On my way to the theater for Skyfall I passed through the DePaul University campus and past gobs of students all carrying their books and backpacks to and from class and I had No Doubt piped through my headphones and for a brief second I thought I was 20 years old again. But then I realized my left knee was aching for no valid reason and remembered this was 2012 and I was old.
We all get old. Yes, even that death-defying rapscallion James Bond. The 23rd entry into the ongoing Agent 007 franchise, courtesy of noted art house director Sam Mendes, goes to show that you can keep replacing the world’s most famous cinematic secret agent with different actors but eventually he too will hit the brick wall of age.
Don’t get me wrong, Daniel Craig’s hard-eyed, pocket-squared protagonist still jumps from high places, ducks to avoid bullets, rams into fruit carts, employs a caterpillar tractor to dramatic effect, and, most magnificently, in the midst of battle still takes time to adjust his cufflinks. Nevertheless, the screenplay makes sure to portray him and his indefatigable superior M (Judi Dench, grace under fire) as having their places in this action-packed universe slowly eradicated.
In fact, at first glance Skyfall appears seriously lacking in the Bond girl department. Naomie Harris’s Eve turns up for the exhilarating start and then gets saddled with a desk job and Berenice Marlohe’s Severine is gone almost as soon as she arrives. And this is because in unity with the film’s theme of seniority, the real Bond Girl here, believe it or not, is M. She’s put in peril, handles a gun and is even cradled in the arms of her favorite agent.
At the start, M’s superior, Mallory (Ralph Fiennes), mentions the word “retirement planning” to her and after a brief time when Bond appears dead and buried (ha!) wonders right to 007′s face why he didn’t stay dead and buried. This is the modern world. They have no place. “What did you expect, an exploding pen?” asks the new, boyish Q (Ben Whishaw) when equipping Bond with his brand new pistol and not much else. No, exploding pens have gone the way of traditional espionage, which is to say – what good are field agents in the face of online terror?
This would be the mode of evildoing by the film’s chief and equal opportunity villain Silva, played deftly by Javier Bardem in such a way that he goes over the top without going off the rails, theatricality contrasted against Craig’s stoicism. There is always something about him that puts you on frightened edge and yet that frightened edge always has just a touch of the jocular if not also of the cabaret. His motives can be found in the past he shares with MI6, M and Bond.
But Silva’s past is not the only one addressed in Skyfall. With more than a whiff of an ode to the backstory of Bruce Wayne, though also based in part on Ian Fleming’s novel You Only Live Twice, Mendes traces 007′s roots back to his home in Scotland which leads to a fiery showdown. In a film packed with movie references this final shootout evokes bits and pieces of both L.A. Confidential’s last stand and William Munny’s reckoning in Unforgiven.
The setting (I doubt it gets wi-fi) and weaponry used throughout this third act is purposely old school. You can’t teach an old dog new tricks, of course, but then can’t the old dog simply serve some of the tricks he already knows?
In the end we are left with the reassurance that James Bond will return as Skyfall neatly deflects the question of its main character’s advancing age. How do you stop the march of time? Go back to the beginning.