My James Bond Retrospective: Skyfall

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Following the release of Quantum of Solace, Bond fans speculated as to what the upcoming film might be. To date, several of Ian Fleming’s 007 stories still remain untouched by Eon Productions, and there was talk that one of them could become the next Bond film. However, nothing was confirmed for a long time. In August 2011, a rumor began circulating that the next Bond film would be called Carte Blanche and would be based on the eponymous novel by Jeffery Deaver.

Those rumors were dispelled in November of that year when, during a press conference, Eon Productions announced the title of the upcoming Bond film: Skyfall. The film would be released in time for Bond’s 50th Anniversary on film.

In 2010-11 the film’s production was placed on hold due to MGM’s bankruptcy and subsequent sale to Sony Pictures, but much of the production team and crew continued on past the stoppage. There was some concern that the film wouldn’t make it out for the anniversary, but the team committed to ensuring that it would celebrate Bond’s golden anniversary with the release of Skyfall.

skyfall-movie-posterOn October 23, 2012, Skyfall made its premiere at the Royal Albert Hall in London, and on November 9 in the United States. The film opened to rave reviews from audiences and critics alike, who praised the performances of Javier Bardem and Judi Dench, who played Raoul Silva and M, respectively.

The movie opens with Bond (played a third time by Daniel Craig) and Eve (played by Naomie Harris) on a mission in Turkey, attempting to retrieve a stolen hard drive that contains the identities of a number of deep-cover agents embedded in terrorist organizations around the globe. During the course of the chase, Eve inadvertently shoots Bond, sending him falling to his apparent death, and letting the hard drive slip into enemy hands.

Bond is subsequently listed as “missing, presumed dead.” In the aftermath of the failed mission, five agents’ identities are released on the Internet, and all five agents are captured and executed by the terrorist organizations they are embedded in. M comes under heavy political fire for the botched mission, and, pending an official hearing, will be forced to into retirement. The Chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee, Gareth Mallory (played by Ralph Fiennes), steps in to oversee the transition and help M clean things up before she retires. While M is returning to her office, a bomb goes off at MI6 headquarters. Upon hearing of the attack, Bond returns “from the dead” to London, offering his services once more to M and the agency to which he’s pledged his life for the entirety of his career.

Skyfall raises the stakes of a Bond movie to incredible heights. The film manages to keep you on the edge of your seat the entire time, all the while ensuring that the action, while frenetic, never gets out of control. Daniel Craig once again does an excellent job in his role as 007, but by now I’m growing a bit weary of the stone-faced Bond and would like to see him lighten up a bit. If there were any questions after Quantum of Solace regarding which direction the franchise is currently headed, those questions have been answered. Bond is a dark, gritty, and tragic story of an agent who will forever be the guardian of the free world’s interests. He may not believe in all their values, but he knows his job and his station, and he has no qualms about his role as England’s weapon.

skyfall_daniel_craig_james_bond_judi_dench_mJudi Dench, who was introduced as M in 1995’s GoldenEye, has always been my favorite to play the role. She represented a shift in the 007 franchise at a time when the viability of the films was being questioned. Her version of the character has been the most involved and “hands-on” of all the portrayals of M. Her performance in Skyfall is her best yet, and the film really tells her story well. It’s a tragic one, and you can see the desire in her to be a mother and the turmoil she experiences at having to curb that desire. Agent 007 was more than just a weapon to her, he was almost a son. But she could never allow herself to truly believe that. Dench keeps you connected to her conflict the entirety of the film.

Silva-Cream-JacketJavier Bardem, who plays Raoul Silva, was equally as convincing in his role. He plays the character with such conviction that I found myself cringing at several moments. He’s sadistic, conniving, and really sells that he’s one step ahead of Bond the entire film. All that said, I was a bit confused by his casting. His character was supposed to be a former British agent, and I couldn’t get past his obvious non-British-ness. I mean, I don’t doubt the possibility that MI6 would’ve recruited a Spaniard at some point, but I struggled through most of the movie believing that he was once one of M’s agents. I suppose it’s not a huge issue, but it was a bit distracting throughout the film, particularly given how thick his accent was.

The film as a whole was a strong outing, but something bothered me quite a bit. Raoul Silva was entirely too smart. His ability to set up his escapes, to gather and place agents all over MI6, and to prepare traps for Bond at almost every point in the movie stretched the threshold of believability.

Another bothersome point for me was the final confrontation between Bond and Silva (and Silva’s henchmen). Bond, M, and Kincade (the gamekeeper at the Skyfall estate) booby-trap the mansion in preparation of Silva’s arrival. The scene leading up to the confrontation is tense and well directed. But when Silva and his henchmen arrive, the movie becomes little more than a grown-up version of every Home Alone movie.

The scene was certainly frustrating for me, but it didn’t ruin the movie in my opinion. I certainly understand how it might have done so for many, as it was a frustrating aspect of the film, but the rest of the movie was strong enough to make up for that sequence’s flaws.

I highly appreciated the subtle nods to longtime fans of the franchise. Despite how different these past few movies have been from the heart of the series, director Sam Mendes found ways to show the fans that he still cared about the little things that make James Bond who he is. From Q’s return to M’s new (old) office to the introduction of Miss Moneypenny, we’re constantly reminded that this is, in fact, a Bond movie.

Over and over throughout the movie we’re reminded of how old Bond is, and the metaphor is quite evident: this film series is old. But that doesn’t stop it getting better, more tasteful, more progressive, and more exciting. In fact, if anything, Bond films are growing more in tune with the film culture it is a part of.

SkyfallFor a while during the Roger Moore era as well as the Pierce Brosnan years, Bond films lagged behind film culture, doing little more than reflecting the popcorn-buying crowd rather than guiding them. With GoldenEye, Casino Royale, and again in Skyfall, instead of escaping into a bizarre universe of Bond’s creation, we see a glimpse of the real world through 007’s eyes.

Like a delicious Talisker from Carbost, Scotland, the Bond films get finer with age. There’s an occasional bitterness, but as the series gets older, it finds ways to draw you into its adventures and to keep you from looking elsewhere.

You know the name. You know the number.

Happy 50th Anniversary, Agent 007.
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Next up, Spectre.

(Click to go back to the list.)

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