Skyfall deviates from previous Bond movies. Where James Bond is usually only deployed for world-threatening missions, this Bond is brought back to save M16, just a small institution of the British government. At risk are the names of embedded spies in terrorist organizations, but no one really cares. The baddie, Silva, is only releasing them to lure M and Bond.
Silva is not the only one trying to shut MI6 down. A botched mission leads to a public inquiry as to whether MI6 is necessary in the modern age of transparent diplomacy. In response to the shrill Parliamentarians shouting her down, M argues that spies and killers like Bond are needed even more to combat terrorists that try to attack British soil. And Silva does attack British soil, as in an almost unprecedented move, the final action scene takes place in Britain. And not even in a major city – in Bond’s ancestral and remote manor, Skyfall.
The final action scene consists of Bond booby-trapping his home to kill Silva and his henchmen – it’s like a grown-up version of Home Alone. He’s protecting M, his home, and his figurative home, Britain, from Silva and other foreign attackers like him. It’s a slightly welcome change of pace from the neo-colonialist leanings of previous Bond movies – white man saves third world country! – but the constant reiteration of fighting “in the shadows” tries to justify illegal and inhumane means of attack all for a country’s glory, tries to justify Bond himself. I saw Skyfall as a British equivalent to the reactionary and fear-mongering Red Dawn remake, which also just recently premiered. Both portray a fundamentally hostile world trying to destroy a Western safe haven, and both suggest fighting fire with fire.
At the same time, however, this jingoism reflects real, current fears, and Skyfall has to be complimented on its modernity, and its acknowledgement of it. The Bond of Skyfall uniquely has a past and a future. Previous Bonds were just a collection of attributes: debonair, deadly, loyal, etc, without the experiences to back them up. In this movie, we know of Bond’s childhood home, of his central tragedy of being an orphan, and how MI6 exploited his loss to build him into becoming the best spy of all time. And the movie also acknowledges that Bond can’t be Bond forever – when returning from his sabbatical, he fails all his physical
Tests, and his inaccuracy at shooting leads to a woman being killed. He asks where his apartment is, and M replies that it’s been confiscated, proper protocol for a person without a spouse, children, and next of kin.
Skyfall was released to celebrate the half-century legacy of Bond’s cinematic escapades, and in doing so it subtly comments on what Bond fundament-ally is. Being Bond is a lonely, harsh life with a short expiration date.
We celebrate him as the perfect gentleman, a one-man army, yet he has long ago become only an instrument of the state. Skyfall ends with Bond immediately accepting another unsavory and secret assignment the state will never acknowledge. He has no choice.