Nation reclaims pride in old-fashioned hero

Skyfall (M)

THE ENGLISH have had plenty to be happy about in 2012.

Their national pride and resilience, shaken in recent years through bomb attacks and civil riots, was restored with their stellar home performance at the Olympic Games.

From there a ball was set rolling, which found itself in the land of fiction as the world's smoothest spy turned 50. And haven't they celebrated.

James Bond (Daniel Craig) is, like his martini, shaken when the definitive list of MI6 agents in global terrorist operations is stolen under their noses.

He is pushed out of the chase to get it back by a misfire from fellow agent Eve (Naomie Harris), and returns to action months later as a near drunkard and unrecovered from the mission's injuries.

It's a Bond we rarely see, not only because he's out of neat dress. Brit Sam Mendes immediately draws the curtain to reveal uncertainty; not just a man unsure of his standing, but an extension to a nation pleading for mercy from villains in the shadows.

You wouldn't be wrong for thinking it was akin to that of Bruce Wayne's Gotham City.

Agents revealed from the list start to fall as Bond makes his return to the field. The revelation that M (Judi Dench) is the target of the man behind it brings sentimentality to the situation. Their relationship, often represented with the potential for friendship and always containing trust, is tested beyond their expectations.

This all derives from a villain who takes some time to appear. But Mendes and director of photography Roger Deakins make no mistake in estimating the importance of Silva's (Javier Bardem) entrance. The film's best single shot sums up the bad guy as he introduces himself.

The softly spoken Bardem conjures a quietly maniacal being to put Bond into a spin.

This 007 story is one of an underdog with the villain meticulous in remaining one step ahead. No doubt it will speak as symbolism for many in a time where the average life contains financial uncertainty among other dangers.

What Mendes and screenwriters Neal Purvis, Robert Wade (the duo's last Bond after five films) and John Logan set to achieve is a return to the days of old.

The characters are aware of time slipping away, as well as impending change. But in restoring old King and country, their staunch belief in an old-fashioned approach comes to work in their favour.

There is the return of some old favourites in the way of gadgets, paying homage to Bond's history with a bit of cheek. The return of Q (Ben Whishaw) and introduction of intelligence and security chairman Gareth Mallory (Ralph Fiennes) are welcome additions.

Mendes barely puts a foot wrong as he covers a lot of ground. While completely separate to the arc of the last two features (although Bond has never been one for continuity), this story still has much to reveal about different weaknesses of a man most consider untouchable.

There are women Bond has loved, and those he protects. Skyfall is not about those he charms, but saving those in need from peril. Harris and Berenice Marlohe as Severine play second fiddle to the woman he realises is the only one who's really stuck around - to help him, and to help restore pride and security to their great nation.

Rating: 4/5

Now screening at Reading Cinemas

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