It walks the tight rope, it succeeds. I was not overwhelmingly impressed. To be sure, the radical new element — involving James Bond’s backstory, and some physical and mental impairments — was handled wonderfully. (The script is by Neal Purvis & Robert Wade and John Logan.) M has always been Bond’s surrogate mother. Here, the metaphor is no longer metaphorical. When Javier Bardem’s delicious villain Silva, a distorted image of Bond himself — a rogue agent who kills through intellect rather than brute force, and who is a maneater instead of a ladykiller — says “Mommy has been very bad,” he means it.
Only we never believe Bond would turn against M (despite whether he has pitched for the other team… in bed). There are more notes of false suspense, too. The movie, which features an Aston Martin with hidden machine guns and an ejector seat, asks whether Bond is an anachronism. But the question is rhetorical, as the box office figures for this film show. “James Bond will return,” though not as Daniel Craig. The formula will continue to transcend the actor, even ones as iconic as Craig or Connery.
What is it about Bond that the film nails? The sexy shaving scene? (The Berenice Marlohe shower scene was creepy, rather than sexy, so I don’t nominate that.) Is it the way he straightens his cuffs after leaping twenty feet from a crane that has just sheared off the back of a train car? (This moment got huge applause in my screening.) The elegant casino confrontation?
There was recently a supercut that took a few minutes from each Bond film — played to form a semi-coherent story. None of these films spent much time peering into what makes Bond tick. An evil plot was afoot, and the only superspy who could stop it was our elegant British agent. The preparation of his martini always mattered more than whether or not he once was an orphaned Scottish nobleman.
I won’t lie. I never thought about Bond’s origins before. His only motivations seemed to me to kill bad guys while looking good and getting laid. As I said, Skyfall walks a tightrope. Here, Bond has these same motives, but he’s also physically and psychologically damaged. He’s less a symbol and more a man. And in this way, he is diminished.