50 years ago, Sean Connery's 007 burst into cinemas with an explosion of fast cars, politically-incorrect one-liners and an endless supply of beautiful women. In the years since, Bond has become the world's most popular and enduring movie franchise, and his high-adrenaline appeal remains to this day: latest instalment Skyfall has just enjoyed the second-biggest opening in UK box office history. Yet despite the universal appeal of star Daniel Craig, does the series really have much life left in it? Can a gun-toting, emotionally-stunted, sexist dinosaur still be a national hero in these liberated times?
Skyfall doesn't just answer that question - it poses it.
The first Bond movie to be set in and around London since the very first (Dr No), Skyfall isn't afraid to call the future of the series - and its central character - into question. The central theme of the film, which also gives an enlarged role to Judi Dench's 'M', asks whether old things (like these aging characters and their dated ways of doing things) are still relevant in the modern world. Chief Examiner in this is Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem), one of the best Bond villains ever, and also one of the most unlikely – marrying a thirst for violence and revenge with sexual liberation and computer hacking expertise. In one memorable scene, he doesn't just show off his technical prowess to Bond, he flirts with him; forcing 007 to realise that villainy has come a long way since 1962. Indeed, even Bond is forced to realise that without the aid of fresh-faced right-hand man 'Q' - a technical whiz-kid - he'd be left chasing shadows in an age of digital terrorism.
The film hardly presents us with a new, modern-man Bond however. He's still driving those cars (Director Sam Mendes has included a treat for the fans in this regard): he's still bedding a different woman every night. Yet Craig's 007 is very different to previous incarnations - more ruthless, more believable as a real MI6 spy, and crucially, more physically vulnerable. Whereas Roger Moore barely received a scratch from his various enemies, Craig is frequently subjected to torturous pain (most men I know can't even watch a certain scene in Casino Royale without wincing) to the point that you often wonder if he's actually going to survive.
While the series is becoming more realistic however, it isn't exactly being rehabilitated. The myth of redemptive violence still looms large, and for a 12A we see an awful lot of people machine-gunned to death; female characters are still either sex objects (some of whom have a brain, which just makes them sexier) or hard-bitten old matriarchs. So we return to that question: is James Bond really a hero for the modern generation?
It's not just our flawed hero whom the film calls into question; it's the whole intelligence service, institutions, everything that represents the 'old ways' of doing things. In that respect, it asks a question even of the Church. Have we moved on and remained relevant to the fast-moving modern world? And are there some things from our past which are still worth fighting for and holding on to?
An old friend of 007's tells him that 'sometimes the old ways are the best.' It's a poignant line which sums up the case for the defence. Yet if Bond knows that part of him needs to evolve, that if he simply stands still he'll become irrelevant, and this film seems to acknowledge that. Skyfallis fantastic; one of the most thrilling and intelligent action films of recent years. Perhaps it is by asking such hard-hitting questions of itself that it achieves the apparent aim of Daniel Craig and his producers, and reboots the franchise for a new generation. At one point, Bond states that his hobby is 'Resurrection'. On Skyfall's evidence, the tomb is empty: 007 is alive and kicking.