With Daniel Craig, Javier Bardem, Judi Dench, Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris. Written by Neal Purvis & Robert Wade and John Logan. Directed by Sam Mendes. Rated PG-13 for intense violent sequences throughout, some sexuality, language and smoking. 143 minutes.
For those of us old enough to remember the first James Bond movie, “Dr. No,” it’s hard to believe that the James Bond movies are celebrating their 50th anniversary this year. The latest one, SKYFALL, isn’t a reboot as was “Casino Royale” – the 2006 installment introducing Daniel Craig as Bond – but it is definitely a film that wants us to think about the series. You can enjoy the action and various accoutrements, but more is at stake here. It wants us to think of the costs of being a superspy in ways that the classic Sean Connery and Roger Moore films never did.
The film opens, as nearly as the Bond films do, with a bravura action sequence. Someone has stolen a list of all the undercover British agents around the world and Bond is in hot pursuit. Aided by Eve (Naomie Harris), Bond is relentless, which makes it all the more surprising when he fails and is presumed dead.
No more spoilers here, but that is the premise for the film. Bond, of course, isn’t really dead, but when he had the opportunity to walk away from being a “Double O” agent why doesn’t he do so? That is the question that consumes the rest of the film. When he returns, much to the relief of his boss M (Judi Dench) his charge is to track down Silva (Javier Bardem), himself a former agent and now committed to destroying MI6, the British secret service to which Bond has pledged his loyalty.
That is the conflict in a nutshell. Instead of a megalomaniac trying to take over the world, Silva is challenging Bond at his very core. Why does Bond risk his life for M when she’s made it clear that he is expendable? Indeed, we see that that the British government has grown skeptical of M’s work, even as her immediate superior, Gareth Mallory (Ralph Fiennes), is trying to protect MI6.
This is a movie that raises the question of Bond’s origins in a way we’ve never seen. Yes, we know he went to Eton and that he has a “license to kill,” but how did he get recruited? Where did he come from? The movie asks and answers these questions in ways that may not make Bond wonder about what he has become, but it ought to leave us in the audience a bit queasy. Sure, he’s a good guy, yet what does it say about the good guys that someone like Bond – or Silva – is necessary?
For those simply there for the babes and the action there’s plenty of that. For those looking for Bond nostalgia the film ends on a note that lets us know the intention is to go back to Ian Fleming’s original. Yet for those who are willing to go beyond the babes and thrills to question what a “James Bond” means in the 21st century, “Skyfall” asks some interesting and difficult questions. The film assures us that “James Bond will be back” in a further adventure. The next film movie has already been given the go-ahead. It will no doubt provide us with excitement and thrills but what is his place in the modern world?•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His first novel, Shh! It’s A Secret: A Novel About Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide will be released in January 2013. He teaches film at Suffolk University and lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.