Bond is most certainly back. Sam Mendes’ long-awaited 23rd entry in the franchise, Skyfall (2012), starring Daniel Craig and Javier Bardem, is full of all the typical thrills and spills we have come to expect from Her Majesty’s favourite spy over the past fifty years. Yet this time around, we have a refreshing approach which walks away from the Bourne-like, gritty style of recent outings, giving new energy to the longest running movie franchise of all time. After a hard drive containing a list of undercover operatives is stolen, 007 (Craig) is tasked with retrieving the data. Wounded by one of his own and presumed dead, Bond hides out in booze-filled semi-retirement.
When M’s (Judy Dench) life is threatened in an attack on MI6 headquarters, Bond returns discovering the man responsible to be Raoul Silver (Javier Bardem) – a gloriously camp super-villain, somewhere in between Scaramanga and Max Zorin with an added Dali-esque twist, who will stop at nothing to kill M. Whilst there are all the typical tropes; smart suits, glamorous women, Aston Martins and exotic locations, with Skyfall Mendes has also paid homage to the franchise whilst neatly exposing and at times subverting our ideas of who Bond in a playful genesis plot. In a pleasing turn, it’s not just the origins of 007 within the context of the film, but also an exploration of the changes the character has undergone throughout the half century.
James (can we call you James?) is no longer the youthful man willing to crack ribs for queen and country. Instead, we find a tired, unfit alcoholic who, whilst still possessing the charisma of the beloved spy, looks like the STDs and years of alcohol abuse have finally caught up with him. This makes for a pleasant turn where the general theme is that the double-0 agents are an out of date model in the modern world.
Skyfall inhabits a Bond universe where Q (for Quartermaster) is now played by the geek-chic-carrying Ben Whishaw with a distinct lack of gadgets and Bond sports a rather rugged stubble beard for the majority of the feature. Furthermore, there’s a playful subversion of Bond’s sexuality in a superb first scene from Bardem, as he caresses Bond’s chest delivering in a hushed voice, “I bet your training didn’t prepare you for this Mr. Bond.”
Here, Mendes has skilfully constructed a very British affair, with references to Churchill’s War Rooms and M quoting Tennyson’s Ulysses in a somewhat shy-making, yet enjoyably patriotic (in the best sense) scene. Skyfall drips in the legacy of Bond, standing tall as an action-packed swansong to Britain’s best loved hero of recent years, whilst also showing a great deal of affection for the decades of movies that have come before.
This review was originally posted on 24 October, 2012, to coincide with the film’s theatrical release.