The latest James Bond flick, “Skyfall” (2012), is the most unusual 007 flick yet, but is also perhaps, by far, the best.
And to quote the lyrics of its theme song (of the same name), “this is the end” in many ways. Or, the beginning, depending on how one looks at it.
For starters, this is the first Bond film that’s not based on an original Ian Fleming novel.
The easygoing, tuxedo-clad debonair, whom we’ve seen in Sean Connery, Roger Moore, up through to Pierce Brosnan, makes an exit. We see a far more reserve and contemplative spy in Daniel Craig.
Sporting a skintight silver suit and slight stubble, he has the monastic, weather-beaten look of a medieval friar who’s spent a lot of time under open skies. After 50 golden years of service to the British secret service, he’s, at last, graying.
That he’s lost some of his vim is thrown in sharp relief as he interfaces with the new Q.
In a radical departure from the past, Q isn’t the old fogey that Bond could one-up on. For the first time, he’s younger than Bond.
A computer geek in a “geek-chic outfit of anorak, thick NHS specs, and greasy mop of dark hair,” who’d be more comfortable in a hackerspace than at MI6, he’s at the top of his game.
He makes Bond appear somewhat of a troglodyte, out of step with the realities of 21st century espionage that relies more on whiz-bang technology and less on field operatives; a world threatened not by nukes, but by cyberterrorism.
The setting for the meeting between Bond and Q isn’t MI6’s usual, clandestine, R&D cave, bustling with the clash, bang, and swoosh of experimental gadgetry chugging to life.
It’s a bench in an art gallery or a museum. On the moss-green wall behind it, hang a row of paintings.
When Q hands Bond a fingerprint-encoded Walther-PPK and a radio transmitter, packed in a nifty case, Bond darts him a quizzical look, as if disappointed at not getting more baubles.
“Not exactly Christmas, is it?” Bond banters.
“What were you expecting? An exploding pen?” Q shoots back.
With its sleek minimalism, “Skyfall” makes the standard-issue MI6 devices of the earlier installments seem steampunk in comparison.
It’s only fitting then that the new baddie isn’t a bald, feline-loving criminal with an insatiable lust for world conquest.
Javier Bardem, who plays Raoul Silva, is a brilliant, ex-M16 agent and über-coder, with a fondness for wreaking digital mayhem, and the same-sex. Yes, he’s gay.
With a sense of wry humor, playfulness, and mannerism, evocative of the Joker, he’s more menacing than the Cold War-era villains like Dr. No and Blofeld, almost rendering their evilness comical.
There’s a cutback in the overall flirtation and innuendos. The only true Bond girl here is an old girl: M, the head of MI6. “Skyfall” is none the less charming for it. If anything, only more moving.