James Bond is Back 2012 · 12/14/2012

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Skyfall, the new installment of the James Bond movie series, is already one of the most successful films of 2012. It was the highest grossing movie of the year thus far in the United Kingdom, where it was released on October 26, and has grossed more than any other Bond movie in the United States since its debut on November 8.

Yet, the film lacks some of the trademark ingredients of the Bond series: It features surprisingly few high-tech gadgets, a relatively terse display of Alpha-male sexuality on the part of Bond (Daniel Craig) and, most of all, a Bond-girl (Berenice Marlohe) who fails to be rescued by 007 and is killed shortly after making her grand entrance. Why, then, the astounding popularity and critical acclaim that met the movie? The answer is that, if Bond has changed, so have we.

The plot of Skyfall is a variation on the age-old myth of the phoenix, as Bond makes a comeback from the realm of the dead, first literally and then metaphorically. After being presumably killed in the film's action-packed opening sequence, the spy who never dies reappears in London ready to protect his country under attack. Yet this is an enervated Bond well past his prime, his physical decline accompanied by the psychological scars resulting from so many years of chasing bad guys.

M (Judi Dench) is not herself, either. Underneath her steely demeanour, she suffers from pangs of conscience and doubts whether she still has what it takes to get the job of saving England done. If it seems to be too late for the old M to pick herself up, the film proves that it is certainly not too late for Bond. He regenerates, overcomes his decaying slumber, and goes back to being his brash, assured self in the final part of the movie.

It is difficult not to recognise in Skyfall's obsession with old age, decadence and ruin a not-so-veiled reference to the ongoing Euro-crisis and, more broadly, to the waning of the West's preponderance in world affairs. This is perhaps the key to understanding the film's success. Viewers instinctively identified with the movie's plot of collapse and regeneration and secretly hoped that reality would imitate art.

In Skyfall, however, we quickly realise that something is wrong on the Western front. It is not just Bond and M's physical and moral decay that mirror the decline of England. Much to the disappointment of technology buffs, we learn, for instance, that 007's gadgets are out because of budget cuts, in an obvious stab at austerity measures throughout Europe. And when Bond is unable to fight back after a bomb strikes at the heart of MI6, the headquarters of the British foreign intelligence services, shortly followed by an attack on the offices of the British government, we cannot help but long for the good old days.

In other details, too, the movie includes some telling twists to the staple Bond material. The villain, Silva, a peroxide-blond Xavier Bardem that some critics have linked to Julian Assange, is a former MI6 spy who fell out with M. His hiding place is on an island somewhere off the coast of mainland China, from where he carefully plans the demise of the United Kingdom. The lesson to be drawn here is that Europe's problems result from internal squabbles; Europe will only be defeated by Asian might if it allows dissent within its ranks.

More interesting still, is the film's suggestion on how to overcome the crisis. Unable to defeat the more technologically savvy Silva on his own ground, Bond decides to return to his ancestral home Skyfall, an isolated estate in the Scottish highlands. It is here that the final showdown takes place. Armed with old-fashioned hunting rifles, knives and an artisanal gas bomb, and aided by the ageing overseer of the property, Bond predictably defeats the villain.

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