SKYFALL (M): ****½
Stars Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Javier Bardem, Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris, Ben Whishaw; directed by Sam Mendes. 143 minutes.
For James Bond's 50th anniversary as a hero on the cinema screen, the filmmakers have gone all out. Not only is this a mega-budget spectacular with the requisite action sequences and stunts, but there's a welcome emphasis on characterisation, too, making for grand entertainment.
Daniel Craig's Bond has been intriguingly more human than most of his predecessors and that continues here. A botched mission not only puts embedded operatives - and MI6 itself - in danger but also has disturbing implications for M (Judi Dench), whose competence and judgment are called into question by the chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee, Mallory (Ralph Fiennes). It's up to 007 to try to stop disaster from occurring and to save his boss's career.
One of the good things about the movie is that there's a real sense of uncertainty as to whether or not he will succeed: it's hard to imagine Sean Connery's deadly Bond botching the job, and Roger Moore would have carried it out with aplomb and an arched eyebrow. But Craig's Bond, while ruthless and tough when he has to be, is far from invulnerable.
There's still the formula to contend with, of course, and director Sam Mendes and company work well within it. A Bond movie needs a strong villain, and Javier Bardem as Silva is properly fascinating and odious, his motives a little different from the usual megalomania and/or greed.
And, of course, there are the women; though there's little emphasis on sex in this outing. A good thing, too: they emerge as interesting characters rather than playthings. Berenice Marlohe is tantalising and sad as Severine and Naomie Harris as MI6 field agent Eve also makes a strong impression.
It's not all deadly serious, though. There are the usual Bond quips, though they seem a little incongruous at times, and the significance of the Bondian half-century is noted in many ways throughout, though never so much as to become irritating. We even get a bit of delving into the past of Bond himself, with a welcome appearance by Albert Finney as a faithful family servant.
Thematically speaking, there's a running tension between the old and the new way of doing things, with a new Q (Ben Whishaw) who looks like Harry Potter, for example, on the one hand, with lots of high-tech gadgetry and surveillance equipment, and the more up-close-and-personal style of Bond himself, who's never afraid of getting his hands dirty on the job.
Flaws? There are a few points where credulity is a little overstretched, even given the nature of this film, which isn't exactly hyper-realistic. But if you want spectacle with a little intelligence and humour, Skyfall is well worth seeing.
Adele's title song is good, too.