“Sometimes the old ways are the best,” says Kincade, keeper of James Bond’s childhood home. Sam Mendes seems to think so, too. Skyfall, Bond’s 23rd on-screen mission, is a nostalgic love letter to the 007 of yesteryear. Mendes brings back the spy we first fell in love with amidst smoky casinos and shark-infested waters, but he also gives us something new: emotional insights into the man behind the myth full of liquor, ladies and a license to kill. James Bond is back in his beloved Aston Martin DB5, but this time he comes with tears, too.
In the opening scenes we see Bond (played for the third time by Daniel Craig) trying to recover a stolen list of agents’ identities. When the mission is jeopardised, Judi Dench’s M is forced to make a tough call and inadvertently causes Bond’s death. Or so we think. Sure enough the agent with more lives than notches on his bedpost, resurfaces on a beach, unrecognisable as a blood shot-eyed shadow of his former self.
“You know the rules of the game, we’ve been playing it long enough,” M reminds Bond. As an audience, we too know the rules of a Bond film and are often nostalgic about Fleming’s formula. Luckily, Mendes serves up the staples: a toothless, disfigured villain, a smoky-eyed femme fatale and scenes that flirt with our senses: the obligatory steamy shower sex scene and a tantalising wet shave session courtesy of Moneypenny (Naomie Harris).
Javier Bardem’s Silva is up there with the very best of bond villains as M’s star pupil turned wrong ‘un. His laughter is tinged with madness and he even dares to brazenly touch up 007. Kudos.
Bond seems to have rediscovered his humour, too and his dry one-liners punctuate old-school action. Shooting 50 year-old Macallan off of Bond girl Bérénice Marlohe’s head, he’s recognisable as the 007 we know and love. Especially when he declares it as a “waste of good Scotch.” (Quite.)
At the eponymous Skyfall, we witness back-to-basics battle tactics – including booby traps, secret passages and hunting rifles – but we also see where Bond grew up. We’re not overburdened with details, but the subtle unfolding of his childhood trauma gives the character another level of human emotion that we haven’t seen before; the writers aren’t afraid to show us their hero’s weaknesses.
Mendes’s Skyfall is beautiful – when black silhouettes play rough and tumble against blue-lit jellyfishes, it’ll take your breath away. But if anyone was worried that the American Beauty director would serve up a stylish but vacuous Bond, they needn’t have been.
Whether it’s when the kaleidoscope credits whirl in front of you to Adele’s sultry vocals, or when you’re knowingly nodding as Daniel Craig tackles rush hour on London’s District Line, at some point you’ll know that Bond is back.
This time he’s the Bond you remember, the Bond we grew up with, our very own Bond, James Bond.