How does James Bond remain relevant in the 21st century? It’s a question on the lips of many of the franchise’s sceptics as the Cold War spy reaches a landmark 50th anniversary, but it’s one that also forms an integral part of his newest adventure Skyfall.
The film, directed by Oscar winner Sam Mendes, relocates Bond (Daniel Craig) into the digital age. The espionage he once knew – the guns, the lifestyle and the gadgets – is beginning to disappear with MI6 fighting a new kind of war; one where field agents are largely unnecessary and battles are now won with intelligence.
Therefore, after an assignment to retrieve a list of MI6 agents goes wrong and Bond is believed to be deceased, he decides it’s best to let his superiors assume he was killed in action. He retreats into the shadows and chooses to live out the remainder of his existence in a solitude of alcohol and substance abuse. But when the kidnapper of the list, cyber-terrorist Silva (Javier Bardem), launches an attack on his former base of operations with M (Judi Dench) as the intended target, Bond returns home to fight this new kind of evil and prove he’s still capable of defending his country.
Skyfall is a spy thriller for our times. In much the same way that Christopher Nolan transferred Batman into a post-9/11 environment with his The Dark Knight films, Sam Mendes turns the 23rd Bond adventure into an allegory of modern Britain with undertones of 7/7. Befittingly, Mendes and master cinematographer Roger Deakins capture the film in a slick, contemporary fashion that is often outstandingly beautiful to behold. A silhouetted fight sequence set against the neon-lit backdrop of Shanghai is simply Oscar worthy.
But while Sam Mendes’s story of a James Bond trying to prove his worth in what he calls “a brave new world” is certainly a make-over for the franchise, Skyfall’s just as much a celebration of the agent’s last 50 years of cinematic escapades. He finds a perfect balance between the realism of 21st century espionage and the traits we’ve grown to love and cherish from the character: quick-witted quips, stunning set pieces and stunt work so mesmerising it’ll leave you in awe. Devotees to the classic 007 films need not worry either; finding the sly references to previous outings is part of Skyfall’s enjoyment.
Daniel Craig is the best he’s been since he donned the suit back in 2006 and his performance is quite possibly the finest take on James Bond yet. He shines in both Skyfall’s light-hearted moments of dry comedy and smooth talk, but it’s when the film descends into dark territory that we truly witness his brilliance. Previous films have briefly touched on Bond’s tragic past and it becomes a major part of Skyfall as we reach the nail-biting conclusion. Craig explores this tortured side of the hero with aplomb, bringing a depth to 007 that many may have thought impossible.
It’s Dame Judi Dench, however, who steals the show. She’s not just a meaningless supporting character in the way that many previous Bond films have cast her. Instead, the MI6 boss plays an integral role in this outing; allowing Dench the chance to show off what a truly extraordinary actress she is.
So, can 007 remain relevant in the 21st century? Director Sam Mendes answers the question with a confident ‘yes’, releasing James Bond’s best film yet and an almost perfect example of big-budget blockbuster cinema. Skyfall isn’t just a landmark moment because it celebrates the agent’s Golden Jubilee, but also because it provides a monumental turning point for the franchise. It’s the first step into a new era for 007, one that makes the celebrated hero both culturally and politically significant again. A heart-stopping epilogue, furthermore, paves the way for future adventures that will leave the old formulas behind and continue with the fresh, modern edge displayed in Skyfall. And if they manage to be as good as this, well, then I look forward to James Bond’s next 50 years of service.