When Daniel Craig fell out of the sky into the Olympics opening ceremony, he became part of the top 2 things UK will be remembered for in 2012 – London’s hosting of the world’s most prestigious sporting event and Skyfall, the 23rd film in the James Bond series.

“Where the hell have you been?” the irritated yet relieved M (Judi Dench) snaps at Bond when he shows up years after being presumed dead from a botched shooting ordered by M herself.

Bond fans could say the same thing. It’s been an excruciating 4-year wait since the last movie Quantum of Solace, and knowing the delay was caused by MGM Pictures’ cashflow problems offered no solace. Although, on hindsight, it’s cool that possibly the best film in the 007 franchise should be released on the 50th anniversary of its first movie, Dr No.

Directed by award-winning director Sam Mendes, who was behind American Beauty and Road to Perdition (which also starred Craig), Skyfall opens with an intense 10-minute chase scene in Istanbul with Bond trying to recover a stolen hard disk with the names of all undercover NATO operatives.

His co-worker, the gorgeous Eve (Naomie Harris) accidentally shoots Bond instead of the man he’s fighting, sending our blue-eyed hero flying off a speeding train into what seems like a never-ending gorge. Cue opening credit sequence and play that Adele song, please.

Rather than be bitter about this, the world’s best known secret agent rushes back to the rescue of his MI6 employers when he finds them under attack. Before you can even say, “Bond, James Bond.” he’s dispatched to go up against the film’s villain, former MI6 operative and cyber-terrorist Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem). Unlike Bond, Silva bears a grudge against M for, according to him, betraying his trust and is out to take revenge.

Silva reminds us of Hannibal Lecter (Gaspard Ulliel) from Hannibal Rising as well as the Joker (the late Heath Ledger from The Dark Knight), putting him in good company of arguably 2 of the greatest screen villains. Silva is a secret agent, sadist and criminal mastermind rolled into one. He may not be the best Bond villain, paling in comparison to head of global criminal organisation SPECTRE Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Mauricio Caravedo), who, mind you, killed Bond’s wife, but he will certainly send chills down your spine with his demented and cold-blooded ways of dealing with M and Bond. Always one step ahead of them, Silva outsmarts Bond easily, making him walk into trap after trap and even sending a train crashing down on him. Kudos to Bardem for making his character so eerily perfect that we wish he had a little more screen time. He certainly matched the critically acclaimed performance of Craig, who was feted even for Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace.

MI6 quartermaster Q Branch (Ben Whishaw) surprised us when he provided Bond with just the signature Walther PPK pistol and a tiny radio transmitter instead of a set of extravagantly high-tech gadgets. Screenwriters John Logan, Neal Purvis and Robert Wade went the right direction on this one, after criticism from the public that Bond was depending too much on his gadgets. “Were you expecting an exploding pen? We don’t really go in for that anymore,” says Q, deadpan.

In place of the gadgets, Skyfall offers many scenes of heart-stopping close quarters combat where Bond goes hand-to-hand with his enemies. With plenty of sardonic one-liners peppered into the script, their tight fight sequences aren’t the only things that pack a punch.

What’s a Bond film without the Bond girls? Bond finally gets passionate with the flirtatious Eve in a hotel room while on a mission after all these years of sexual tension. But hey, even if the series is 50 years old, we all know Bond doesn’t stop at one. After all, who can resist the glamorous and enigmatic Sévérine (Bérénice Marlohe)? Despite knowing that she works for Silva, Bond unsurprisingly ends up in a steamy shower scene with the French lady.

Where the film falls short, however, are the shameless product placements throughout the almost 2 and a half hours run. Several Bond films have had Heineken as a sponsor but Skyfall is the first film where Bond actually drinks Heineken. Hello, any fan worth his salt knows that Bond doesn’t drink beer. Bond only drinks Martinis (note: shaken, not stirred). Having said that, if that’s what it took to get MGM back in the black, we gladly let them off the hook.

Ultimately, Skyfall is arguably one of the best Bond films to date. This 007 flick is beautifully directed, has top-notch cinematography and enough fighting, shootouts, and explosions to keep you on the edge of your seat. Throw in a captivating plot, paired with an amazing cast, and it has everything it needs to make an award-winning James Bond film. At the end, we’re promised that “James Bond will return”, and we honestly can’t wait.

Movie: Skyfall
Rating: 4/5
Release Date: Nov 1, 2012 (Singapore)
Duration: 142 minutes
Language: English
Age Rating: PG13 (Action, Violence)
Genre: Action, Adventure, Crime
Director: Sam Mendes
Cast: Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Javier Bardem