In the world of James Bond, super-agent for the British government, we expect girls, guns, and gadgets galore, but what we do not usually expect is great depth. Director Sam Mendes (American Beauty, Revolutionary Road, Jarhead) and actor Daniel Craig are not opposed to this history; rather, they mine it for all it’s worth while extending the metaphor of “license to kill” to encompass so much more. In doing so, Skyfall may just be the best Bond movie ever, or at least one of the top two or three (my favorites being From Russia With Love and Goldfinger). This is because despite all the usual and expected trappings, we get more into Bond’s psyche and history, thus understanding him more than as a caricature of our imaginations.
The story once again takes place in exotic locations – Shanghai, Macau, and a smashing opening sequence in Turkey – but there is also much of the film taking place in England, London specifically, taking us into the Tube and the streets like no Bond has ever done before. When Bond complains about the crowds waiting on the platform to the new and much younger Q (Ben Wishaw), he gets the response that we would expect from a young guy, but also a truism because Bond has probably never been on a train as a passenger in the Underground before.
The story is basically typical Bond, except that in the beginning Bond is out of the game and living the good life, so to speak, playing drinking games with scorpions and spending time with a beautiful woman. Still, he gazes out the window, looks a bit lost, and we imagine he misses the old life. Only by chance does he hear a CNN broadcast about an attack of the MI6 headquarters in London, and thus he is motivated to get back in the action.
When he returns from the “dead” to meet M (Judi Dench) in her London flat, she is not that surprised to see him (even though she has recently written an obituary for him). Bond wants in but he has been out for so long that he must take a series of tests to be qualified as an agent again. Much is made of him being “old” and even M reminds him that he’s been in the game too long, and you get the feeling that time isn’t kind to secret agents either; but Bond wants to avenge the death of fellow Agent Ronson (Bill Buckhurst), who died in Istanbul and lost a list of embedded agents worldwide. Bond must find his killer Patrice (Ola Rapace), retrieve the list, and take him out to settle the score.