While watching “Skyfall,” it’s hard not to be reminded of two other movies with a driven, selfless protagonist who was battling to defend the society he had used to replace his absent family—“The Dark Knight” and “The Dark Knight Rises,” of course. Silva is a better villain than Bane and a lesser one than the Joker, but ultimately he’s an amalgam of both, eager to spread discord, anarchy, and immorality; uncaring about the loss of innocents; convinced of his own superiority. The Joker told Batman, “You have nothing to threaten me with,” and Silva is the same way—he’s a man without a country, a family, or anything to lose. He’s a ghost, a harbinger of death, an instrument of chaos. And when he advances on Bond, as effete as Guy Pearce in “Lawless” and even more unhinged, sardonically suggesting things like, “You’re living in a ruin as well, you just don’t know it yet,” you can’t help but be afraid.
And what is there to say about Craig as Bond? He’s noticeably older here, more scraggly but stilly scrappy, effectively conveying the sense of a man refusing to give up the only identity he’s truly been able to craft on his own terms. When Silva tells Bond, “It’s about her and it’s about you and me,” he’s putting the two men together in one category, with M on the other side—and there is a greater contrast between Bond and everyone else in “Skyfall.” Craig is still as charming and roguish as ever, great in hand-to-hand combat and making every violent act look graceful, but there’s a palpable prompt that “the rules of the game” are changing for Bond. “You’ve been playing it long enough,” M says, but maybe that subtle dig applies to both of them. Maybe the old-fashioned ways, the things that make Bond excel, are on their way out. And what comes after you’ve become obsolete? What is there left to do but die?
But while the performances are exceptional, “Skyfall” can’t handle everything flawlessly. A major plot point is abandoned halfway through the film; the script gets repetitive in its old-ways-are-better-than-you-thought message; Silva’s character isn’t too fully developed; and things end quite tidily, in contrast to all the political brouhaha we’re supposed to invest in earlier. And, somewhat like “Quantum of Solace,” the stakes feel very high for most of the film but then drop toward the end, switching from a very grand film to a more personal one. Nevertheless, “Skyfall” is extraordinary. If this is the Bond we can expect for the future, it looks very bright indeed.