The billion dollar Bond. Skyfall marks 007’s 50th anniversary in existence on the big screen and I think you can say things turned out pretty well. The picture is the first in the series to earn over one billion dollars worldwide. It’s the first entry that garnered serious talk as to whether it would receive a Best Picture nomination at the Oscars. It did not.
Nevertheless, from a financial standpoint, Skyfall has put the series in uncharted territory and helped solidify Daniel Craig as a 007 for the ages. So, how is the movie??
Well, it begins with one of the greatest opening sequences in the series: a rousing, go-for-broke action set piece with 007 engaging in a chase in a car, on a motorcycle, and on a train. He is assisted by Eve (Naomie Harris), a fellow agent. The 13 minute opener concludes with M (Judi Dench) ordering Eve to take a difficult shot as Bond battles a baddie atop the train. It doesn’t end well. Bond is shot and plummets to the water, presumed dead.
We move on to the title credits and one of the best Bond theme songs (I ranked it #4). The marriage of a Bond theme and British singer Adele sounded like a natural fit when it was announced. It is. My apologies, with the recent “newness” of the film, there is no high quality version of the actual title credits I could find. Here is the official music video:
After Bond’s plunge off the train, M is forced to write his obituary and the agent is left on his own on an island with a female companion and a lot of alcohol. Meanwhile, all hell is breaking loose in London. An unseen villain has stolen a list of every NATO agent embedded in terrorist organizations and threatening to post the information publicly. M is getting blamed for the latest mishaps by the British government and is told her “voluntary retirement” will come soon by Mallory (Ralph Fiennes), an operative in the intelligence services. Matters take an even more awful turn for the worse when MI6 headquarters in bombed.
This all leads to 007 coming back to help, but he’s told he must first be cleared for active duty. The wounded Bond actually fails all his tests, both the physical and psychological portions. M clears him anyway. She trusts him. The psych evaluation is of particular interest, since one word (Skyfall) seems to set Bond on edge.
Once he is cleared, 007 is sent to meet with the new Quartermaster… yes, a new “Q”, played by the young Ben Whishaw. His first scene with Bond provides some humor, just as Desmond Llewelyn’s interplay with Connery, Lazenby, Moore, Dalton, and Brosnan usually did. The Bond/Q meeting sheds some light on the new reality of 007’s world. There’s really no fancy gadgets anymore. Just the essentials. He gets a gun that only he can fire and a radio.
Bond follows the train suspect who stole that important covert list to Shanghai. This leads to a very cool fight scene at a high rise. The lighting in the scene is of particular coolness.
We move on to Macau as 007 keeps following leads to get to the shadowy main villain. Here, we have a memorable casino sequence. Again, I reiterate that it should be required for every picture in the series to have a casino scene. Mission accomplished here! Bond meets Severine (Berenice Marlohe), who’s working for the main villain. 007 figures out that she was sold into a child slavery ring at an early age and wants to break out of her horrible existence. She agrees to help him if he promises to kill the unknown head bad guy. Severine’s character is a good one and I actually thought she was given too little screen time. The casino sequence ends with more terrific action, as Bond fights some henchman in a pit that happens to have a komodo dragon in it.
Severine does lead 007 to who he (and we as an audience) have been looking for. Turns out our villain is Silva (Javier Bardem), an ex-agent who’s behind all the mayhem. Silva was left for dead in a mission years ago by M and he has plans to repay her. Bond meets Silva at a deserted island that the villain has commandeered. Their initial meeting is a wonderful scene. It takes just this sequence together for us, as an audience, to know that Silva is one unique villain. And also one of the finest villains in the Bond franchise.
Like in the first picture, 1962’s Dr. No, the introduction of Silva comes nearly halfway through the proceedings, at the 70 minute mark. Unlike Dr. No, where the villain didn’t have much time to make an impression, it is far different with Silva. First off, Oscar winner Javier Bardem is just an amazing actor. Silva embodies the finest qualities of a great Bond villain: you believe he can go toe-to-toe with Bond and his schemes are slightly exaggerated and crazy. Bardem’s Silva is in the grand tradition of Goldfinger, Blofeld, and others. Whereas neither villain in Craig’s first two entries was of particular note, Silva is a classic character and Bardem’s performance is astonishing. Silva is captured (it turns out he wanted it to happen) and he reveals to M what the cyanide capsule he bit into when she left him hanging out to dry did to him. Creepy stuff, my friends.
Of course, Silva escapes and this leads to Bond’s most personal mission yet: protecting M. The two are on the run together and we end up at 007’s childhood home… a mansion in Scotland called Skyfall. We’ve always known Bond was an orphan, but we certainly hear more details on his life than ever before. We meet the gatekeeper at the home, played by Albert Finney (who is always good). And we experience a final battle between Bond and Silva at the estate that has major consequences on the future of the series.
Judi Dench is making her seventh appearance as M. This includes the four Brosnans and the three Craigs. It is with the Daniel Craig movies that her character became even more integral to the stories. Her relationship with Bond has been a focal point. The rapport of Craig and Dench is magnificent. For their characters, it isn’t just a boss/employee dynamic. She recruited him. She trusts his judgment. And he trusts her. Bond could have ended up like Silva, but his love of country, duty, and (yes) M prevented that. The unique dynamic between these two characters reaches its crescendo in Skyfall. There are tragic results and yet it feels right.
Being that it’s Bond 50th anniversary, we do get some nice nods to past features. Most notably, we see the beloved Aston Martin yet again. Bond at one point utters the line “I must be dreaming”, a nod to the famous introduction of Pussy Galore in Goldfinger.
However, in many ways, Skyfall is a unique and different Bond film. It has the distinction of being the first entry directed by an Oscar winner, Sam Mendes (winner for American Beauty, he also directed Road to Perdition and Jarhead). Veterans screewriters Neal Purvis and Robert Wade are joined by John Logan, screenwriter of Gladiator. The action scenes are at a high level… we see that $200 million dollars on screen.
Yet Skyfall sometimes feels like a smaller film, interestingly enough. There is more concentration on the Bond-M relationship than ever before. The extended climax at Bond’s boyhood home is free of any fancy gadgets… it’s just 007 fighting the villains with an old rifle and things he found around the house.
There are other sequences where I felt the influence of a current popular director, Christopher Nolan. Thomas Newman’s score sounds occasionally derivative of Nolan’s Dark Knight series. A scene where M is testifying in a hearing with her voice over reading a poem as Silva and his henchman wreak havoc seems like something straight out of Nolan. I know some Bond fanatics may not like reading this, but Nolan’s influence here is undeniable in my view. That’s not necessarily a bad thing either, but some of it feels like it doesn’t belong in a Bond movie.
By the end of Skyfall, we see that the series is moving in a new direction. SPOILER ALERT: M dies, Mallory becomes the new M, and it turns out fellow agent Eve’s last name is Moneypenny.
We have all grown to appreciate just how wonderful Daniel Craig is as Bond. It’s hard to believe now that his casting was originally met with skepticism and derision. Bardem is one of the greatest Bond villains ever. Dench is fabulous in her final appearance.
I do have some minor quibbles, as usual. The finale at Skyfall does feel strangely anticlimactic at times and goes on too long. Even though Eve is apparently the main Bond girl here, her character doesn’t make much of an impression and the other girl, Severine, is a good character not given enough time to shine.
None of this hides the fact that Skyfall delivers on the promise that Casino Royale set up for future Daniel Craig pictures in a way that Quantum of Solace did not. However, it is not quite the masterpiece that Casino Royale was. It’s a near masterpiece. And that puts it in a small company of other Bond entries, near the top of the list of 23 007 pictures in the first half century of the franchise.
Here are the facts:
U.S. Release Date: November 9, 2012
Director: Sam Mendes
Screenplay: John Logan, Neal Purvis, and Robert Wade
Bond: Daniel Craig
Main Bond Villain: Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem)
Main Bond Girl: Eve (Naomie Harris)
Theme Song: “Skyfall” – performed by Adele
Budget: $200 million
Worldwide Box Office: $1.1 billion
My James Bond blog series will return with The 007 Files: Spectre