There are plenty of reasons for James Bond to hate his job. In the old novels by Ian Fleming, his love interests, loved ones and even casual acquaintances often met untimely deaths. His targets were always ego-maniacal, creepy eccentrics who knew how to tax him to his breaking point (if never quite managing to finish him off). He would most likely find himself recuperating from physical and psychological injuries at the end of an assignment rather than bedding beautiful women with outrageous names.
This is the sort of Bond we meet in Skyfall. Weakened by injuries after falling from an impossible height on the job (and then given up for dead by MI6), Bond cloisters himself in an obscure part of the world with unlimited access to alcohol and his other signature vices.
True to form however, he can never break off his relationship with death, fighting his boredom by playing with scorpions during bar bets and generally becoming depressed by his inaction. It takes a massive explosion on the home front in London to bring him out of voluntary retirement and help hunt down whoever is targeting MI6, or more importantly, his boss, M (Dame Judi Dench).
After the stage is set, the film cracks on in a recognizably action-packed Bondian manner, but with a layer of growing melancholy that may put a damper on some of the fans’ enjoyment. After all, who wouldn’t want a straightforward, suave and campy adventure three movies into the Daniel Craig era, instead of a dark journey through the soul? Bond is barely passing his field exams, MI6 is finding less value in the old-fashioned rough work of the 00’s, and the new “bond girls” (some of the most intriguing women of the series) are pushed to the boundaries of the story.
In retrospect, all can be forgiven; for, as many reviewers have already noted, the true “girl” of the film is actually a real dame (hint: it’s the lovely Lady Dench). Bond’s loyalty to his boss through uncertain times leads to some of the most emotionally striking chords of the series, making the villain targeting M one of the most frighteningly personal.
Forget the menacing personality, Joker-like terrorist plan, and surprise deformity, the most disconcerting quality of bad-guy Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem) is how he surfaces into Bond’s life like an evil older brother, intent on killing “mommy” (if you’ve seen the trailer, it’s his nickname for M, and she’s been “very bad”).
He stirs up all kinds of emotional baggage for the Bond concerning his family history and the surrogate-mother figure he has found in the woman who routinely sends him into harms way. Deep territory? Perhaps, but traversing it is still quite satisfying, and paves the way for a confident, more complete Bond as the traditional elements fall into place by the conclusion.
It doesn’t hurt that the mesmerizing opening credits are some of the best I’ve seen in a Bond film, showing the lead character “rolling in the deep” to a slick Adele tune.
ANDREW RUSSELL can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.