After the superb Casino Royale and the less-than-stellar Quantum of Solace, Bond is back for his fiftieth anniversary in Skyfall, a film which looks to past Bond films for inspiration, whilst confidently striding forward in a bold, new direction.
As Daniel Craig takes the seat for the third time as the British superspy, Skyfall looks to repeat the well-worn formula of other Bond films, kicking off in Istanbul with the traditional high-speed chase scene, as Bond pursues a lost hard drive containing sensitive data. While just shy of the frantic parkour chase of Casino Royale, Bond runs, drives and fistfights on trains to recover the data. But when M (Judi Dench) orders Bond’s backup to take her shot, it’s 007 who falls far into the water below, sinking under the depths to Adele’s opening theme song.
And this is where the film breaks away from its predecessors. Bond is brought swiftly back from beach paradise to London, where an explosion and supposed attack on M has forced MI6 underground. As he undergoes the tests for field agents, he misses his shots, loses his instinct and collapses after a few chin-ups. While we know he’ll survive as always, for once we genuinely fear for 007: his eyes are bloodshot and stubble covers his face as he tries to understand why he’s lost his edge.
Some of Skyfall’s most beautiful scenes take place in Macau and Shanghai, and particularly in the latter location, as strides of Blade Runner emerge into memory. The broad, strobing palette of colours allows for director Sam Mendes to frame Bond’s quick, brutal takedown of an assassin in silhouette form, as we watch the two men grapple at the heights of Shanghai’s vast and beautifully-lit skyline.
Whilst Craig’s 007 films have been marked by a lack of gadgets, it’s almost a relief to see Q back, though this time in the form of a young, scruffy Ben Whishaw who serves as Bond’s wittier backup. Dench is as fantastic as ever, her M as unapologetic and stiff-lipped even under the threat of death, but it is Javier Bardem, known best for his scene-stealing assassin in the Coen brothers’ No Country for Old Men, who shines as Skyfall‘s sociopathic ex-agent and cyber-criminal Silva, and the man whose burning desire for vengeance pushes Bond and M to the very edge of reason.
That’s not to say that Skyfall isn’t without its flaws. At times, it seems overly dedicated to the notion of Bond’s fiftieth anniversary and as such becomes a little too self-referential. The Bond girls are most disappointing, relegated to minor side-roles, and the plot at times seems somewhat simplified, running along a single narrative for the most part of its duration. But in the end, it seems a worthwhile sacrifice that Mendes chooses to focus on character rather than espionage, giving us a much closer look at Bond than we’ve ever seen before.
As Craig’s 007 sits on a chair with his hands tied in a scene from Skyfall, he is asked by Bardem’s cybervillan about his hobby; he replies simply: ‘resurrection.’ This is by far the most prominent feature which has characterised Craig’s Bond films over the past few years. And, in that respect, the ‘death’ of gadget-crazy, cheesy one-liner Bond, and his rebirth into Ian Fleming’s original vision of a darker and grittier brand of secret agent, is ultimately what Skyfall is all about. He may have taken a few hits along the way, but as a franchise, Bond has never looked and felt more alive. He most certainly will return.