Film Review: “Skyfall”

The darkest and most nuanced entry in the series.But this new Oedipal/existential Bond still knows how to blow shit up.

Review by David Feltman

“What’s your hobby?”

After financial problems at MGM and a four-year hiatus, many feared that James Bond was at the end of his 50-year run. Luckily, Bond is (mostly) indestructible and audiences are getting another dose of Daniel Craig’s rough-hewn everyman version of the suave super spy.

“American Beauty” and “Revolutionary Road” director Sam Mendes is tapped to helm Bond’s return. The result is the darkest and most nuanced entry in the series. “Skyfall” reintroduces Bond as a broken man: tattered, alcoholic and chewing pain pills. Like Nolan’s Batman, Mendes’ Bond has sacrificed everything for God and country only to be left for dead and quickly forgotten. There are some undeniable post-911 undertones as the film explores the horrible tolls brought to bear on those who serve their country. And that alone would be enough to make this the deepest Bond movie ever made, but Mendes pushes the story even further.

James Bond is in the midst of an existential crisis in “Skyfall,” both as a character and, on a meta-level, as a series. The question of Bond’s necessity in the point-and-click technological age is overtly and continually raised. As opposed to the amicable old codger of yesteryear, the new Q (Ben Whishaw) is a tech-savvy brat who brags that he’s able to more before breakfast than 007 ever could and declares that Bond exists only to pull an occasional trigger. After a series of disasters, M (Judi Dench) is put on trial to defend MI6s very existence. Phrases like “Old dog, new tricks,” and “Sometimes the old ways are the best,” are sprinkled throughout the dialogue like mantras, as if the characters need to reassure themselves as much as the filmmakers that the world still needs Bond.

Javier Bardem becomes one of the most memorable Bond villains in recent memory as Silver. Part Sean Bean, part Donald Pleasence, Silver is Bizarro Bond. Once M’s favorite agent until she callously cast him out, Silver is a sociopath that feels fraternal toward Bond and is consumed with hatred for his former boss. The Oedipal conflict boils down to two brothers vying for the attentions of a severely neglectful mother. To add to this Freudian bonanza, Bardem as Silver toys with the underlying homoeroticism of the big gun/big dick action flicks, without falling into the “evil queen” cliché.

It feels like an understatement to say that “Skyfall” takes Bond in new directions. Mendes pulls the veil away from the legend and shows us the vulnerable child that would be Bond while simultaneously exploring the man he could have easily become. This new Oedipal/existential Bond still knows how to blow shit up, however. There’s plenty of sex, japes and jaw-dropping chase sequences to satisfy longtime Bond fans. “Skyfall” proves there’s still life in the series and takes its place among the best Bond films.

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