Is there anything or anyone who can stop James Bond. Is there a villain who can actually do away with him once he’s tied up and in serious peril? Turns out there is, and it’s the same jerk we’ve all been facing off against during the last four years: the economy.
After the last Bond film—2008’s Quantum of Solace—the fate of 007 was up in the air, and it had nothing to do with Goldfinger, Blofeld or even Pussy Galore. No, it came down to money. MGM, the longtime studio behind the franchise, went belly-up, forcing Her Majesty’s Secret Service to take a breather. Sure, you care little about the cloak-and-dagger world of the international economy—you’re far more interested in whether or not the latest outing, Skyfall, is any good. But the time between films is important, because it means that Daniel Craig is now in his mid- 40s, making for a Bond who’s older and creakier—exactly what the franchise was before Craig took over the role.
There have been Bonds older than Craig, but that was part of the problem. In the time since Bond’s last outing, espionage, we’re told in Skyfall, has become a young man’s game. It’s questionable whether there’s room, or a budget, for the super-suave super-spy in today’s world, where nations wage cyberwarfare and a doomsday machine has morphed from a nuclear weapon into Stuxnet.
Bond, after a bad outing in Turkey, is wondering if there’s a place for him, while M (Judi Dench) is looking at the end of her career amid scrutiny by Gareth Mallory (Ralph Fiennes). Mallory’s not a bad guy at all—he’s a member of Parliament looking to hold M accountable for some of MI6’s recent failings. That plotline makes Skyfall a very talky James Bond film, helmed by Sam Mendes, who won an Oscar for another chatty film, American Beauty.
This will be a problem for fair-weather fans, but devotees will find that, as in Casino Royale—the gritty, brutal reboot that introduced us to Craig’s Bond— this is a movie that does its best to stay rooted in the real world. Even the elder Q, played by John Cleese in the last two films, has been put out to pasture, replaced by a young Ben Whishaw, whose Q provides almost nothing in the way of gizmos and gadgetry.
The lowdown: After a near-death experience, James drops out of sight, doubting his abilities and his relationship with M. Her faith in him is unwavering, though, so she puts him back in the field to track down Silva (Javier Bardem), a cyberterrorist who has a bone to pick with M. Bardem steals all of his scenes, playing the bad guy as a fey, brilliantly insane dandy out for revenge.
The heart of Skyfall isn’t top-shelf action sequences—it’s the relationship between Bond and M, which allows Mendes to deeply explore Bond’s past and the franchise’s long-standing mythology. What we learn is that the dude has mommy issues, which explains his loyalty to M, despite her constant frustration, her lack of praise and her willingness to constantly put him in harm’s way.
In that sense, Skyfall—which opens locally on Friday, Nov. 9—is a terrific addition to the canon. In others, it falls short, because it steps into the same traps that have ensnared many other Bond films: Shit just stops making sense. Silva’s brilliance with technology gets lost as things spiral out of control, and it becomes hard to justify aspects of his grand scheme. This is a guy who’s choreographed every moment down to the last detail, but he makes choices that leave his success very much in doubt.
And, of course, he’s not the only one with inconsistencies. I’m not talking about the Heineken that Bond drinks, whoring himself out for product placement money. At one point, Bond captures and sticks Silva in a foolproof Hannibal Lecter cell. Oh, please, James. They don’t call it a “license to capture.”