I will be the first to admit that, back in 2006 I was unkind in my thoughts of Daniel Craig‘s turn as the then new James Bond in Casino Royale. I will also admit that, two years later, I was also still rather cold when Craig returned in Quantum of Solace. And while I still agree with my earlier assessments of Royale and Solace, I have rather warmed to Craig. His turn as Mikael Blomkvist in the Americanized version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo forever changed the way I look at Craig. Skyfall, which released on October 23, 2012 to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the first Bond film Dr. No, breathes new life into a franchise that was, for some, beginning to feel too familiar.
In the latest installment in the Bond film franchise, Skyfall gives us a seasoned, worn Bond who is simultaneously at the height of his power and tumbling over the hill, feeling his age. Deployed on a vital mission in Istanbul, Bond, who is paired with a new partner, Eve (Naomie Harris), is shot while wrestling to obtain a computer hard drive which contains the names of numerous MI6 agents undercover with various world terrorist organizations. Bond is presumed dead. I promise this is not a spoiler, but, newsflash: He’s not. He’s Bond, and this is his film.
In London, as M (Judi Dench, impeccable and lovely as always) is busy writing Bond’s obituary. Having given Eve the order to take a dirty shot at Bond and his combatant, thereby effectively killing Bond, M is gently being informed it may be time to plan her retirement by the Chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee, Gareth Mallory (Ralph Fiennes). Returning to her office following her meeting with Mallory, notification comes in that the stolen hard drive is being accessed. It’s tracked to an office inside MI6 headquarters. M’s office. As they rush to get to the office in order to apprehend the culprit, they are stopped by a police officer. In the distance, an explosion racks the building, originating in M’s office.
On a distant island, in a distant land, a battered and scarred Bond – who has been enjoying the company of a local – hears the news of the attack on MI6 headquarters. It would seem he’s been dead long enough. Through the magic of film, Bond appears in M’s flat in what appears to be only a few hours. He’s needed, after all, and the attack on MI6 is an attack on him. Despite his injuries and his age, M fakes his wellness report after Bond fails every examination for field readiness.
His pursuit to find the hard drive and the terrorists responsible for the explosion at MI6 leads him, eventually, to Silva (Javier Bardem). A former MI6 agent who, not unlike Bond, was betrayed by M. In their initial scene together, Silva makes what can be interpreted as a sexual advance to Bond. He says, and I’m probably going to fumble the quote, “There’s a first time for everything” to Bond. To which Bond replies, “What makes you think this is my first time?” The film is PG-13 so there’s nothing explicit here. I, for one, applauded Bond’s response. It was the correct response, because, for one: he’s Bond and he’s never going to appear shaken in front of anyone. And two: who cares. I mean, seriously. Who cares? If it bothers you, just close your eyes and it’ll all be over with in a moment. But whatever you do, don’t be inconsiderate to the rest of us in the theater and scream profanities at the screen or groan audibly.
It was freakin’ awesome. I expect nothing less from Bond, who’s been owning his sexuality for the last 50 years.
As the film unfolds, it becomes clear that not everyone on the team is going to survive now that Silva is involved. He is hellbent on bringing his own sense of justice to M who, years ago, traded him for six other agents. After undergoing a tremendous amount of torture and abuse from his captors, Silva attempted to kill himself with a cyanide capsule embedded in a tooth. The attempt failed leaving him horribly scarred and deformed. So, yeah, he’s bitter. Bond must do everything he can to protect M, even if that means laying down his own life.
The beauty of Skyfall is that, while it comes in with a run time of 143 minutes, you somehow want the film to continue. Even when the message “Bond will return” is displayed at the beginning of the end credits, you aren’t ready for the film to be over. There are beautiful locales from Istanbul, China, and Japan. This helps contribute to the overall feeling of exoticism in Skyfall that has been missing from the Bond franchise. There are also some heavy issues being explored here like age and usefulness, and the attempt to remain relevant when the world around you begins to shift. Heady stuff for a franchise that was once all guns, sex, and martinis. But, maybe that’s what happens when you turn 50. Maybe you start to grow up.
Director Sam Mendes has brought back the level of escapism moviegoers have loved about going to see a Bond film. After all, haven’t the Bond films been helping regular, blue collared working stiffs feel like sexy, smooth-talkin’ spies for the last 50 years? With that said, the addition of a new, younger quartermaster (played by Cloud Atlas‘ Ben Whishaw), or Q, you won’t see many new toys here. But, there are still the cars to look forward to. For instance, there is the classic Aston Martin DB5, first unveiled in Goldfinger. This adds to the sort of cyclic feeling Skyfall will give Bond fans – the filmmakers kill off Bond only to bring him back, to begin anew. It’s almost as if they’re saying, “Let’s start over. His name is Bond. James Bond.”