By Susan JAMES
Bond is back in the much hyped and eagerly awaited film, “Skyfall.” The good news is, it was worth the wait.
This Bond is no longer the novice spy open to romantic feelings or the genial martini-swilling assassin of earlier versions. Older, battle-scarred and battle weary, Daniel Craig’s 007 wrestles with doubts about his place in a rapidly changing world. He still looks good in a tuxedo but he spends more time rumpled and unshaven than in formal attire. Are he and M (Judi Dench) now the dinosaurs of the spy business? When he meets the new Q (Ben Whishaw) with the remark, “But you still have spots!” he begins to think so.
007’s business as usual attitude toward covert operations alters abruptly in the film’s riveting opening sequence. Chasing a killer through the streets and over the rooftops of Istanbul, Bond traps him on top of a moving train. What the killer has stolen is so important that when fellow MI6 operative Eve (Naomie Harris) has a shot at the target, M orders her to take him out. Gripped in hand-to-hand combat, the shot could kill Bond instead but M makes the call and Eve takes the shot. “Agent down,” comes the radio message as M gazes bleakly into a London thunderstorm outside her window.
And that’s just the first 15 minutes.
Director Sam Mendes and his writers have fashioned a Bond that pays homage to the genre but still resonates with events on the ground in the present. Do secret agents and evil-doers still exist? Of course they do, much as the British government would like deniability on that. But the spy game is changing. Q’s new toys passed to Bond in London’s National Gallery are limited to a radio locator and a Walther PPK with a personal id grip.
“Did you expect an exploding pen?” he asks a quizzical 007. Bond is no longer Superman although you might be forgiven for doubting that as he runs down killers from Shanghai to Scotland, romances women from the Turkish Riviera to London and analyzes the bank at a Macau casino. But the casual callousness that Sean Connery did so well isn’t on the menu with this modern Bond. Daniel Craig’s version is a man haunted by a past that has left him shaken but functional. When he takes a bullet in the shoulder, Bond digs the shrapnel out with a knife while staring at himself unflinchingly in the mirror, an apt metaphor for his life.
While Craig is completely convincing as Bond and a wincingly blond Javier Bardem a worthy opponent as the twisted psychopath Silva, bent on mayhem and revenge, this is ultimately Judi Dench’s movie. She has made of M a mandarin of majestic proportions, ruling her MI6 kingdom with a steel will and an iron hand. Willing to sacrifice even Bond to the needs of the mission, her laser-like gaze penetrates everyone in sight. Beautiful women pop up here and there, especially the tormented Severine (Berenice Marlohe) in Shanghai, but it is M’s relationship with her top agent that is front and center. No film has more clearly demonstrated Bond’s role as the weapon in M’s hand, pointed at the heart of all who would threaten the security of Britain.
See you at the movies!