Skyfall killed Bond.
I mean that in the best possible way: Sam Mendes’s (almost) absolute deconstruction of a movie franchise so encumbered with cliches and unflattering baggage sheds many of the elements that had been holding back Bond movies from being actual films for a long time. Don’t get me wrong, there are a bunch of them I like, but there’s a fundamental naffness to them pre-Casino Royale. Even that didn’t last for more than one movie, and it still feels like it didn’t really acknowledge just how broken the series was.
And boy, are there acknowledgements in Skyfall. The first hour has everything an audience usually expects from Bond: thrilling chases, exotic locations and horrifically damaged but terrifically beautiful women. Once that’s out of the way, we find out what the movie is really about, and that’s 007 taking a long look at his past and blowing it sky high.
Seriously. He blows up the house he grew up in. In Scotland. And an Aston Martin DB5. I’m not saying it’s subtle about these particular moments, but I appreciate that it’s not treating its legacy as a sacred cow.
Javier Bardem’s villain Silva is a much more interesting element. As a former agent himself, he’s the mirror of what the series had become: deformed and ridiculous, living in the ruins of the past and plotting against M, the unfeeling parent who’s responsible for his sorry state. Thus it makes perfect sense that M has to die for the transition to fully take hold, although I’m not certain replacing her with Ralph Fiennes is a particularly progressive move (not to mention turning Naomie Harris’ field agent into a secretary).
And yet, tropes of the old movies still crop up now and again. The cringeworthy one-liners aren’t completely excised from the body (“Health & safety”, anyone?) and don’t hold up as well as usual in light of the taut approach to the rest of the (often very fine) script, and few tears are shed by our hero when the girl Bond’s just slept with and exploited is shot dead. Seriously, she never even gets mentioned again. I understand staying cool under pressure, but still! That shit’s ice cold.
Then again, I suppose you need to know your sins before you can repent. Trial by fire and all that. Again, not subtle. But really fucking good. And hopefully, from now on, something new.