In the first 10 minutes of Skyfall, James Bond is killed. Five minutes later he has risen from the dead and goes off on a big adventure like nothing ever happened. Occasionally he remembers to wince and rub his shoulder, or he stares at the scar from the bullet that “killed” him in the mirror. He encounters another famous actor, Javier Bardem, who says that he was the previous number one secret agent. They fight, Bond wins, and at the end of the movie he meets a new M and a new Miss Moneypenny, whose interactions always kicked off James Bond movies.
This is not what actually happens. What actually happens is that at the beginning of Skyfall James Bond dies. The rest of the movie is his time in hell, reviewing the events of his life (getting shot at, mostly), regressing to childhood, and meeting the ghosts of former James Bonds. It’s no accident that Javier Bardem looks like a decadent, dandified cross between Roger Moore and George Lazenby, and that he sports hair as artificial as Sean Connery’s toupee.
At the end of the movie, the faces of the actors have changed, but their names are the same. Bond ritualistically enters M’s office, flirts joylessly with Moneypenny, and gets his mission from M who asks if he’s ready for action. He’s trapped in an eternal loop, his only reward for successfully defending Britain is to be asked, again, to successfully defend Britain. There is no escape, no hope, no change, no exit.
“Ready for a mission, Bond?” M asks.
“It’s a pleasure,” Bond mumbles grimly, the light fading from his eyes. “It’s…a…pleasure…”
Then the screen goes black and it threatens, “James Bond will be back,” before reminding us that Bond has been trapped in this hell for 50 years. His fate is an eternity of conflict, duty, gunshots, and bullet wounds. A long line of dead girlfriends and endless betrayals. More than Superman, James Bond is now trapped in the Phantom Zone. What we’re watching is his zombie, going through familiar rituals, drawn to places and people he remembers from life, humping fresh meat, and no matter how many times he’s shot, he never dies.