Skyfall, also known as “Bond 23” (or perhaps “Bond 24”, “Bond 25”, or even “Bond 26” depending on how many of the “unofficial” films one counts) is an interesting installment in the franchise. It starts off with a pretty hard hitting opening, moves into a familiar but enjoyable middle, and then ends with a final act that is pretty unique, at least for a Bond movie.
The pre-credit sequence is impressive, starting with a car chase that moves quickly toward purloined motorcycles doing improbable things across the rooftops of Turkey, and then shifting to the unlikely sight of Bond driving a huge front-end loader on the back of a train, and finally culminating in Bond plummeting to his apparent death after he’s shot by (SPOILERS, people!) Miss Moneypenny, of all people.
Bond is believed to be dead for a while for no particularly important story reason, except to draw parallels between his relationship with M (his boss, played by Judi Dench) and the villain’s relationship with M, which will prove important. Anyway, after this unseen villain blows uses clever cyberhacking to blow up the offices of MI6, Bond returns from his self-imposed exile to take up his old post, and undergoes a series of grueling psychological and physical tests from his department to prove his fitness to return to duty.
He fails these, but M sends him out anyway, into the middle of the movie and into every James Bond trope we’ve ever seen before: he fights and kills low-level villains without gaining useful information, he shares inappropriate double entendres with attractive workmates, he saunters into casinos, he seduces beautiful women, he fights underlings who are killed by dangerous wildlife that the bad guys keep as pets, he makes his way into the villain’s headquarters, he gets captured, he listens to the villain share all his plans, he fails to save one of the women, and finally in an exciting climax he faces off with the villain, brutally killing him!
Oh wait, he only captures the villain, bringing him back to headquarters. And all the above took less than an hour, so we know that there is more. Our baddie is Raoul Silva, who out to humiliate and kill M, who gave him up years ago as a no longer very useful agent in return for the lives of a bunch of other agents. He was mutilated but not killed by his suicide cyanide capsule, and now he’s angry.
The debut of this character is one of the weakest points in the movie, even though the actual shot is pretty memorable. Javier Bardem does make a vicious and creepy villain, but before appearing on screen he is built up by those who know him and those who don’t as the most fearsome foe you could imagine. In fact, he kept so conspicuously off screen until Bond meets him face to face that you begin to suspect the film is setting up a “surprise twist” with one of the other characters turning out to really be the villain. The film even provides a number of useful suspects, including a new, younger tech-nerdy Q, and a suspiciously highly-billed Ralph Fiennes as an apparently unimportant bureaucrat.
Even though none of those suspects would have been satisfying, it’s a bit disappointing that Silva doesn’t turn out to be someone we have some familiarity with. It makes his debut anti-climactic, so I would have preferred if he’d just been seeded in the film earlier, like “normal”.
Anyway, it turns out he’s taken a page out of the Joker’s book and gotten captured on purpose as a way to further his eeeeevil plans, and those plans seem to work perfectly because he is just so gosh-darn smart with computers. So he goes after M but fails thanks to Bond and Ralph Fiennes, and Bond takes M away into the film’s final act, to his family home in Scotland. This part of the movie is the least like any James Bond film we’ve seen before, but works for that reason. I felt like that though the general story beat of the hero and his allies preparing for the inevitable siege was familiar, I enjoyed the intrigue of seeing how it would be handled in a Bond film. The setting, with Bond surrounded by memories of his youth and parents, really does help to humanize the cold and brutal agent, and the mixing of M with the loyal childhood groundskeeper (a surrogate mother and father, in a sense) draws out aspects of the character that we haven’t really seen before.
And of course, it all culminates in (SPOILERS, remember?) the death of M, a moment that is appropriately heart breaking for Bond. Whereas Silva is enraged with is “mother” and wants to kill her, Bond is the son who’s angry and even rebellious, but still loyal to the family, who still “loves” his mother. I know this is not the sort of analysis that sounds like it’d fit a James Bond movie, but I think it does work here. This whole sequence is really the moment where the Daniel Craig version of the character – the tormented, heartless killer – grows up, even finds peace of a sort. In fact, the whole conclusion of the movie celebrates the 50th anniversary of the franchise by bringing things around to more-or-less where they were back in 1962 – with M, Q, and Miss Moneypenny all in place in a very familiar looking office, and especially with Bond becoming a less tortured figure, similar to Sean Connery’s portrayal – still a killer, but seemingly more comfortable with who he is, ready to move forward, as he says, “with pleasure.”
So, in the final analysis, I liked the movie quite a bit, in spite of some weaknesses. Bond’s “resurrection” at the start seems nothing short of miraculous, but oh well – we get over that after a bit. He’s a bit of a jerk when he’s chasing after Patrice, allowing two innocent guards to get killed. The initial confrontation with Silva are a bit lackluster, and the scenes prior to Silva’s escape threaten to be a little tedious because they are so predictable. But after that it picks up and stays pretty entertaining until the end. And along the way we get some very good cinematography – particularly the office building where Bond and Patrice fight, and Scotland…just Scotland. The wide shots of the countryside are extraordinary and did make the film worth seeing on the big screen.
I have some other, more nerdy things to say about this film, but I might wait until another post to do this.