool lustre – passion is the one thing Bond should never have. They've also tried it with villains, but Sean Bean's line in Goldeneye about the regimes and despots they've overturned just reminded us of how essentially silly the endless parade of hollowed out volcano/spacecraft/floating pod cities have been. It tried to be a Grand Unified Theory of Bond but instead it just felt like the first time you were told there's no Santa Claus, undermining a powerful but essentially playful legacy.

So when Silva is revealed as a former agent in the service you might expect things to go off the rails. Thankfully his larger-than-life persona, shock of blond hair and air of emotional and even sexual threat are exquisite, and Bardem's set to join the classics gallery.

After using a beautiful captive (Marlohe) of Silva's sex traffic ring to track him down to his island lair, Bond overpowers Silva and brings him in, the girl meeting her fate in another classic trope of the series – knowing Bond is a dangerous thing to do, sex and death inextricably linked.

But while Silva cackles maniacally in a Hannibal Lechter-like cell in the bowels of MI6 and reveals a deeper connection to M, you realise it's all part of his master plan. All hell breaks loose when he busts out and after making an attempt on M's life during a parliamentary deposition, James sweeps her away to safety himself. With all Silva's resources he knows there's only one place to go for the final battle that's off the grid – the haunting castle of his birth that gives the film its name beside a Scottish loch (perhaps a sneaky nod to the debt the series owes to Sean Connery?).

For all the criticism cineastes level at formula filmmaking, Bond only works when the elements are in place. It's almost fun to tick them off on your fingers as they happens, from a bad guy who's all personality to the jet setting tone, the sexual innuendo to (yes) the gadgets. In fact, the reintroduction of Q proves there's no reason not to have your best assets even if they're the subject of light-hearted ribbing – one of the film's funniest lines is when Q tells James the branch doesn't really go for exploding pens any more. There's even a final tip of the hat to the early days with Lois Maxwell and Bernard Lee as Moneypenny and M.

Skyfall is the first Bond movie in a long time to remember that it's primary purpose as a movie is to entertain, not challenge. No matter how real or gritty you want to make him, this is the 'back to basics' James Bond needs every time.

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