007 was losing his edge. We all knew it, on some subconscious level, when the half-hearted effort that was Quantum of Solace came out back into 2008. Casino Royale’s brief infusion of glamor and excitement after the average Brosnan years couldn’t last forever, and it seemed inevitable that the Bond franchise would survive (if it could survive at all) only as a relic of an earlier time in which espionage was actually relevant. Bond, an adaptable symbol of British toughness throughout the Cold War years and those immediately following, couldn’t hack it in the 21st century.
And then came Skyfall, which – on the 50-year anniversary of the release of Dr. No – turns squarely on its heel, acknowledges the series’ age and increasing obsolescence, and in doing so creates arguably one of the greatest films in the entire franchise.
Directed by Sam Mendes (American Beauty), Skyfall opens with a classic 007 chase scene in which Bond (Daniel Craig) pursues a thief through Istanbul in order to recover a stolen hard drive containing sensitive NATO information. The scene culminates in a train-top fight, during which 007 is accidentally shot by fellow MI6 operative Eve (Naomi Harris). Bond is presumed dead, and MI6 Operations Head M (Judi Dench) writes his obituary in what’s apparently a nod to series creator Ian Fleming’s famous inclusion of Bond’s obituary in You Only Live Twice, the last 007 novel published in Fleming’s lifetime (which, coincidentally, also dealt with Britain’s decline on the world stage). Unbeknownst to MI6, however, Bond is still alive and grappling with conflicted feelings: whether to comfortably live out his existence as a dead man or rejoin MI6 in order to counter attacks led by cyber terrorist Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem).