After 50 years, six actors and 23 movies, one would think James Bond would have no more stories to tell and should, as the Brits say, pack it in.
But even after such a long time with many hits and misses, Sam Mendes brought us the most compelling, grandiose, beautifully shot and character-driven Bond yet that analyzed both his past and future.
This outing, “Skyfall,” opened much like most of the films with Bond (Daniel Craig in his third outing) in a high-speed chase through a foreign town. Queue fruit stands, Land Rovers, shootouts and Bond fighting a thug on a train.
But the finale, in which Bond was shot and supposedly killed accidently per the request of M (Judi Dench), began to explore their relationships in ways no Bond movie had ever done before.
The perp Bond was fighting and who required M to act so drastically happened to be carrying files of all the identities of every secret agent at MI6. The purpose was unknown until its headquarters was hacked and blown up, calling Bond back from a booze- and pill-filled grave.
But Bond did not simply put on his suit and get into the game. After months of binge drinking, an older Bond couldn’t even do a pull-up without losing breath and had a clear distain for authority. This as well as M’s actions called in Gareth Mallory (Ralph Finnes), who represented the thinking, “In this age of computers and advanced surveillance, do we even need spies anymore when humans are, oh, so flawed?”
However, M cleared Bond for duty and what transpired were elements of both classic and new age Bond. Exotic locations, beautiful women, all-out brawls and a new Q, who was more an intellectual neo-nerd as compared to the goofier past version that proceeded to ask Bond: “You were expecting an exploding pen? We don’t really go out for that anymore.”
The movie took on what seemed like an ordinary spy movie with moral dilemmas and the ideas of extinction taking place, but all changed with the introduction of the Dutch boy-looking villain, Silva (Javier Bardem).
Bardem, in yet another Oscar-worthy role, played a computer terrorist who embodied the combination of Julian Asange, Hannibal Lecter and James Bond himself. He wanted to expose all the agents, destroy MI6 and kill M for the reason that plagued Bond: betrayal.
What made him perhaps the best Bond villain was not just his action or his demeanor, which was flamboyant, maleficent, diabolical, persistent and appropriately insane. It was what he represented. He presented the contrast of a Bond who evolved out of the world of the past and embraced the future: like looking into a mirror, one handled business in an abrasive, modern, technological way while the other with a calm resiliency and a Walther PPK.
The entire meaning and purpose of this movie came together once he arrived and presented the parallels of both Bond and M’s existence as relics of an old world faced with the threats of a new world. The result was a confrontation between M and Bond against Silva and his thugs at Bond’s childhood home. Silva and Bond both did similar actions to harm and protect M, including blowing up a house.
This was the layer that formed a brand-new Bond that had wonderful set pieces and the best camera work of any previous film. A particular scene in a Shang-hai building proved this was the most visceral of all the films.
What made the movie so rich was director Mendes presented both the overall existence of Bond and M in their world, but also in ours.
Not only was this a new Bond for the modern age, presenting modern takes from everything to characters to gadgets, but it also honored the classic style with a reminiscent score, seductive women and clever wit.
We begin to understand why we love this series so much while at the same time the characters themselves faced their own mortality.
Some may argue whether this was the best Bond, but it is without a doubt the smartest. Couple that with fantastic camera work and humor all with a sense of grandeur never before seen in the genre, and you have one amazing action movie. Not bad for a guy who should be 80 and seducing women in a retirement home in a jet-powered wheelchair.