Retro 007 is hit and miss
IT is one of the big cinematic anomalies that the worst of actors turn out to make the best of James Bonds.
Perhaps because the character itself is such a cliche-ridden caricature, actors from the hammier end of the spectrum are comfortable turning on the charm, grinding out the physical tics and being a bit of a well-coifed clothes horse.
So while dear, adorable old Roger Moore and the unendingly wooden Pierce Brosnan have both made slick Bonds, Daniel Craig is still floundering.
The latest instalment, Skyfall (12A), finds him accepting his most personal and perilous mission yet.
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It is telling that the abiding memory of Casino Royale and Quantum Of Solace is the pouty Craig in a pair of tight, blue swimming shorts. Nonetheless this is his best Bond outing to date.
Director Sam Mendes sensibly opens the movie with a breathtaking 12-minute pre-credits sequence, drawing heavily from the Bourne franchise, to propel Bond and field agent Eve (Naomie Harris) through the streets of Istanbul.
The mission ends in apparent tragedy, heralding the sombre chords of Adele's retro theme song that harks back to the belting balladry of Shirley Bassey.
With Bond reportedly killed in action, section chief M (Judi Dench) pens an obituary as a political storm rages around her.
A database of MI6 assets has fallen into the wrong hands, compromising undercover agents around the world.
This dereliction of duty puts M and the department's Chief Of Staff in the firing line and they are summoned to Westminster.
While M fends off attacks on her reputation, news filters through that Bond has survived, and so M engages her bruised agent to track down menacing cyber terrorist Raoul Silva.
Cue global criss-crossing, louche casino scenes and a bit of shower-and-bed hopping, while Bond unearths dark secrets from M's past that threaten to bring down MI6.
All of the elements that make Bond movies Bond movies are present and correct, and a wonderful supporting cast keeps the interest up — so Albert Finney, Rory Kinnear, Ben Wishaw and Javier Bardem are all a joy to behold.
And Skyfall looks stunning thanks to cinematographer Roger Deakins and the action sequences don't disappoint.
Bravely though, the 23rd Bond assignment pares back the visual thrills to concentrate more on characterisation and plot, putting Dench's authority figure at the centre of the betrayal.
The many verbal jousts are enjoyable and Bardem is camp and menacing, recalling the classic Bond villains as he berates M for her deceptions with "Mummy was very bad!" then guns down innocent bystanders without mercy.
The closing 20 minutes are the only obvious misstep by screenwriters Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and John Logan.
To tie up the loose ends, the writers hurriedly introduce an additional character, Bond's old gamekeeper Kincade (Albert Finney), who, as enjoyable as he is, exists purely to manoeuvre characters into the correct positions.
All in all Mendes gulps down some heavy gasps of nostalgia for Skyfall,
However, he spends slightly too long looking back and not enough looking forward, stumbling with the lacklustre final showdown possibly more befitting of an episode of The A-Team than the second biggest film franchise in history.