James Bond is back once more in theaters. Like the two previous films starring Daniel Craig as Bond, the feel is a melding of grit and gloss: it attempts to wed dark reality with the suave nonchalance we've come to know and love in James Bond.
In this, Daniel Craig is rather well suited. Early on in the film, following an exciting opening romp through Istanbul and beyond, Craig is visibly tired, showing the ill-effects of age and his travails in service of Her Majesty. It is a disarming display of vulnerability for our society's suave messiah, but it is part of a running narrative theme throughout Skyfall. The movie is filled with a complex duality of spirit, wrangling from start to finish with both questions of personal fallibility and actionable conviction.
For M, played once more by Judi Dench, the story arc is about faith. Not only in the Bond she used to know, but in herself and the force she leads. As the world seems to be disintegrating around her, M is subjected to baying bureaucrats that not only question her ability to lead, but the necessity of employing field agents at all in the growing age of technology.
Likewise for Bond, battered, bruised, and exsiccated as he is, Skyfall seems to be a trial of self-reliance. Unable to keep a list of field agents out of the hands of a professional villain, he returns to service having seemingly lost his golden touch. His fierce belief in himself remains, however, even in the face of gadgets and detractors.
These narrative themes give Skyfall a literate backbone, but a Bond film is nothing without action. And here Skyfall delivers as the audience is treated to the requisite chase scenes, shootouts, and female conquests throughout the two hour and 20 minute run time.
Unlike the two previous Craig films – 2006's Casino Royale and 2008's Quantum of Solace – Skyfall is a stand alone concept. It, in perhaps a nod to the classic Bond motif, pits MI:6 against a sadistic menace, played by Javier Bardem.
The role of Raoul Silva is quite the turn for Bardem. With dyed blond hair and a faintly homosexual air, he is a perplexing and perturbing addition to Bond film villainy. Bent on revenge, his hi-tech and well-plotted schemes keep our predictably dumbfounded good guys at odds throughout. Which is a classic Bond trope: bumbling inadequacies, inevitable sequences of villainy leading to the practiced routine of capture, escape, and victory, wrenched by our protagonist from the jaws of defeat.
This is really the oddity of Skyfall. It continues the somewhat illogical and at times silly tropes of classic Bond while also being unequivocally imbued with a cultivated intelligence. That incongruous union of nuance and democratic action create an appealing dynamic for Skyfall.
Skyfall, from the opening scene through the manic temptation on a deserted isle through the bow-tying denouement, is subtly messianic. That sort of “character as Jesus” card is an easy play. And one that perhaps comes naturally to this amateur dabbler in religious themes. For Skyfall, however, and the role of Bond in particular, the comparisons are eerily true (and that's even before getting into the possibility of M as an Abrahamic figure).
What makes the thought so compelling, especially in light of the closing allusion of Bond both past and future, is how the movie has so thoroughly prepared the way for the return of Bond the conception, i.e. an unerring figure of grace and unflappable certitude. Skyfall and its two modern predecessors are the creation of the myth — from martinis and cooly calculated conquests to Moneypenny and beyond.
The unfortunate reality to this analysis though should be evident from the opening sequence. Having signed on for two more Bond films, Craig is not getting any younger, so it will be interesting to see where the franchise ventures next. And whether the lone assassin as a protector of humanity will remain.
What seems certain to continue, however, is the calculated coolness of the franchise itself. First time Bond director Sam Mendes does well to cement the aura first created 50 years ago with Dr. No. The vein is certainly darker, perhaps even overly indebted to the recent work of Christopher Nolan.
Yet, even with a somewhat contrived introduction of childhood back story and a decidedly fraught tone, Skyfall is a positive progression of the series. And pretty damn entertaining to boot. With a Bond film, there's not much more that can be asked.