Despite being action-packed, beautifully shot and featuring a brilliant portrayal of a broken Bond from Daniel Craig, 2008’s Quantum of Solace was critically and commercially a relative disappointment after the stellar reception for Casino Royale two years earlier.
And yet somehow the marketing team behind Skyfall made this one of the most anticipated Bond films in years as the franchise celebrated its 50th anniversary.
Sam Mendes was on board as director, Q was known to be making his return, firmly denied rumours swirled about Miss Moneypenny, Adele had delivered a proper, sweeping Bond theme to wipe away the sour taste left by ‘Another Way to Die’ and it was well-advertised that Judi Dench would have an increased role as M. All in all, Skyfall was destined to succeed.
Mistakenly shot whilst trying to retrieve an important hard drive by mission-partner Eve, Bond goes underground, happy to let MI6 assume he’s dead.
As it happens ‘it was only four ribs. Some of the less vital organs. Nothing major’ so his convalescence is spent on the beach with tequila and CGI scorpions. So far, so simple, so James Bond. But then it all gets a bit hazy.
Supervillain Silva blows up MI6 to get M’s attention (‘turning the gas on’, as you do), Bond rises from the supposed grave, the missing hard drive is all but forgotten and a variety of questionable decisions get made. But we do get the return of the Aston Martin DB5 from Goldfinger (although as Craig’s 007 is in a rebooted Bond-verse, we rather love the idea that presumably he added the ejector seat himself on a quiet weekend).
The good guys
No longer the brooding hulk, initially at least James Bond (Daniel Craig) appears to have his groove back.
Shrugging off bullets, driving motorbikes along roof tops, tearing apart trains with mechanical diggers and engaging in chain-to-hand combat whenever he pleases, it’s fantastic to have him back.
M (Judi Dench) proves herself at once incompetent (would anyone in 2012 have clicked on an email so obviously spam?) and ruthless (there’s no clean shot on the train but she knows the hard drive is more important than one agent), reminding us once again that she’s not in MI6 to be Bond’s friend.
After Bond’s reappearance at her flat and the revelation that his home and possessions have been sold, her pithy ‘Well, you’re bloody well not sleeping here’ is pitched just right to let Bond know where he stands. When the chips are down she’s willing to trust him but she’s got boundaries and they need to be respected.
The high profile casting of Ralph Fiennes hinted at something more and by the end we have our brand new M in Gareth Mallory. He’s already established a very different relationship with Bond than we’ve seen before – unlike his predecessor he does appear to treat Bond more as an equal than a subordinate. He’s happy to break the rules and let Bond do his thing, or at least he is before he’s in charge – it remains to be seen how this relationship will develop.
Q’s back, but not as you remember. As Q (Ben Whishaw) says, ‘What did you expect, an exploding pen?’, to which the only honest answer would be ‘yes, please.’ It’s claimed that’s not how MI6 works anymore but let’s see how long that really lasts.
The bad guys
Bar Ola Rapace’s silent mercenary Patrice, there isn’t really anyone but Silva on the villain side. A henchman here, a henchman there, but really it’s all about Javier Bardem. And it’s a return to the classic deformed bad guy – when he takes out his teeth and his face collapses we know we’re in the presence of true Bond megalomania.
His goal, which when you boil it right down, is simply to kill M but he has the decency to throw in a casual destruction of MI6 headquarters, revealing the whereabouts of all their undercover agents and hinting at the ability to steal money online from any bank you care to mention. That’s commitment.
It’s always fantastic when a Bond girl can hold her own and Eve (Naomie Harris) is the latest in an increasingly long line. Okay, yes, maybe she could have taken that shot differently (maybe aim for the legs if you don’t have a clear shot next time) but she also knows that she doesn’t owe Bond an apology for following orders.
By the end she may have given up field work, but somehow we don’t believe this is forever.
Sévérine (Bérénice Marlohe) is a difficult one. At some point in her past she was sold into prostitution and has ended up in Silva’s entourage. She’s clearly terrified and confides in Bond, presumably in the hope of some sort of rescue.
But of course she pays the expected price for her betrayal and is despatched so casually by Silva that it almost hurts. Marlohe gave us so much in so little time that we’d hoped she might make it to the end, but sadly it was not to be.
The best bits
Controversial view alert: the plans, both Silva’s and Bonds, are the most ridiculous in Bond history. (And yes, we have seen Moonraker.) For that, you sort of have to respect them.
Somehow we’re expected to buy that Silva knew he’d be captured, knew where he’d be held, knew that M would be at a hearing, and where, knew that he’d be chased into the tube and that Bond would follow him, and knew that a train would drive by at exactly the point he blew a hole in the wall. And yet ultimately he succeeds: his goal is to kill M and while he doesn’t pull the trigger, she does indeed die.
The less said about Bond’s decision to recreate Home Alone instead of having MI6 as backup for his last stand at Skyfall the better. Neat light bulb trick by M, though.
The silhouette fight
This scene is simply beautiful and must have been hell to choreograph. The giant jellyfish, the blue lighting, the sheer physicality and the best bit of all – Bond pulling his opponent back from the brink by his gun. It’s different and stylish and is cinematographer Roger Deakins at his best.
Silly? Maybe. But a nice nod to the Roger Moore era. It’s always good when a henchman is bested by wildlife.
The return of Q and Moneypenny
We knew Q was back from the trailers, but Moneypenny was kept secret, right to the end of the film in fact.
Both are very different from their previous incarnations: Q is a be-cardiganned techno-geek who’s more than happy to assist Bond regardless of the ethics of the situation. Moneypenny is Eve, a field agent who chooses to switch to desk duty. She can handle herself, Bond and any weapon to hand and somehow we doubt she’ll stay behind that desk forever. Welcome back.
Skyfall is first Bond film to win an Oscar – two from five nominations – since Goldfinger and Thunderball.
Bond’s passport in the film is an officially created passport from the Home Office, although the chip inside it would flag it as being improperly used if anyone tried to travel on it.
M’s house is the actual former residence of legendary Bond composer John Barry.
The first film in the series where Bond is seen to drink beer.
The role of Kincade, as played by Albert Finney, was originally written for Sean Connery.
So far, Skyfall is the only film to have made over £100m at the UK box office.
Skyfall and Quantum of Solace are opposites of each other. Quantum appears to be all highly polished surface with nothing underneath, when really it has a remarkable depth. Skyfall pitched itself as a Bond film with depth and heart, taking place in a world of gritty realism.
The positive outcome of this is that Skyfall is actually just as beautiful as Quantum – take a look again at how Shanghai is shot to look so alien and distant, and the decision to make London look far more real than the usual red buses and black cabs.
The negative is that deep down it is probably the shortest on story of any Bond film, or at least one that makes a lick of sense. Fortunately we don’t come here for the plot, we come for the ride, and on that level Skyfall most definitely delivers.
It may not hold up quite as well in years to come as its initial reception would suggest, but as a half-centenary celebration it nailed a fresh take on the Bond formula far more successfully than Die Another Day’s self-referential 40th anniversary adventure.
James Bond will return in Spectre.
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