The thinking man’s James Bond. This Bond has doubts about his aging body, his gut, his life choices — but never, it must be noted, his notion of right and wrong.
The filmmakers are alive to the Bond film traditions, and plays with the formula without going over to camp. After decades of pursuing evil villains in underground lairs, this time a beleaguered MI6 literally goes underground. The writing is better than usual — it’s not actually good, but at least you don’t notice the plot holes until a couple of hours after the movie is over. The supporting cast, which is unusually strong, includes Javier Bardem, Ben Whishaw, a surprisingly vivacious Ralph Fiennes, and Albert Finney (still alive!). We even get a bit of backstory on Bond’s childhood (although it has more in common with J. K. Rowling than anything Ian Fleming ever wrote). And the references to earlier Bond films that pop up throughout the movie (scorpions! shaken not stirred!) are as delightful as they are unexpected.
This is not a traditional, wish-fulfillment Bond film. Not everything works out. There seems to have been a conscious decision to ramp down the gadgets (“sometimes the old ways are best”) and the exotic locations (most of the film takes place in the British Isles). But for this long-time fan of the Bond films, the film was deeply satisfying.