James Bond: Vodka martini.
Bartender: Shaken or stirred?
James Bond: Do I look like I give a damn?
Skyfall marks the fiftieth year of James Bond in film but with the iconic franchise having already influenced generations of filmmakers, it was high time they influenced the franchise in return. When Daniel Craig was cast as the next Bond, the franchise took a dramatic turn away from increasingly unbelievable gadgets and gimmicks to a grittier, more realistic look at the life of a spy.
In Casino Royale, we see how Bond earned his 00 status and his first missions. This Bond is reckless and unfeeling, almost naive in his willingness to catch the rabbit at the expense of the deer, but calculating enough to sacrifice people like pawns and kill any loose ends. M speaks harshly on his extreme detachment but in reality it is one of his best qualities as a spy. It is his ego that gets him into trouble. He is willing to expose the actions of MI6 and even compromise his mission due to his belief that he knows best. But when he is humbled and must accept the help of the CIA due to losing the trust of MI6, he succeeds in his mission and is rewarded with the love of the woman he loves in return. However, just when they have agreed to go away together and leave MI6, he discovers that she made a deal with the criminals and is giving them millions of dollars that should have gone to Britain. In spite of his sense of betrayal, he tries to save her as she drowns but she chooses death. Bond learns that he cannot trust anyone, a lesson M commends, but as an audience, we learn that there is no more happy ending for Bond. There is no more sailing off in the sunset with a Bond girl in his bed, warmed by the afterglow of vanquishing the dragon and protecting the ignorant townspeople. In the end, he brought down a banker not a terrorist and all he has to comfort him in the darkness is his love of country.
In Skyfall (since we have banished Quantum of Solace from memory), Bond returns only to be wounded by friendly fire at M's command. He is missing and presumed dead, but after a cyber terrorist attack destroys MI6's headquarters (not so secret anymore), he returns from his beach bum life to serve his country and M, who is being blamed for the attack. Bond isn't the agent he used to be. He is older, out of shape, and suffering from old wounds, but M, relying on her own judgment instead of the tests, puts him into the field anyway. After a dazzling array of golden era Bond spectacle, we meet the flamboyantly dramatic mastermind, a former spy who is attacking MI6 with no greater desire than to get revenge on M who left him to be tortured by the enemy for months. Jaded, bitter, and more than a little crazy, Silva is everything Bond could have become after he was shot in the back. Silva has embraced the modern world and the new forms of terrorism it brings. He has no country, no greater cause, simply a grudge and psychopathic tendencies. He derides Bond's outdated sense of love of country and reliance on the physical versus the technological. Bond and the spy world he represents is a thing of the past, no longer wanted by the people they are protecting. But in the end both Bond and M prove that they are needed now more than ever in a world where enemies don't have faces or sometimes even names. They bring the fight to them and overcome Silva with more than the physical. They have the mental strength to beat the M-obsessed Silva and do what Q, in his pajamas, could never do. At the end of the film, Bond's world is restored in full to how it was in the books and original movies. He has Moneypenny at her desk and a new assignment from a new, male M.
By examining how the nature of espionage has changed since the Cold War, Sam Mendes manages to restore the Bond franchise to its former glory. He brings it new life while restoring the former elements that made it great. With these two movies we are left with a grittier Bond with more depth and realism than he has ever had. Fingers crossed the next film is just as good.