Daniel Craig’s James Bond gets some back story and Judi Dench’s M comes full circle in the stunning Skyfall.
Released on the 50th anniversary of James Bond movies (1962-2012), Skyfall sought to find an equilibrium between the older aspects of the franchise and Craig’s grittier take without swinging too far in either direction.
Directed by Sam Mendes, with Daniel Craig as James Bond (for the 3rd time)
The Theme Song: “Skyfall” performed by Adele
Not just a great Bond theme but a great song period, Adele’s “Skyfall” is an instant all-timer. It’s classy yet contemporary, full of lush orchestration behind one of the strongest voices in pop today. The lyrics aren’t too on-the-nose but are still evocative, burying thematic elements in unique and thoughtful ways much as the visual opening credits do too. It’s also improves upon repeat listens, which is fortunate as the song got endless airplay upon its release.
Skyfall opens in media res, with Bond hot on the trail of a stolen hard drive in Istanbul that contains the identities of embedded MI6 agents. After M instructs James to leave behind a dying comrade in favour of the mission, a rooftop motorbike chase leads to Bond pursuing a mercenary across a speeding train. Just when Bond is reach of the baddie his fellow agent Eve (Naomie Harris) takes a shot and fells him, seemingly killing 007.
After bombastic opening credits, the presumed dead Bond is shown to be hiding out on a beach somewhere – chugging liquor, playing with scorpions and bedding local beauties. But the life of a pirate isn’t for Bond, as the grizzled (and be-stubbled!) agent is called back into active duty after a bomb goes off in London MI6 headquarters while M (Judi Dench) helplessly watches. The stolen agent identities are the MacGuffin and a shadowy evil hacker named Silva (Javier Bardem) is the quarry. In an increasingly complex and shadowy world it’s up to M and Bond to save MI6, secure their legacies and prove their worth.
James The Fighter
Skyfall introduces the strongest villain yet of Craig’s run in the form of the vindictive and vain Silva. A former intelligence agent who became increasingly unstable until M gave him up to the rival Chinese, Silva’s out for a very personal type of revenge against his former boss. Sporting bleached blonde hair and a demented sense of justice, Silva is suitably loopy and equally dangerous, brought to life by an all-in Javier Bardem who’s clearly having fun in the role.
Skyfall provides some of the most stylish action of the entire series, added immeasurably by cinematographer Roger Deakins. A battle between Bond and an assassin high atop a skyscraper in neon-drenched Shanghai approaches art-film levels of esoteric beauty, and later a bustling Macau casino is given the same level of visual fidelity. Interestingly enough (especially as Bond movies have front-loaded their action in recent years), Skyfall saves its best action for last as James returns to his titular childhood home in Scotland to bait Silva into a final confrontation. It’s a back-to-basics standoff that showcases the best elements of Bond – his cunning instincts, brutal effectiveness and bruised humanity.
James The Lover
Skyfall doesn’t have much time for romance, instead opting to shade in Bond’s background and provide thematic links to the past. James has two paramours – an unnamed woman met during his brief retirement and later Séverine (Bérénice Lim Marlohe), a member of Silva’s entourage. Séverine seems to exist mainly to warn James of Silva’s power and reach, and she falls victim to that oldest of tropes – the girl who dies after sleeping with Bond. After 50 years some things never change.
In fact the main Bond Girl (or more accurately Grand Bond Dame) is someone that Bond shares an entirely platonic relationship with – M. Much is made of their shared past and M’s at-times manipulative ways (she writes an unflattering eulogy for him when he’s presumed dead and clears Bond for duty despite his failed tests), and Skyfall comes down to Bond’s unerring loyalty towards her despite everything that’s happened. It’s clear that Bond (an orphan with no next of kin) has very few close relationships but M may be the most important. Judi Dench is never better as the prickly M and it makes for another tragic Bond moment in a long line of them when she dies in his arms.
- The new Quartermaster is introduced in the form of young Ben Wishaw. Their banter is weighty and freighted with meaning, and the gadgets are simple – a Walther PPK and tracking beacon
- Other returning Bond elements – Moneypenny (who begins as a field agent but proves better suited to desk work) and a new M played Ralph Fiennes
- Lots of homages to previous Bond films and tropes, such as: the return of the Aston Martin, Q goading Bond, a fight with a wild animal (in this case a Komodo dragon), the disfigured villain, endless quips and much more
- Silva allows himself to get captured only to later escape as part of his plan, kind of like the villains in both The Dark Knight and The Avengers)
- Even the small roles are memorable, as Albert Finney steals the few scenes he’s in as Kincade, the gamekeeper of the Skyfall estate
- The movie’s single best scene may be Silva’s introduction as he gives a monologue to Bond about being the “last rat standing” – something Bond would later proclaim himself when Silva’s in his death throes
- M’s last words to Bond as she bleeds out: “I did get one thing right.” Mommy was proud of James in the end
Skyfall makes the odd choice of presenting Craig’s Bond as a grizzled soldier after re-introducing him only two movies earlier, but in doing so it has a chance to re-examine and re-position the Bond mythos. By the end of the (excellent) film all the pieces are in place to tell more stories in this new world they’ve built. And despite the usual globetrotting it manages to retain a tight focus, basically making the central conflict a family affair between a cold, hard-to-please mother (M), the first-born son turned rebellious shithead (Silva) and the second son with a buried need to please (Bond).
Skyfall is gorgeous and lush, a movie that actually gets better as it goes along and provides the franchise with one of its strongest endings ever. It also secures Daniel Craig’s place in the Bond pantheon next to the immortal and inimitable Sean Connery. It may not be the best at everything it attempts, but Skyfall proves that there’s life in Bond stories so long as there’s passion in the telling.
- Casino Royale
- From Russia With Love
- Dr. No
- The Living Daylights
- The Spy Who Loved Me
- You Only Live Twice
- Live and Let Die
- For Your Eyes Only
- On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
- Licence to Kill
- Quantum of Solace
- The Man with The Golden Gun
- The World Is Not Enough
- A View to a Kill
- Tomorrow Never Dies
- Diamonds Are Forever
- Die Another Day
James Bond will return in Spectre…