Thrillers typically present us with a desirable fantasy image of manliness. We enjoy this fantasy because normally we don’t get to use violence in our everyday lives, and films give us the fleeting taste of how smashing it would be if we could, successfully and without consequences. Thrillers in recent years have often presented us with divided or damaged heroes. The point is that as their heroes have become better equipped to turn the tables on seemingly superior forces of bad-guys – have become more powerful, more invincible, more God-like – it has been getting harder to maintain the illusion that men who can do such things could possibly be decent human beings. The brilliant Bourne Identity and Bourne Supremacy got around this most ingeniously by having a hero who had lost his memory. He therefore isn’t the morally compromised person he was before, but he has inherited that person’s skills and knowledge. (The much earlier jolly Schwarzenegger thriller Total Recall used the same plot device). The writers of the Pierce Brosnan Bond movies varied the presentation of Bond as a charming, fundamentally decent chap with strong suggestions that he is cold, isolated, unable to maintain any relationships deeper than banter with Moneypenny or dalliance with incidental females.
This movie ingeniously gives us the history behind Bond's detachment - a heart twisted and pierced by loss and betrayal. The action sequences are very good, but the human story is better, and superbly inhabited by both Craig and Eva Green. It makes perfect sense that Bond recognises the tension between his career and any chance he might have of personal happiness, and resigns when he has fallen in love; and perfect sense that he returns to it after Vesper's loss, a sadder and (after a talking-to from M) a wiser man.
It's excellent, a real leap forward for what has hitherto been a shallow franchise. Let's hope they can keep up the progress with the next one.