We begin with a blurry Bond. Backlit and warped, the figure at the end of the hall—a call back to the gun barrel opening—is distorted beyond recognition. But 50 years of visual cues aren’t so easily undone. Even before Daniel Craig’s visage comes into focus, holding his face in profile and entirely ready for his close-up, we know who's coming. It is this tension that Sam Mendes’ film perfectly toys with: expectation and surprise, tradition and the new. Stunning and invigorating, Skyfall never forgets the past 50 years, but it also refuses to wallow in it.
After Bond fails to re-obtain the list of all NATO operatives embedded in terrorist cells around the globe, the reputation of M (Judi Dench) comes under fire from Westminster. Badly hurt during the operation, Bond falls off the radar only to re-immerge when, via CNN—there’s no place Wolf Blitzer can’t reach—he hears of an attempt on M’s life at MI6 headquarters. Attempting to pick up the pieces of his life—“You should have called,” says a cool M—Bond must get back into the game, physically and mentally, hunting down Silva (Javier Bardem), a cyber-terrorist with a dandy's flair.
While the trend in blockbuster filmmaking in a post-Christopher Nolan world leans towards the artificially grim, Skyfall’s theme of resurrection never feels strained. Earned not only in the excellent script by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, and John Logan, but also in the film’s overall tone, Skyfall approaches the genre of memento mori. Captured beautifully with Roger Deakins’ cinematography, death and the passage of time are at every turn, from Bond’s haggard face to the komodo dragons he fights. Not only does the latter recall M calling Bond a “misogynist dinosaur” in GoldenEye, but it is the endpoint of two old world species fighting for relevancy; both Bond and the reptile are relics of the past. It is this point which is the crux of Skyfall—not only to celebrate the golden anniversary, but to push the franchise forward. To prove it has a place in the future.
In this instalment, Bond reaches backwards to not merely the analog (no fancy toys, just a radio from Q, played by Ben Whishaw), but also the Empire. Following an attack by Silva, M16 retreats to Churchill’s World War II bunker, connected by underground paths that were built in the 18th century. In one fell swoop, Bond inhabits both of England’s golden eras. In combining this element with cyber-terrorism in the figure of Silva, the past is resurrected and the future made flesh. In such a way, Bond lives through the past, while Silva embodies the world to come, making their clash not merely between men, but of eras. Bond’s victory—as if the secret agent ever loses—then, is not only contained to this film’s narrative, but resonates beyond Skyfall. It asserts Bond’s place in the present, proves he has evolved, and is ready for what's to come in the next 50 years.