Directed by Sam Mendes
Review by Leonard Freeman
50 Years, Bond is Back, says the trailer. James Bond is indeed back, but with a power and depth unusual in the series till now. Skyfall delivers all the bombs and bombast, shoot-’em-ups and chases, beautiful women, gadgets, continual menaces and deliverances that we’ve come to expect from “Bond, James Bond” but with much more substance and subtext This is not your father’s “plastic-characters” Bond.
Communication theory suggests that the primary effect of mass media is to reinforce and support us in things that we already believe in. We go to them because they present a world that mirrors the issues of our psyches. And Skyfall presents a Bond for aging baby boomer hearts that have been through some of the battles of life, older but wiser, and yet not ready to call it a day. When Bond (Daniel Craig), a now beaten up, grizzled veteran whose years have taken their toll, is asked by villain Silver (Javier Bardem) what his hobby has become, he bristles: “Resurrection.”
The masterfully engaging opening sequence ends with Bond’s apparent death via the muffed shot of a younger agent (Naomie Harris) while in full battle atop a speeding train. After profoundly beautiful opening credits, M (Dame Judy Dench) is seen penning his obituary while tears of rain flow down the windows of London’s MI6. Obviously he has survived, but as a hollow, gaunt, visibly stressed and wounded warrior, whose return is moved only by an apparent terrorist attack upon MI6 headquarters. As soon becomes apparent, the threat is much more personal: M herself is the target, with the computerized warning: Think On Your Sins.
The threats are twofold. First, British politicos have decided that the human element, agents and spying and valor, have become outmoded. It is a new day of computers and satellites. Even exploding pens, as a new young Q reminds Bond, are no longer utilized.
Instead Bond is given a new Walther PPK pistol that has been computerized to his palm print — “less of a random killing machine, more of a personal statement” — and a radio transmitter. That’s it. So much for the old gadgetry.
But the second, central threat is from M’s own history of difficult choices over a lifetime of service. Silver presents a Bond villain unlike any to date: human, damaged, and all too understandable as a Lucifer/fallen angel imago who in his hubris overreached and, in the pain and bitterness of what transpired when doom befell him, has turned upon his maker. His only desire left is to bring the maker down. He perceives that he and Bond were the chosen sons, Cain and Abel, and that “Mother” M loved him best until she betrayed him, leaving him to suffer and die. “Mommy was very bad,” he tells Bond — bad to both of them. Won’t Bond join him in revenge?
Bond’s backstory takes James and M back to the ancestral home where he was orphaned to make a final stand. And in a sense the whole film is about the valor of continuing to make our stands in the face of time and age.
At a government hearing where she is being berated for the apparent obsolescence of her agency, M responds by quoting Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s classic poem Ulysses:
One equal temper of heroic hearts.
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will.
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
In the end Bond has indeed returned as a fuller human being who has learned something about love and loyalty, trust and sacrifice, aging and sustaining. Bond has become an adult.
The Rev. Leonard Freeman, former director of communications for Trinity Wall Street and Washington National Cathedral, has written film reviews for more than 40 years. His aPoemaDay blog goes online in early 2013.