Bond series all grown up

SKY HIGH: Daniel Craig, left, as James Bond, and Javier Bardem as villain Silva in Skyfall – one of the best Bonds yet.
SKY HIGH: Daniel Craig, left, as James Bond, and Javier Bardem as villain Silva in Skyfall – one of the best Bonds yet.

Directed by Sam Mendes. Starring Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Javier Bardem, Albert Finney.

By some odd roll of the dice, the allocated seating at the theatre put me right next to a fellow writer from The Dominion Post. He's an even bigger Bond nerd than me. And that's saying something. At the end of Skyfall he turned to me and said ''I think I've got a new favourite Bond movie''. This coming from someone who has without doubt seen all 23 of the films, and probably more than once.

I wouldn't go quite that far myself, but I think I do at least now have a favourite final act to a Bond movie.

Skyfall starts off in vintage Bond style, with a doozy of a fight/chase. It's long, fairly bloody, gleefully inventive, and at the end of it, Bond is in the perfect position to vanish off the face of the earth forever. And really, why wouldn't you? The poor sod has been thrashed, bashed, shot, stabbed, bitten, and widowed for England for half a century now. He has been sacked, racked, and hacked about. He has even had to endure the vast indignation of being played by an Australian. Small wonder then, that Skyfall finds Bond in a pensive frame of mind, and genuinely wondering whether it's all been worth the bloody effort.

Which makes as fine a place from which to re-launch and re-invigorate the series as I could imagine.

Bond, of course, snaps out of his ennui the moment he realises his beloved M (Judi Dench) is in peril. What ensues, across a pleasing array of locations, is a classic Bond yarn, with all the sillinesses that implies. There are gunfights, deaths by giant lizard, beauteous women and hideous henchmen at every stop along the way, just as there should be. And in Javier Bardem, with a haircut he's nicked from an old Patrick Swayze movie, and an accent that can only be described as the world's first menacing lisp, Skyfall has found one of the truly great Bond villains.

Skyfall is a film that has a lot of fun with it's own heritage, and which does everything it needs to be remembered fondly as one of the good'uns. And then it does one thing more. Via a very extended third act (you could easily argue that this is actually a four act film) Skyfall takes us somewhere we have never been before: into Bond's childhood and upbringing. For half an hour or so, we are on Bond's turangawaewae. Secrets are revealed, an old acquaintance is remade, and a suitably epic battle is waged by Bond and co against Bardem's criminally insane and utterly implacable old queen. It makes for a fine way to salute everything that has gone before, and to usher in a whole new generation of films.

Whether it's the ''best'' Bond movie is a question of taste. Personally, I think Casino Royale offered still more thrills and spectacle, while Thunderball will always be my sentimental favourite. But Skyfall is perfect proof that this series has grown up proper, and is in as good a shape as ever.

The Dominion Post