Fifty years is a long time. Not necessarily in the grand scheme of things but nonetheless there are millions of people that never live to reach that age. I myself have sixteen additional years to live out before I hit the bleak aging milestone. But here we sit, fifty years on from the start of the James Bond film series with Dr. No, talking about the latest film in the series, its 23rd, Skyfall.
Over the course of those fifty years, James Bond has been portrayed by a handful of iconic actors that have each brought their own flavor to the character and Daniel Craig, the star of Skyfall and the previous two Bond films, is no different. Craig’s Bond is a harsh figure. Craig’s portrayal of the character over the previous two films has set up Bond as a man on the brink of collapse. In many respects this is not the suave heroic spy people have come to love but rather a nearly broken man.
Skyfall, directed by Sam Mendes (American Beauty), is not a direct sequel to either of the prior Craig Bond vehicles. However it is a continuation, and ultimately a culmination, of the exploration of the character’s psyche that began with Casino Royale. And this installment, potentially Craig’s last as the character, is the most personal yet. This time around the only world in need of saving from Bond is his own.
The core plot of the film has M, played once again by the Dame Judi Dench, as prey to Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem) and Bond forces himself into service to protect her. Silva has a crazed focus on dispatching M that is far more terrifying than any previous Bond villain and Bardem plays the character perfectly, firmly planting him as one of the best Bond villains of all time and it is this focus that grounds the film.
Those expecting a globe-trotting, high-octane action extravaganza are in for a touch of a letdown though. Because while there are a number of high quality action set-pieces that serve as proper spectacle, the tone of the film is far more muted and serious than ever before and the locales are firmly stripped back. It is these locales that deliver the subtext of the film though because ultimately Skyfall is a movie about home and family, more than it is about being a super-spy.
It is by no means perfect; the set-up is absurd, the ending overwrought. And for as great as Skyfall is, and oftentimes it is, it does not necessarily feel like a James Bond movie to me. But maybe that is the magic of it all, that even after 50 years of films, the old dog can still learn a new trick. That said though, sometimes the old tricks are the best tricks and Skyfall succeeds in doing what the series has long been successful at, making its audience want more Bond.