Perhaps in honor of James Bond’s half-century stay in cinema, Skyfall is all about looking back. It juxtaposes contemporary threats of cyber-terrorism and institutional corruption with the brazenly retro idea of rogue heroism that 007 personifies. Consequently Skyfall feels as though it is suspended in limbo along with its hero. Bond films have long been self-aware regarding their own pulpy nature, but director Sam Mendes spins the self-awareness into an introverted form of nostalgia, in which everything from older weapons and technology, to Bond’s own childhood simmers to the surface.
Skyfall also heavily invokes and reflects the legacy of Bond, evidenced most by the character's frequent silhouetted appearances. Cinematographer Roger Deakins frames Bond as a specter amid colorful surfaces, resulting in several memorable images and set pieces. Two that particularly stand out are Bond’s duel with an assassin set against the neon billboards of Shanghai and his entrance at a Macau casino, where his motionless pose is enveloped in a warm glow. As for Daniel Craig, the actor now finally owns the legendary character. He suggests much beneath 007’s cool demeanor but expresses little. Still spouting all the confident one-liners you would expect, 007 is nonetheless very flawed and doubtful of his own ability to survive. As it turns out, Bond’s aging brand of espionage becomes the foundation for Skyfall’s broader lament of the past and also joins well with the primary conflict. The villain, Silva (Javier Bardem) is a former M16 agent who feels betrayed by M (Judi Dench). Perhaps more than any other Bond picture, M plays an integral role in the story, and Judi Dench is more than up to the task.
Skyfall doesn’t produce the immediate sense of satisfaction that the most famous Bond films elicit. Once you get past all the gunplay and acrobatics, it is really a slow burner: deliberate and lyrical. Moreover, the action set pieces are drawn-out and largely eschew the operatic movement that the series is known for. None of this is to say that Skyfall re-envisions the character or the wider canvas of these films, however. Despite the tweaks and updates, Sam Mendes very much upholds the Bond template. Nonetheless, the fun of Skyfall is how it emphasizes different ingredients and fluidly mixes in dread and guilt into the formula. (Sam Mendes, 2012) ***