James Bond, as promised at the end of “Quantum of Solace,” has returned this month for another installment in the 50-year-old British spy series.
While he still gives us all the thrills we expected (it just wouldn’t be a Bond flick if James didn’t drink liquor with a scorpion on his wrist), Skyfall’s biggest asset is a continuation of ideas we’ve seen in the series since Casino Royale: a treatment of the MI-6 agent as a real, emotional person.
Presumed killed while operating in Turkey, Bond’s return to MI-6 coincides with an attack on headquarters by Silva, an ex-agent who worked under M when she was a station head in Shanghai. Traded to the Chinese for prisoners after reckless, unsupervised fieldwork, Silva lived as a prisoner for years, until his ostensible escape and ensuing vendetta against M.
All this — avowedly evil villains, international espionage, etc—is par for the course for a Bond flick, but from here, the thematic sense of the movie takes unexpected turns: the sense that M and Bond may both be nearing the ends of their careers largely drives the plot of “Skyfall.”
For one, Bond’s durability has been rattled by his near-death experience, and he’s only returned to active duty by the good grace of M, who overlooks his failure to pass agency qualifications. M, meanwhile, has her own problems to worry about: Silva’s acquisition of a list of NATO operatives has placed an entire spy network in danger, and she’s called before a government committee to testify over the debacle.
It gives Bond fanatics a chance to learn some more about the largely mysterious spy. After Silva’s near-assassination of the MI-6 head, M and Bond get a chance to visit—spoiler alert—Bond’s childhood home, his parents’ graves, and meet the gamekeeper at Skyfall, his parents’ estate.
The movie feels nothing like Pierce Brosnan-era Bond work, with its invisible cars and remote-detonator watches. Daniel Craig’s Walter PPK and his old-school Aston Martin, coupled with his aching shoulder and his stubble, brings a sense of Bond’s age into the mix, making “Skyfall” a slam dunk for the nearly-retired demographic. Daniel Craig’s most memorable line: “Sometimes the old ways work best.”
It’s a hit in other places, too, and will keep plenty of other viewers involved. Javier Bardem is near-flawless as a mysteriously deep Silva, while Judi Dench’s unflappable M is a stiff-upper-lipped Briton in all the right places.
Of course, purists aren’t going to like Bond’s lack of gadgets, nor will they be big fans of the time the movie takes to explore his past and his relationship with M. But for most, it’s refreshing take on who Bond is, and what a Bond movie can look like.