Before delving into 'Skyfall', I must admit I am not a big Bond fan in the sense that I am largely unfamiliar with his filmography. I have only seen a couple of the Connerys and the Brosnans. I have now seen all three films in Daniel Craig's career as 007, though. Like pretty much everyone else, I disliked 'Quantum of Solace' quite a lot, but I am a huge fan of 'Casino Royale', which was not only a great way to bring the beloved spy to a new film era, but an outright pretty fantastic movie.
Were I a bigger Bond fan, I would have probably written a big retrospective or something of the like. You see, 'Skyfall' arrives on the british spy's 50th anniversary. James Bond turns fifty in a movie landscape largely devoted to comic book adaptations, fighting exploding robots and the fourth installment of a franchise that largely shaped the nature of his latest incarnation (that is, of course, the Jason Bourne series). Actually, 'Skyfall' opens up with a scene not that different from what a Bourne action sequence would like. A frenetic pace, a chase through the streets of Istambul and a constantly shaking camera. One of 'Quantum of Solace's biggest mistakes was trying to imitate the Bourne esthetic too much. 'Skyfall' may open up with a Bourne-like sequence, but said scene doesn't exactly end up well for Bond and the quickly establishes those two spies are not the same character.
The big theme of this film is old vs. new. For example: the villain of the piece, played by Javier Bardem, is a big hacker. He uses computers, the most powerful and revolutionary of latest innovations for destruction. Meanwhile, MI6 director M (Judi Dench) is put on the spotlight after a series of violent incidents that bring the general public to question whether espionage is a relevant part of national security. Finally, big part of the movie is devoted to question if Bond himself isn't too old to keep up with the trade of being an international spy. Is not a spoiler to say that the answer to that question is no.
That seems to be director Sam Mendes' big message with this movie. Judging from the film, one could easily believe Mendes is a big Bond fan. He seems to be willing to demonstrate that Bond, like a good wine or scotch, only gets better with age. Never mind the Jason Bournes and such other fads, Bond is an institution and is here to stay. So, we have a movie that brings the biggest archetypes of the Bond mythology to the foreground: the cars, the gadgets, the elegance, the casinos, the martinis, the good girl, the femme fatale are all elements present in 'Skyfall' that bring back memories of the characters' past. In most cases, they are welcome elements, but there is one that sticks out. Bond represents a certain type of old-fashioned very traditional male identity and for long type he has always been confronting classy, sophisticated, almost femmenine villains. Bardem's character is no exception to this rule. It is a performance that is not too over-the-top for Bond villains historically speaking, but one that is derivative of the typical fancy villain, doesn't fit with this new Bond and that highlights how this type of villain feels incredibly dated in this day and age.
Mendes' celebration of the old ways of Bond doesn't stop there. In the final confrontation, in order to defeat the villain, Bond must go back and find his secret weapon in his own past. In this way Mendes' deconstruction of the character finishes up telling us to find the beauty and strength of Bond by embracing the characters' long history. Even the villain isn't after world domination but on a personal vendetta against MI6 itself. It is a fine idea to try to convey with the movie, but one that doesn't keep 'Skyfall' from being an ultimately disappointing experience. For a long time it is teased that this is going to be Bond's greatest adversary, one that is brighter and more fearful than any other. It is also hinted that we are bound to discover key elements from Bond and M's pasts. But in the final act, the film settles for a mexican stand-off-like scenario that is way too long and not at all thrilling. There is much more suspense and entertainment in the tease than in the payoff, which proves a dull action sequence and doesn't really answer any questions. After two and a half hours of movie I hadn't learned anything of note about the inner personality of Bond, M or the villain.