Later on in the 23rd instalment of the ever-expanding Bond franchise, Agent 007 (Daniel Craig) and his stoic, often blithe handler, M (Judi Dench), share an uncharacteristic moment of silence and reflection, looking off into the landscape, which incidentally holds the secrets to Bond's past, when she says, "Orphans always make the best recruits."
It's a moment that holds intense weight, seeing as this particular Bond entry is a complexly rendered and thematically rich examination of past pains and regrets as signifiers of present day imperfections. And what's more is that Bond ― married to his job ― has only M to turn to as a maternal, supportive figure.
Stepping back to the opening moments of Skyfall, we're immediately immersed in an intensely visceral, expertly crafted chase sequence in cars, on motorcycles and atop a train, with Bond trying to obtain coveted MI6 secrets from a spy with undefined motivations.
In the heat of the moment, his partner, Eve (Naomie Harris), tells the remotely observing M that she has a shot, but it's not clean. Realizing the risk all of her agents would be at if their identities were revealed, she tells Eve to take the shot, which hits Bond, knocking him to his seeming death.
This defines Bond's plight this outing. Having been betrayed by his only ally in the world, he's left feeling lost, trying to rebuild his identity as an agent, despite having resultant physical and emotional shortcomings. His struggle for meaning is juxtaposed with the motivations of bisexual villain Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem), whose past experience as one of M's agents is what drives him to target her and MI6 for destruction.
Nodding to the history of the franchise with occasional tongue-in-cheek humour, witty exchanges, playful flirtations and impressively choreographed action, this substantially introspective entry manages to balance its potentially heavy tone with enough light-heartedness and fun to appeal to a broad audience.
And still, while touching upon past gadgets and even Bond's Aston Martin DB5, the surface debate is that of secret agent necessity in a modern world where espionage is often virtual and passive, acknowledging the changing times and the nature of the superhero in the Internet age.
In deconstructing Bond, and resultantly the fragility of the male ego, Sam Mendes has created the most self-aware 007 film in existence. But smartly, in doing so, he hasn't forgotten the needs of the franchise, injecting propulsive action, nuanced secondary characters and an overall tone so magnetic that the end credits seem a shame.
In time, this could easily be perceived as the quintessential Bond film. (MGM / Sony)