If Casino Royale was a reinvention of the Bond franchise as a whole, then 2012’s Skyfall is a reinvention of James Bond himself. The man, not the movie. We know how the movies have morphed over the decades, and how they’ve grown into something far more sophisticated than a bunch of henchmen trying to shoot Bond down with machine guns. But Bond has always remained the same. Some of his incarnations have been more rugged, some less sex-obsessed, some less funny, some less human. But they’ve all been superficial changes. Skyfall digs deep into Bond and reveals that beneath all the charm and style, there is a broken man who might not be fit for his job any longer.
The movie opens with Bond’s death. Well, not his actual death, because that’d be silly. He gets shot off a train by one of his own, accidentally of course, and falls a few hundred feet into the gushing river below, which then leads him off a waterfall and into the opening credits. How he survives all that is not very important, because it’s the opening scene, and we know that a Bond movie cannot function without James Bond. So let’s just cut to the part where he resurfaces in the arms of a naked lady (only Bond could fall off a bridge, and then a waterfall, and then survive it all to have sex with a random woman). He’s somewhere far away from civilization, and the wound of the gunshot is still there in his chest.
When he returns to MI6 — which has been infiltrated and exploded by a mysterious hacker — he finds that he can no longer fire his good old Walther straight. He can’t run as fast, nor can he do as many sit ups and pull ups. We think it’s because he’s been out of action for a while, but the chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee, Gareth Mallory (Ralph Fiennes), blames the deterioration on his age — “It’s a young man’s game”. Determined to prove him wrong, Bond accepts the challenge of finding out who the hacker is.
The hacker turns out to be a Mr. Silva, played with gusto and bravado by Javier Bardem. He also dons a rather goofy-looking blonde wig that seems to have been assembled with straw instead of hair. I suspect ridiculous hairstyles will become a trademark of Bardem’s. Think back to 2007’s No Country For Old Men, and look ahead to his upcoming The Counselor, and you might just agree with me. Anyway, Silva is a Bond villain unlike any other. Ever. And that’s a good thing. He doesn’t live for the thrill of the chase, or for insurmountable riches, or the destruction of the world; he lives only for revenge. Who’s his target? The one person cold enough to leave her most skillful agent locked down under enemy torture for years: M.
For the seventh time, M is played by Dame Judi Dench. She’s always been an M heavily involved in Bond’s life. She tries to guide him. She scolds him. She fires him. She tries to have him arrested. She lectures him, etc. Neither of the previous two Ms really gave a damn. Their trust in him was mandatory, not optional. Dench’s M always seems to have the choice of completely disavowing her agent, whether she wants to or not. So I suppose it’s only fitting that here, in her seventh movie, she is given a much larger role (and the franchise’s first bleep word). She’s Silva’s target, and now Bond is not so much an investigative agent as he is a personal bodyguard. But that’s okay, because Skyfall’s entire purpose is to internalise the Bond character — return to his memories, not dwell on his present. I will not tell you what the name Skyfall refers to, but it has something to do with this internalisation.
If there are faults with Bond 23 — and they are not many — they’d have to be in the climax and in the villain. Both are adequate and thoroughly enjoyable, but they lack a quality that the rest of the movie overflows with: Elegance. The climax is merely an adult version of Home Alone, and Silva, though insane and really quite frightening, is not a suave monster in the vein of Le Chiffre or Max Zorin. For all his radio explosions and quick-change getaways, he’s a one-dimensional thug. And I want to know where he recruits his henchmen from, because they are plentiful.
So I say the movie’s elegant. Indeed it is. It’s the most elegant Bond. Partly due to Craig, who is leaner than before, gruffer, more weary, but still as stylish and sharp. And partly due to cinematographer Roger Deakins, who seems to have a love for silhouettes and strong primary colours. The movie’s beautiful. It’s sombre. It’s quick and witty. It’s dangerous. It’s new and old at the same time; shaken and stirred. It’s everything you hoped a Bond movie would be. But I have to ask, where in the world is the Bond girl?
Best Moment | Many. The fight scene against the blue LED sign, with Bond and Patrice battling it out on a ledge. Everyone likes it, and so do I. It’s gorgeous. In fact, once Bond’s house goes up in flames, the entire subsequent sequence through the marsh is unbelievably pretty as well. The train crashing through the underground tunnel is awesome. Bond’s arrival at the Macau casino is good too.
Worst Moment | The shower scene. Redundant.