This movie was a long time coming, in more than one sense of the term. First, the financial woes that plagued MGM held up production for a couple of years. The legendary studio was only a shell of it’s former self, little more than a logo and a name with echoes of Hollywood’s bygone era, but it was unclear if the venerable film series would have to go onto the auction block in order to settle a bankruptcy.
In another sense, Skyfall represents a visual return to the Bond movies of the Connery/Moore era. By the end of this movie, they have ditched the high tech look of M’s office and MI6 headquarters that started with the Brosnan era and brought things full circle.
The character James Bond in this movie is also closer to the man in the Fleming novels, who was often on the verge of a physical breakdown, carrying the scars of too many missions. This is a little odd in this case, considering that he was a brand new double-oh agent just two movies ago. Of course, given the nature of their work, it’s not hard to imagine that agents of the double-oh branch have a short shelf life.
The story begins in Istanbul, with Bond (Daniel Craig) and another agent named Eve (Naomie Harris) in pursuit of a man who stole a hard drive containing the identities of MI6 deep cover agents. An appropriately epic chase ends with the thief and Bond struggling atop a moving train. Faced with letting the thief escape when the train enters a tunnel, and under orders from M (Judi Dench), Eve attempts a long-range rifle shot, accidentally hitting Bond, who appears to the fall to his death into a river below.
Since that scene is less than ten minutes into the film, and we’ve yet to see several scenes from the trailer, appearances are obviously deceiving, but as M writes Bond’s obituary, she is hauled before Parliament to investigate the lost hard drive and the death of an agent under command. The minister running the inquiry, Gareth Mallory (Ralph Fiennes) suggests that M is a dinosaur, held over from the Cold War. Strange, but I seem to recall M saying the same thing to Pierce Brosnan.
Before M can return to MI6 from the inquiry, her office is blown up, killing several agents. The attack is traced back to a notorious cyber-terrorist and, when Bond returns from the dead, M gives him the task of finding the terrorist and saving her professional butt.
The stolen hard drive and cyber-attacks are actually just a front for a direct attack on M herself. For the man behind the scheme, Silva (Javier Bardem), this is all much more personal.
No way around it, but Skyfall is an atypical entry in the series, concerning itself with Bond’s fitness to serve and the agency’s relevance in the modern world. M’s oddly maternal love/hate relationship with Bond is more than just grist for pithy banter, but a real question when it appears that she puts her thumb on the scales to ensure that he is certified as fit to return to duty.
If you grew up on GoldenEye or The Spy Who Loved Me, this might not even feel like a Bond movie to you. It’s long, and people spend a lot of time standing around talking in-between chases and gun battles. For those of us with a love of the whole Bond legacy, including the contributions of Ian Fleming, Skyfall is a rewarding experience. Rescued for the shallow silliness of earlier incarnations, James Bond emerges as an actual character, a human being behind the superhuman exploits.
Is it the best Bond ever? Maybe. It certainly deserves mention in the same breath as the other highlights in the series: Dr. No, From Russia With Love, Goldfinger, The Spy Who Loved Me, GoldenEye, and Casino Royale. There’s no doubt that, with Daniel Craig in the role, the series has been rescued from the godawfully wretched and empty-headed silliness of the later Brosnan movies.