A version of this review originally appeared on November 15, 2012 in the Lock Haven Eagle Eye, Lock Haven University’s student newspaper.
In one scene during “Skyfall”—director Sam Mendes’ refreshing take on the 007 mythos—James Bond is asked what his hobby is. “Resurrection,” he answers—a quip that speaks not only to specific plot elements of the movie itself, but also to the franchise as a whole. James Bond is immortal, and this movie knows it.
Though 007 has had his ups and downs over the years, he’s now back, reinvented, resurrected from the campy tropes and certain obligations that had previously defined the franchise. But that’s not to say this isn’t a traditional Bond movie. “Skyfall” has all the recognizable elements—the exotic locales, the beautiful women, the sinister villain—but it deftly manages to respect its predecessors without being nostalgic. This is no small feat, considering the franchise’s devout following. For example, the Aston Martin DB5 made famous by its role in the beloved “Goldfinger” even makes an essential, and ultimately comical appearance.
In “Skyfall” there is a constant juxtaposition of the old and the new, exemplified overtly with the introduction of Bond’s new quartermaster, or Q—a hipster technophile, who, for the first time in franchise history, is younger than 007, something Bond is at first unwilling to accept. “Age is no guarantee of efficiency,” Q tells Bond after seeing his discontent, to which Bond replies, “Youth is not a guarantee of innovation.” No, it’s not, but considering the threat of this movie’s villain, Raoul Silva—played masterfully by Javier Bardem—Bond needs all the help he can get.
And it’s Silva that enables some of the most emotionally resonant scenes in the movie. He becomes a catalyst for deep introspection on the part of the audience and the characters. He exposes Bond’s insecurities and exploits them for his own deep-seated grudges against his former employer, eventually raising the stakes beyond the threat of terrorism, a threat that can’t be contained by intrusive bureaucracies.
MI6 is in trouble, Bond’s ability to do his job effectively is being questioned, and M’s credibility is undermined after the death of multiple agents. The foundations of the franchise are at stake, and the only way to save them is by taking Bond back to his beginnings. What’s most astounding about “Skyfall” is that its main plot strand ends up not being about national security at all, but about personal vendettas and repressed memories. There’s something initially Freudian about “Skyfall” until the film’s climax when Bond goes home, but doesn’t linger there.
“Skyfall” gives us a half-realized picture of Bond’s childhood to great effect. A complete backstory would have been antithetical to this portrait of our favorite spy, whose charm stems from his enigmatic yet dashing character traits. And Daniel Craig as Bond IS dashing, a spectacle all his own who is never overshadowed by this movie’s sensational set pieces. Craig has never looked better in a suit and no actor before him has given Bond such depth. Craig’s 007 is brooding, melancholic, and at times physically debilitated, even disillusioned, but he’s still Bond—witty and forthright, never unconfident and a delightful instigator.
Because of the performances, a nuanced script, and careful direction, “Skyfall” is always grounded in a stark humanity even in the face of some spectacular action sequences which are innovative in their own way. “Skyfall” is by far the most intimate entry in the franchise. There is an austere drama here unparalleled in the action genre, making “Skyfall” less about 007, and much more about James Bond.