The 007 Collective is a bi-monthly column in which I revisit every official feature in the James Bond franchise and review how they hold up today. Along with a review of each film, each article in this 10-month-long series will dive into the historical place and production on each film in question. It will also feature a dossier i.e. a fact sheet with superlatives, ratings, rankings, best, worsts and other fun stuff in line with the format you’ve seen in my annual Year in Superlatives articles. This project isn’t meant to be the final word on the Bond franchise. It’s merely my take on the series. For previous entries, click here.
Today on The 007 Collective, I look back at the 23rd and most recent Bond film to hit theaters – the billion dollar grossing, critical and commercial juggernaut SKYFALL.
Mission Title: Skyfall
James Bond: Daniel Craig
Release Date: November 9, 2012
Source Material: Original screenplay
After a mission goes horribly wrong and a disk of MI6 agents ends up in enemy hands, M is forced by Gareth Mallory, the newly-appointed Chairman of Intelligence and Security, to contemplate an early retirement. But when the names of MI6 agents start popping up on YouTube, with a threat to release new names every week, M realizes that the mysterious and elusive enemy is intentionally targeting her for one of her past deeds. With her world closing in on her, she puts her trust in the only ally she knows: Bond.
When Skyfall opened in the U.S. in November 2012—a month after the 50th anniversary of Dr. No’s release date—it was greeted with the most euphoric critical reception I’ve ever seen leveled at a Bond film. Some critics called it the most emotionally complex Bond movie ever, others lavished praise at Javier Bardem’s villain; some called it a complete reinvention of the franchise while many others flat out declared it to be the “Best.Bond.Ever.” Audiences seemed to agree, making it the highest grossing film of the franchise (unadjusted for inflation) and the first to gross over a billion dollars at the worldwide box office. Adele’s haunting title song’s chart-topping success only aided the film’s immense popularity. Over the course of awards season, the movie continued to rack in the kudos, landing on over 90 top ten lists, and taking home at least 60 prizes including two Oscars, two BAFTAs, five Guild awards and a Golden Globe, thus making it the most lauded movie of the franchise.
Any way you take it, Skyfall is the most successful Bond movie ever. It’s arguably the best acted film of the bunch. Both Bond veterans, Daniel Craig and Judi Dench, are in top form with the later delivering her best work in seven movies. While I prefer Craig’s work in Casino Royale over his performance here, this may be his most confident performance to date. There’s a saying that the third film is where the actor playing Bond truly comes into his own and I think that rule mostly applies for Craig too. Both actors also receive outstanding support from Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris and Ben Wishaw, all who put fresh takes on familiar characters. Last but definitely not least… Skyfall’s villain, played with relish by the great Javier Bardem, is one for the Bond books. He’s funny, menacing and absolutely terrifying. He gets one of the best introduction scenes I’ve seen in a Bond film and he follows it up with an inspired performance worthy of all the acclaim hailed at it. The dialogue, credited to John Logan and Bond regulars Neil Purvis and Robert Wade, crackles with wit and sharp one-liners. I enjoyed the banter between Bond and Eve and especially the droll back-and-forth between Bond and Q. The amount of humor here was a welcome respite after the dourness of Quantum of Solace. Hopefully it continues to play a role in the upcoming SPECTRE too.
On the technical side of things, Skyfall has no peer in this franchise. It is, without doubt, the most lavishly-produced entry of the franchise. I’m sure it’ll hold that claim to fame for only two more months but for now it remains king. Oscar-winning director Sam Mendes (American Beauty, Road to Perdition) classes up the joint with his refined (not to mention stylish) handling of what is, let’s face it, always been B-material. I was fond of Mendes’ exploration of Bond’s relationship with M, whose maternal role with Bond is given greater emphasis here than in his previous two films. Less successful is the filmmaker’s attempt at visiting Bond’s ancestral home which feels phony and tacked on at best. Nevertheless, character is the emphasis all-around in this film, not plot; Alas, the lack of focus on plot eventually hurts the movie too, but more on that later. Style is another major motivator for Mendes. This is immediately apparent in legendary D.P. Roger Deakins’ lush cinematography. From Turkey to Shanghai to the Moors, this is one strikingly handsome movie. Deakins work really is in a class of its own – taking up the quality of the film more than a few notches. Take a look at these shots from the movie… they speak for themselves.
I could spend an entire article talking about Deakins cinematography but there are other elements to get to. The score by Thomas Newman effectively sets the mood, adjusting its tone and pace with every locale and plot beat. Adele’s title song is top 10 material. So are the awe-inducing opening credits which the song is set to. The editing is crisp; the action – from the memorable cold open to the silhouetted Shanghai fight to the explosive finale—is clean, crisp and riveting.
All these elements conspire to make Skyfall one of the best of the series but the very best? I wouldn’t get so carried away. With its technical prowess and high-scoring individual elements, it certainly has the visage of it but in all honesty, I don’t even think it’s the best Daniel Craig Bond. Perhaps a better descriptor would be most overrated but then again, I feel like Goldfinger makes an excellent case for that title too. The element that prevents Skyfall from sitting at the perch of the Best Bond of All Time is its plot, which sorry to say it, is an incoherent mess that loses its way after a flawless first act.
First, it’s not hard to notice the number of glaring similarities with The Dark Knight. There’s the part about a physically disfigured madman who only wants to watch things burn. There’s his master plan of wanting to be captured by the hero only to make a daring escape in order to catch his ultimate victim – an important figure of state (Harvey Dent, M). There’s also the part about the villain forcing the hero to reveal himself (Batman to reveal his identity, M to admit her sins) by killing innocent victims. And both films have a scene in which the villain and hero have a face-to-face chat where the antagonist explains how he isn’t too different from the hero. Both movies even feature a segment where the heroes travel to an Asian metropolis to apprehend a minor villain. I was half-expecting Silva to look at Bond and go, “Why so serious?” After all, it would make perfect sense with this Bond.
Aside from the similarities with The Dark Knight, another major issue is Silva’s scheme itself, which is riddled with more holes than Sonny Corleone. While it was refreshing to see a villain interested in plain old fashioned revenge, especially in a series that has been characterized by villains with outrageous world domination schemes, did Silva’s plan have to be so convoluted and illogical? Getting me to believe that he planned to be caught is one thing. Asking me to accept the he planned the entire series of events after he got caught is preposterous. Let’s get this straight: Silva wanted to be caught so he could hack into MI6 using his laptop virus, then escape from his glass box, somehow flee into the London Underground dressed as a cop, then confront Bond at an abandoned subway station at the exact place where he planned to have a subway train fall on Bond’s head, then walk into the Houses of Parliament and then attempt to shoot M in the face just as she’s being investigated by a committee? It’s a plan that relies on so many uncontrollable variables neatly falling into your lap that it betrays the capital “S” serious tone this movie had spent an hour and change establishing.
Moreover, if Silva’s plan was to only disgrace and kill M, why go through all the theatrics of getting caught in the first place? Wouldn’t it be smarter to embarrass M by killing MI6 agents, slowly driving her mad, and then walk up to her at the end and shoot her instead of this extremely risky and convoluted plan? If you feel that I’m thinking too much into this considering the history of this franchise and its profound silliness, I’ll offer up this defense: Most of the other Bond movies never pretended they were dead serious movies to begin with. Mendes and team want you to know from the onset that this is a class affair. When you position your film as a serious exploration of Bond’s back-story, you open yourself up to scrutiny and criticism. And unfortunately, this film’s entire second act is a joke.
It’s to the creative team’s credit that Skyfall re-configures its pieces during its final act – a refreshingly small-scale (but no less explosive) affair that brings the personalized stakes to the forefront. Yes, many have brought up the hilarious similarities to Home Alone and Straw Dogs, and that Bond’s plan of protecting M all by himself at Skyfall reeks of vanity and bone-headedness. Still, the sequence works despite the similarities and lack of thinking done by the screenwriters. It depicts Bond depending on his wits and not his gadgets (aside from the Aston Martin DB5, naturally) to get the better of his enemies. This, together with the emotionally gutting scene in the chapel with M, and the final scene in which the new MI6 team shapes up for the future, brings the movie to a wonderful and soaring conclusion, and neatly ties up the three story arc of Bond becoming Bond. With most of the team from Skyfall returning for SPECTRE this fall, including director Mendes, writers Logan, Purvis and Wade, stars Craig, Fiennes, Harris and Wishaw and composer Newman, expectations will undoubtedly be sky high. I only hope they’ve not let the acclaim get to their heads and ignored the issues of this one.
The Daniel Craig cold opens have become more sophisticated and action-heavy as the series as progressed. Casino Royale’s opening, a back-to-basics sequence shot in stark black-and-white detailed Bond’s first two kills. Quantum of Solace opening sequence picked up directly after the events of its predecessor’s finale, with Bond, in his Aston Martin, being chased across a highway in Italy by a pair of Quantum goons. Skyfall’s outshines both of those sequences with a massive action set-piece in Tangiers that begins with a car chase in a marketplace, then morphs into a bike chase across rooftops and concludes with a brutal hand-to-hand fight atop a moving train. It’s a show-stopping start in which the stakes are continually heightened as evidenced by M’s understandably aggressive tone. It also does well with establishing the tone of the picture –serious but peppered with a healthy dose of humor, style and pizazz. The sequence follows Bond and fellow agent Eve as they trail an assassin named Patrice who has stolen a hard drive containing the identities of MI6 secret agents. But as delightful as the action sequences are, it’s the conclusion of the sequence, in which Eve accidentally shoots Bond instead of Patrice, leaving him presumably dead, that packs the hardest punch. Although we know Bond isn’t really dead, it’s nevertheless, a bold way to open the movie.
Title Designer: Daniel Kleinmann
Title Song: “Skyfall” performed by Adele
Famous Quote: “Let the sky fall/When it crumbles/We will stand tall/Face it all together/At skyfall”
Choosing Adele to write and record the title song for Skyfall was a bit of a no-brainer. She was, after all the hottest star in the music industry that year, with her album 21 already well on its way to become one of the most critically lauded and financially successful records of the decade. There’s not much to add about this famous song. It’s a grand and haunting ballad that harkens back to the franchise’s classic Shirley Bassey theme tunes. With Adele’s sultry voice, the song’s somber tone and its top-notch production, the track instantly became a critical and chart success and paved the way for the movie to breakout at the box office. The song also swept awards season in the Best Song category, becoming the fourth from the Bond franchise to get nominated for the Best Song Oscar (after “Live and Let Die,” “Nobody Does it Better,” and “For Yours Eyes Only”). It was also the first to actually win the award!
Equally impressive is Daniel Kleinmann’s striking credit sequence which goes deep into the mind of 007 and explores his psychological mindset. The sequence is meant to show a 007 battling himself and trying to keep up with a rapidly changing world and avoid death. To accomplish this, Kleinmann cleverly mixes several thematic elements from the film – including death heads, a graveyard with tombstones, a beating heart, guns, women, knives, and blood-stained targets modelled in Daniel Craig’s likeness with several locations of the movie (including Chinese lanterns) to create a dark and surreal kaleidoscope.
The Big Bad: Brilliant, flamboyant, insane and vengeance-fueled former MI6 agent Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem). A brilliant hacker, arguably the best in the world, Silva is a charismatic and master manipulator who was betrayed by M and sold off to the Chinese in exchange for other British agents during the transfer of Hong Kong in the 90s. Determined to kill M, he concocts a complex (and needlessly convoluted) scheme to destroy M and MI6 by first stealing a disk full of MI6 agents and then releasing them on the internet. Bardem’s creepy, disturbing and sinister performance sells the insane and makes you believe that this is an unhinged madman with nothing to lose.
Henchman: The French mercenary Patrice (Ola Rapace) who escapes Bond during the cold open after a lengthy chase across a marketplace, rooftops and a fist fight on a train in Istanbul. Patrice is a trained gun-for-hire who works for Silva and is instrumental in stealing the disk of MI6 agents for Silva.
World Domination Plan: Silva has no intention of ruling the world or extorting millions from governments. His wants one thing and one thing only: To kill M, no matter the cost. Stealing the names of MI6 agents was simply a means to get closer to M. Not the smartest way to get closer to M in order to kill her.
Primary: Olivia Mansfield a.k.a. M (Judi Dench)
Instead of Sévérine or Eve, the character I’m choosing as the primary Bond girl of Skyfall is M. Yes, she isn’t the traditional Bond girl i.e. she neither is attracted to Bond nor has sex with him but she’s the most integral female character in the film – far more than the other two who barely make a dent in the scheme of things. I don’t think there’s been a Bond movie that has had so little use for its Bond girls than Skyfall. Anyway, I digress. Over the course of the seventeen years since she inherited the role of M from Robert Brown, the Oscar-winning actress has appeared as the MI6 chief in seven movies. Although she has had moments where she was given more work to do (The World is not Enough, Casino Royale), Skyfall is the most pivotal installment for her character. It’s the one she’ll be remembered for. She gets tested the most, both emotionally and physically, and her relationship with Bond is given more heft as well. The fact that she meets a tragic end only amplifies the importance of her place in the movie, and the franchise.
Others: Sévérine (Bérénice Marlohe) – a gorgeous former sex worker who Bond ruthlessly takes advantage of, pumps for information, and then casually shrugs off when she is murdered by Silva.
Eve (Naomie Harris) – a trusty MI6 agent who assists Bond during the mission in Turkey but who then accidentally shoots him, thus getting her stripped off field duty. Eve’s eventual role in the grand scheme of things is only revealed during the film’s final sequence.
The Turkish woman at the beach (Tonia Sotiropoulou)
Q (Ben Wishaw): After a two-film absence, the beloved character of Q returns to the series with Ben Wishaw becoming the fourth actor to play the role. Q’s first meeting with Bond at The National Gallery is one of the film’s comedic highlights, with Q delivering what is perhaps the film’s funniest line.
Eve Moneypenny (Naomie Harris): Like Q, this was the first time the character of Moneypenny returned to the franchise after a two-film absence. Harris’ performance as the character works remarkably well with Craig’s Bond – with the two establishing a friendly and playful rapport. Their sexually-fueled banter during the shaving sequence is a highlight that leaves you wondering whether or not they consummated their affair. I, for one, don’t think they did.
Gareth Mallory a.k.a. M (Ralph Fiennes): Taking over the mantle of M from Judi Dench, Fiennes indeed has a hard task ahead of him. But the actor, no stranger to taking on tough roles, already made a strong mark in this film with his tough but respected Gareth Mallory. And it’s a delight to see Fiennes in this role.
Tanner (Rory Kinnear): Kinnear makes his second appearance as the MI6 assistant of M in Skyfall. He aids Bond in identifying the location of Patrice.
Kinkade (Albert Finney): The gamekeeper at Bond’s childhood estate, Skyfall, Kinkade is a comic character who really serves no purpose in the movie.
Walter PPK: Bond gets a stylish Walter PPK that contains a skin scanner that enables only Bond to use it.
Micro Transistor radio: Used to help MI6 track his location when he is taken to Silva’s island.
Aston Martin DB5: Bond decides to use his old reliable Aston Martin DB 5 when they need to get off the grid and not allow Silva to track them. Bond threatens to eject M out of the car when she keeps blabbering, and then uses the guns on Silva’s goons during the climax. Predictably, it gets absolutely annihilated by Silva’s goons.
ODDS & ENDS
Most Memorable Quote:
[Bond, tied to a chair, is being interrogated by Silva who slowly unbuttons his shirt to look at his bullet wound scar from being shot three months earlier in Istanbul.]
Silva: Ooh! See what she’s done to you.
James Bond: Well, she never tied me to a chair.
Silva: Her loss.
[Silva starts to touch and caress Bond’s neck]
James Bond: Are you sure this is about M?
Silva: It’s about her… and you, and me. You see, we are the last two rats. We can either eat each other… mmm… or eat everyone else.
[Silva strokes Bond’s neck]
Silva: How you’re trying to remember your training now.
Silva: What’s the regulation to cope with this?
[Silva strokes both of Bond’s upper legs]
Silva: Well, first time for everything.
James Bond: Hm. What makes you think this is my first time?
[Silva sits back, looking alarmed and bemused]
Silva: Oh, Mr. Bond!
Most Embarrassing Quote:
James Bond: Some men are coming to kill us. We’re going to kill them first.
Most Memorable Moment:
In a movie with so many memorable moments, it’s difficult to select a single moment that is better than the rest. I strongly considered Bond’s fight with Patrice in the shadows in a skyscraper in Shanghai but in the end, I’m going with Silva’s first scene in which he slowly walks towards Bond, recounting his bizarre and disturbing story about rats before finally trying to unnerve Bond by caressing his neck and thighs. It’s a funny and very memorable sequence – perhaps the grandest introduction of a Bond villain since… ever!
Most Cringe-Worthy Moment:
The stupid Komodo dragon fight at the casino in Macau. It felt out of place and just weird. Was it homage to Live and Let Die? I couldn’t tell.
My favorite is Q’s first meeting with 007 at The National Gallery. Their witty exchange is sharp and a well-needed respite – something that continues to play a major part in the series moving forward. The best part of it all however is their final exchange.
[Q gives Bond his Walter PPK and a transistor radio as his gadgets]
James Bond: A gun and a radio. Not exactly Christmas, is it?
Q: You were expecting an exploding pen? We don’t really go in for that any more.
Anyone who’s seen GoldenEye will get that reference and veiled jab at the Brosnan movies.
Most Touching Moment:
M succumbing to her injuries and dying in Bond’s arms in the chapel at the end of the film, but not before delivering the following:
M: I suppose… It’s too late to make a run for it?
James Bond: Well, I’m game if you are.
M: I did get one thing right.
[She dies, and then Bond cries]
Most Shocking Moment:
M’s death! It’s as simple as that. No one expected that to happen.
[After escaping from drowning under a frozen lake, Bond shows up at the chapel, kills Silva and looks at M]
M: What took you so long?
James Bond: Got into some deep water
[After one of Silva’s goons gets eaten by a komodo dragon]
James Bond: Circle of life
Best Stunt/Action Scene:
With its trifecta of the car chase, the motorbike chase and the train fight, it has to be the opening sequence.
Number of Times Bond Has Sex: 2 (once with the Turkish woman, and once with Sévérine)
Number of people Bond kills: 22
Best Kill: After Silva’s goons in their helicopter obliterate his Bond’s Aston Martin to pieces, a furious Bond uses dynamite and gas to destroy his boyhood home Skyfall. In doing so, he takes out close to a dozen bad guys, including three in the helicopter which crashes straight into the building and goes up in an inferno of flames. Moral of the story: Don’t fuck with Bond’s car.
Locations visited (In order of appearance): Istanbul, Turkey, London, Shanghai, Macau, Scotland
Misogyny Meter: 5/10
Bond’s treatment of Eve and especially Sévérine is really poor. He constantly mocks Eve’s abilities as being unfit for field work, and he blatantly takes advantage of Sévérine, a former sex slave, by having sex with her and then using her to get closer to Silva. When she is shot dead by the villain, he simply scoffs at her death as a “waste of good scotch” in reference to the shot glass of whiskey that was placed over her head before Silva killed her.
Homophobia Meter: 0/10
Skyfall smartly straddles the mine field of Silva’s sexuality with Bond’s retort about Silva’s advances on him not being the first time that he’s had a gay relationship. Well done, John Logan. Well done.
Racism Rating: 0/10
Box Office: $304 million ($307 million adjusted for inflation; third highest overall). $1.1 billion worldwide (rank: 1/23)
Oscars: 2 wins (Best Song, Best Sound Editing) out of 5 nominations (Best Cinematography, Best Original Score, Best Sound Mixing)
007 Chronological Listing: 23/24
Director: Sam Mendes
Screenwriter: John Logan, Neil Purvis, Robert Wade
Cast: Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Javier Bardem, Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris, Ben Wishaw
Producer: Barbara Broccoli, Michael G. Wilson
Running time: 143 minutes
Companies: EON Productions, MGM, Sony Pictures
Rating: PG-13 (for intense violent sequences throughout, some sexuality, language and smoking)
The 007 Collective will return in:
YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE (1967)
Previous entries in The 007 Collective:
- Goldfinger (1964)
- A View to a Kill (1985)
- Diamonds Are Forever (1971)
- The World is Not Enough (1999)
- Die Another Day (2002)
- Quantum of Solace (2008)
- On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)
- Octopussy (1983)
- Thunderball (1965)
- GoldenEye (1995)
- The Man with the Golden Gun (1974)
- The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)
- The Living Daylights (1987)