TIME WAITS for no man, not even the suave and sharply attired 007. In the 50 years since Ian Fleming's debonair secret agent introduced himself to Sylvia Trench at a card table in Dr No, global politics have changed beyond recognition.
The Iron Curtain has fallen, the Cold War has thawed, the People's Republic Of China has emerged as a superpower and terrorism has shifted into the digital realm, forcing James Bond and his colleagues at MI6 to evolve.
Actors who have been licenced to kill during these five turbulent decades have brought something new to the party.
Seán Connery married flirtatiousness with rugged machismo and bare-chested sex appeal, providing a template that successors have struggled to match.
George Lazenby invested his short-lived 007 with tender romance while Roger Moore arched an eyebrow with impish glee, doling out innuendo-laden one-liners with aplomb.
Timothy Dalton added darkness and grit to his emotionally tortured agent, then Pierce Brosnan restored parity between athleticism and charm, coming closest to the glory days of the 1960s.
The latest Bond, Daniel Craig, has rugged physicality in abundance but his one-note interpretation of the spy who is shaken but never stirred remains devoid of personality.
It's telling that the abiding memory of Casino Royale and Quantum Of Solace is a pair of tight blue swimming shorts.
Skyfall will do nothing to dispel those concerns but is undoubtedly the best instalment of Craig's tenure to date.
Director Sam Mendes sensibly surrounds his leading man with an ensemble of award-winning actors, who bring gravitas and humour to their iconic roles.
This tour-de-force supporting cast encourages Craig to raise his game but also exposes his weaknesses as an actor, most noticeably in a pivotal scene of heartbreak, which relies on a drenching from a previous fist fight to send droplets of water down his inexpressive face, suggesting the tears of a momentarily broken man.
In the brilliantly orchestrated action sequences, Craig is in his element and Mendes opens with a breathtaking 12-minute precredits sequence, which draws heavily from the Bourne franchise to propel Bond and field agent Eve (Naomie Harris) through the winding streets of Istanbul.
The mission ends in apparent tragedy, heralding the sombre chords of Adele's soaring theme song that harks back to the belting ballads of Shirley Bassey.
Skyfall looks stunning courtesy of cinematographer Roger Deakins and action sequences don't disappoint.
Bravely, the 23rd Bond assignment pares back the slam bang thrills to concentrate on characterisation and plot, putting Dench's authority figure at the centre of the betrayal. Supporting actress Oscar nominations have been bestowed for far less.
Director Mendes gets high on nostalgia to the obvious delight of Bond purists. However, he spends slightly too long looking back and not enough looking forward, and consequently stumbles with the lacklustre final showdown more befitting of an episode of The A-Team than the second biggest film franchise in history.