Ian Fleming didn’t just create a character in James Bond, he created an icon. After 50 years, the icon has become something more: Each installment is a time capsule reflecting the worldview and cultural shifts of its time.
A great example is “Live and Let Die.” The novel (1954) focuses on the subculture of black Americans in the 1950s, but the 1973 film fits into the blaxploitation genre popular in the ’70s. The Bond films of the ’60s were fun and kind of campy, and the ones of the ’90s were tech and effects heavy, much like other works from each decade. The recent reboot of the series, “Casino Royale” (2006), occurred amidst a trend in rebooting franchises and films — “Superman Returns,” “Batman Begins” and “Pride and Prejudice” among them. It also drew heavily upon the more uptight Jason Bourne, a physical, brooding killer.
But if “Casino Royale” was a reboot and “Quantum of Solace” was a sequel or perhaps the reboot’s conclusion, “Skyfall” can be viewed as a return. Producers Michael Wilson and Barbara Broccoli ensured that the 50th anniversary Bond would be quintessentially Bond. The gadgets are back — sensible ones, and even some throwbacks to past films — along with Q and a super-villain. The film has all the elements that make 007 everyone’s favorite agent.
Bond’s latest mission, while classic, also ventures into new territory. The battleground isn’t in Jamaica or some exotic locale. Rather it’s at home, in the London Underground and rugged Scotland — though Bond visits such places and enjoys the women and libations he encounters.
“Skyfall” opens with a high-energy chase that goes wrong, and 007 (Daniel Craig) “dying” while a list of undercover MI-6 agents falls into criminal hands. After “resurrecting,” the battered Bond re-enters the field, hunting for the list, to keep its contents from being revealed. Meanwhile, the British Parliament begins to investigate Bond’s boss M (Judi Dench) for her department’s recent security breaches, a much more significant intervention than MI-6 has dealt with to date. Aided by field agent Eve (Naomie Harris), Bond’s search for the list brings him to Silva (Javier Bardem), an ex-agent with a vendetta against M.
Longtime Bond writers Robert Wade and Neal Purvis are back, and bring the witty one-liners with them. But the pen most strongly felt is that of John Logan, whose many credits include “Gladiator” and “The Aviator.” Logan, who has a gift for strong characters and dialogue, gives Judi Dench an expanded role, and she embraces it fully as M goes toe-to-toe against politicians who question her leadership. At every turn she responds to situations with resolute grace, quoting Tennyson’s “Ulysses” and fighting back in the face of danger. She is the true Bond girl in “Skyfall,” as Bond girls Severine (Bérénice Marlohe) and Eve appear briefly by comparison.
The best addition is Q 2.0 (Ben Whishaw), a young quartermaster replacing John Cleese and the great longtime Q, Desmond Llewelyn. Whishaw’s Q is a hipster computer genius, and he downplays the role, with a hint of Benedict Cumberbatch from “Sherlock.”