A very British Bond, and also a very personal one.
November 19, 2012
Is Bond still up to it? After 50 years, six leading men, and 23 films, Skyfall is as much a story of an ageing spy fighting for his relevance as it is a chance for the franchise to do the same for its critics.
The film opens on Bond (Daniel Craig) beaten, challenged, and cynical, a spent agent dismissed by his colleagues as a misogynist and denounced by his own government as an expensive and embarrassing anachronism. Even his adversary (Javier Bardem) scoffs, "England ... MI6 ... so old-fashioned," but as Bond shrewdly quips, "youth is not a guarantee of innovation."
This clash of ideologies, pitting modernisation against tradition, underscores almost every dimension of the clever script by veteran writers Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, who elegantly have their leading man speak for both himself and the franchise. Bond's rehab, his rejuvenation, and his ultimate demonstration of worth all matter as much to the story and character as they do to the audience in the real world, and — yes — you'd better believe he's still up to it.
With its emphasis on Bond's strained relationship with 'M' (Judi Dench), Skyfall is a very British Bond, and also a very personal one. Both characters find themselves at crossroads, plagued by past decisions and questioning the very nature of their profession in which, so often, fellow agents (and even friends) are sacrificed in the name of Queen and Country. It's a small story told on a grand scale and refreshingly favours old-school spycraft over the traditional gadgets, doomsday devices, and cartoonish plans of world domination that defined many of the earlier films.
Not that it completely eschews the Bond stables, however. There are still the fast cars, beautiful women, and vodka martinis; they're just presented in a more traditional way. Bond's suits have a '60s cut, his gun is the old Walther PPK, and even the music has more of a John Barry flavour to it, with Thomas Newman (American Beauty) gleefully unleashing his brass section and liberally quoting Bond's iconic theme throughout the score. It all gels perfectly, neatly reinforcing the 'old dog/new tricks' motif epitomised by M's small desk statue of a Churchillian bulldog draped in the Union Jack.
In Skyfall, director Sam Mendes has delivered a classic Bond for the 21st century: modern in all the ways we need him to be; traditional in the ways we love him to be. After 50 years, the world definitely still needs its 007, and, courtesy of the closing credits, you can rest assured — James Bond will return.