After so many chases, fights, close calls, and just plain years, James Bond is starting to feel and look his age. He is still the best in the game when it comes to spy tradecraft and creativity to get the job done, but physically, the younger generation has an edge on him. Skyfall is the 23rd Bond film and the screenwriters finally get around to letting Bond advance a little bit in time. The gadgets are throwback technology, the vehicles are vintage, the past is lurking around the corner, but the threat is quite new and fits with the times we live in.
Cyberterrorism is high on every government's threat matrix and some of the most feared criminals in the world wreak their havoc over a laptop instead of building a bomb. Bond (Daniel Craig) does not seem too keen on embracing fighting through wireless communications, he prefers chasing assassins using planes, trains, and automobiles. Skyfall begins with the familiar trumpet/trombone blast and unlike other openings, it does not use suspense or speak spy moves to ease the audience into the movie. Right off the bat, Bond is careening through Istanbul streets, dodging pedestrians and bullets, stealing a motorcycle, jumping off a bridge, and engaging in hand-to-hand combat on top of a moving train. His field support Eve (Naomie Harris) has her rifle trained on Bond and the bad guy with no clear shot. M (Judi Dench), who is well aware of the high stakes of this game, orders the shot and there is James Bond shot in the chest, falling off a train into a river, and over a waterfall.
You may have seen a version of this before in You Only Live Twice, but here it is not all part of the plan. Bond was not planning on getting shot. There is no easy bounce back either. His weary and weathered body cannot shrug off the battering he subjects himself to. Perhaps it is time for Bond to hang it up and retire. M also feels the pressure to hand over the MI6 reigns to the youngbloods. Her new boss, Mallory (Ralph Fiennes), looks to ease her out and sees nothing but an irrelevant dinosaur when observing Bond. M and Bond are also at a loss in facing the world's new and most effective cyberterrorist. A shadowy mastermind steals a hard drive with all of MI6's double agents inside terrorist organizations, blows up a huge chuck of MI6 headquarters, and always seems at least three steps ahead of Britain's elite.
This type of villain is not in Bond's wheelhouse. The only support the new, and extremely young, Q (Ben Whishaw) can provide is a sleek looking Walther PPK and an old school radio/location beacon. The stage is set for Bond's old school ways versus the new generation's weapons of choice, cyberspace. The audience gets exotic locales in Shanghai and Macau, but also the crowded streets of London and the claustrophobic London tube during rush hour. The puppet master, Silva (Javier Bardem), is on the same wavelength as the Goldeneye villain but far more sophisticated, brilliant, and lethal. It is even more creepy that his is blonde. Unlike previous villains, he is not aiming towards world domination, a huge payoff, and has nothing to do with outer space. His motivation is simply revenge which may be the most dangerous motivation of them all.
Instead of appearing intermittently throughout the film to coach Bond, M gets way more screen time here than usual. She must defend MI6 in public Parliament hearings, worry that her best agent has passed over the invisible line separating youth from middle age, and protect her sacrosanct organization from being the play toy of wily politicians. Skyfall provides Judi Dench with her chance to be the leading figure we knew she could be. It is also the 50th anniversary of the first Bond film and director Sam Mendes has a bit of fun with that. Remember the Aston Martin DB5 and the old school theme music on a solo guitar? You may hear sections of the audience cheer when those elements pop up in homage. Mendes is an excellent choice to helm an important and transitional Bond film such as this. His Road to Perdition and Jarhead were both primed to be action thrillers; however, they were muted with deeper philosophical issues. Instead of the protagonist just looking for the next stooge to shoot, they had the bigger picture in mind.
This version of James Bond is a shade more of a deep thinker than his predecessors. The early Sean Connery films through most of the Pierce Brosnan era, Bond's backstory and most certain arthritic future were never mentioned because that is not the type of Bond they were. They were 100% in the present and looking for both the bad guy and the next pretty girl. Skyfall is just as strong as Casino Royale and thankfully relegates the sub-par Quantum of Solace to the forgettable category along with some of Brosnan's recent efforts including Tomorrow Never Dies and Die Another Day. Casino Royale remains the best of Daniel Craig's Bond films, but Skyfall more than holds its own.