When a former agent gains access to an important hard drive and begins to threaten MI6 and M, James must come back from “the dead” to protect his employers and friends.
Bond, James Bond:
Daniel Craig returns for his third performance as the famous British agent, and he still fits in the role like a glove, with his brute nature still being a standout. In the early goings of this movie, dude straight up rams his motorcycle into the wall of a bridge so that he can fly off that bridge and land on a train. I remember getting a thrill the very first time I saw this movie, and now, almost six years later, I still get that same level of excitement. Just how willing this man is to throw his body around to get the job done will never not blow me away. That brute-level is also on display later in the same sequence when he uses the claw of a crane to rip off the back of the preceding train car, so that he can jump onto the train. After he lands on the very edge of what is left of the train car, he quickly fixes his cuffs and begins to stalk his way through the car. He’s just cooler than any of us ever will be, and I’m okay with that.
What is really interesting, and I think pivotal, to this movie, is the idea that this iteration of Bond is past his expiration date as an agent, even before he gets shot off of a bridge in the film’s opening sequence. I really like this because the film confronts what it would be like to be an older, beaten spy, and it feels so much more human than this franchise had been in the past. Especially when you consider Roger Moore kept playing this character into his early 1,570s, and they expected us to believe he was the same man he was in Live and Let Die. Here we are in the third movie of Craig’s stay, and we’re confronting fatigue in a spy. He got shot in the shoulder and his accuracy is messed up because of the pain that it creates. He can’t just hold onto the bottom of an elevator like it’s this easy task. It really is remarkable. A lot of this is more in the script than it is Craig’s performance, but it fits here.
However, what is a part of Craig’s performance is the dramatic moments of this film and how well he pulls them off. From the first scene when he returns to England after “returning from the dead,” and confronts M in her apartment, Craig is yet again showing how strong of a dramatic performer he can be as this character. In this scene he confronts her for ordering his fellow agent (more on her in a bit) to shoot, even though it could kill James, to how little she cared about another agent he had to leave dying in an apartment. Craig and Dench’s chemistry in this movie is a huge part of the reason it works, and I’ll praise it more in a bit, but this scene is a great example of how essential their relationship has been in Craig’s years as Bond. He knew he could do the job if given the opportunity, but she took that out of his hands when she ordered the other agent to shoot, and he’s hurt by that lack of trust. Their relationship provides another great moment of drama for Craig when M succumbs to her wounds at the end of the film. He showed his ability to grieve at the end of Casino Royale, and it comes through here as well, as he quietly closes her eyes before allowing himself to feel the grief of the moment. He really is excellent in this role.
Unfortunately, this marks the first occurrence of creepy Bond during Craig’s tenure. The scene isn’t quite as cringe-worthy as some of the worst Connery moments, or even the occasional awful Roger Moore moment (mostly the first meeting with Maud Adams’ character), it’s still quite noteworthy. During an incredible scene in a bar with a woman named Severine (more on her performance in a bit), Bond deduces that she was sold into the sex slave trade at a young age, and was therefore sexually assaulted for most of her life. After he fights his way out of the bar, he goes to her ship (information she gave him) and finds her showering. He undresses and just invites himself into the shower. This would be troubling on its own because this is incredibly presumptuous, but knowing her past when it comes to sexual encounters, and how many, if not all of them, lacked consent, just forcing his way into the shower is intensely tone deaf. What makes it even stranger is that their previous scene isn’t particularly noteworthy for being flirtatious. The entire conversation is about how afraid she is of the film’s villain, and how she is hopeful that James is the one that can kill him. The next time we see them together is him walking into her shower. It’s deeply troubling, and it’s a shame, because the previous two films, and, my memory of Spectre, this is the only mark of Bond being a creep (other than all the murder, but, Queen and Country and all that).
After the franchise failed to replicate the success of Chris Cornell’s hard rock “You Know My Name” with “Another Way To Die,” the franchise smartly returns to a more classic feel with the song, bringing in the incredible Adele to sing the film’s title song, and, y’all, this is so damn good. Although the use of the title in the song has nothing to do with the title of the film (“Let the sky fall/when it crumbles/we will stand tall/face it all together” vs Bond’s ancestral home), that’s my only qualm with this. Adele’s voice is made for this franchise, and I so deeply hope they bring her back. She just has this intense, yet soothing voice, and she can just crush a belt, like towards the end of the song when she says the title one last time, holds the note for a solid ten seconds, and then just makes this small “ooof” sound, as if even she’s amazed at what she just did. Add some incredible horns and strings over that voice, and you have an all-time Bond theme song, and easily the best song over the last thirty years. And the first time a Bond song won an Oscar, which, I mean, I would have given it to “A View To A Kill,” but at least Adele deserved it.
Having this be the first movie I saw in theaters, Javier Bardem’s performance as Raoul Silva basically ruined James Bond villains for me, because he is so good and fun and terrifying in this role, I expected that this would be the norm, and it simply isn’t. Even before we meet him, we are set up to understand how terrifying that he is, thanks to Severine’s performance (almost to her), and when he finally shows up, he does not disappoint. This is one of the best villain introduction scenes I have ever seen, as James has been tied to a chair in a large room, filled with computer-stuff (I have a Master’s degree), and Bardem walks onto the set from an elevator and delivers this delicious monologue. He tells a tale about his grandmother and how she lived on this island, and that when she had a rat problem, she found a way to trap the rats in a small confined space, forcing them to eat each other. Eventually, only two rats remained, which she then released into the wild, knowing that their taste for rat would be unquenchable and that her rat problem would now be taken care of by these two rats. It’s all done in one long take, as Bardem shuffles down the path until he is standing right in front of Bond, and it’s just this perfectly executed moment. From there, Bardem plays his character with a deliciously malevolent glee, as he explains that his entire plan, from stealing the hard drive, to blowing up MI6, is all so that he can be given an opportunity to see M one last time before he kills her. You see, he was a former agent who M gave up in exchange for other agents. He trusted her and she betrayed him, something he feels like James can sympathize with (too bad James isn’t a sociopath. Well, okay, a little bit, but different). After his cyanide capsule didn’t kill him, he realized that his rage and sense of betrayal was keeping him alive until he could end M’s life. Although his plan is a bit too complex for this goal (I’ll touch on that later), the motivation is kind of refreshing and simplistic. It reminds me of Bond’s motivation in License to Kill, or Zemo’s motivation in Captain America: Civil War. He has one simple goal: to kill a single person and will do whatever it takes to achieve that goal, and Bardem’s manic performance encapsulates that perfectly.
He also has one of the all-time great villain death performances, similar to Christopher Walken laughing before he falls off the bridge in A View To A Kill. Gun resting against M’s head, and his head against her’s, ensuring a way that their story can end together, Silva is shocked when he feels a sudden pain in his back. He turns to realize that James has successfully thrown a knife, killing him. Before he dies, he groans with frustration and looks annoyed with James. Falling to his knees, James walks up to him and says “Last rat standing.” The last look on Bardem’s face is just this perfect mix of barely contained rage and annoyance. It’s a perfect cap to my favorite villain in the franchise.
So this might be a little bit of a controversial decision, depending on what people require in their definition of the pro-typical Bond Girl, but I don’t care what other people think, because Dame Judi Dench’s M is so obviously the Bond girl of this movie. This movie is about her and her relationship with James, and if that isn’t the foundation for a great Bond girl, I don’t know what is. And, of course, Dame Judi Dench comes to play in this movie. Even outside of the main emotional crux of this film, she is still as dry and brutal as ever. When Gareth Mallory (more on him in a moment) confronts her about her employees losing a hard drive that has the secret and true identity of every undercover NATO agent (why does this exist? It’s asking to be stolen), he explains that he’s trying to help her retire with dignity, to which she cuts back with “To hell with dignity. I’ll leave when the job is done.” Even in the face of a pseudo-superior, she has zero time for anyone’s nonsense. This continues during the scene where James confronts her in her apartment. Despite being the one to give the order that led to his “death,” she makes it clear she does not regret her decision. She did what she had to do, and she isn’t going to start coddling him now, as she tells him that MI6 sold Bond’s flat after he “died” and he can find a hotel because he “bloody well [is] not sleeping here.” And, again, in another perfect moment of how brilliantly cold she can be, after Silva goes into detail about how he feels betrayed by her, and how he has literally lived off his need to get his revenge against her, she tells him that he will be put to death for his crimes, and that his name will be struck from a memorial wall of fellow agents, and that “soon your past will be as nonexistent as your future. I’ll never see you again.” I could watch her talk down to men for the rest of my life, and I would never get tired of it. She just oozed confidence and cool in the face of almost every circumstance, and I am so grateful for the time that we got to spend with her in this role.
I say almost every circumstance because when death is literally staring her in her face, at the final confrontation in the chapel at Skyfall, the terror she displays is impeccable. Silva is bloody, dirty and crazed looking, as he slowly walks towards her and puts a gun to her. When he puts the gun in her hand, rests the gun against her temple, and then his head on the opposite side of her head, her terror puts you on edge, because you really don’t know how this is going to end. With Bardem’s unhinged performance being matched by Dench’s horror, this scene is about as tense as this franchise has ever gotten, and the sound of Bond’s knife hitting his back is like a giant sigh of relief.
A short-lived feeling of relief, as she falls to the ground in pain, as the blood loss she has suffered from a wound earlier in the climax has finally brought her too close to death for her to come back. James rushes towards her and holds her in her arms. She weakly rasps “I suppose it’s too late to make a run for it.” James responds “I’m game if you are,” but he can’t quite muster the confidence he is looking for, but he is able to give her a small smile. She turns her eyes to him and says “I did get one thing right,” shortly before her head falls back, and she breathes her last. I just rewatched this scene to describe this moment, and even just typing the words caused my eyes to well up. The relationship that the first two films of Craig’s tenure build is so essential to this moment and everything has been executed so well up to this point, that this part just destroys you. I’m not sure another M could have pulled this off as well as Dench does, and I know that no other Bond could have done it (with the maybe exception of early Connery). It’s an intensely emotional and powerful moment, and it caps off one of the longest and best tenures in this franchise, and easily one of the best performances by a female lead in the franchise.
A film having two female characters for Bond to interact with is not unheard of, but it’s rare that I leave with a high opinion of both of them. Obviously, I adore Dench’s work as M, and the story she gets here, but Berenice Marlohe really makes the most of her one major scene as Severine in this movie. I talk about her a bit above, but that’s more to focus on the creepy time that James spends with her, which is not ideal. She does this really great little performance as she meets James in the bar, knowing that he is the man that fought an assassin the night before. She starts the scene a little playful, discussing the guns that both of them have, all with a small smile on her face. But the scene and her performance change the second James mentions her employer (Silva), as her smile fades and fear begins to creep in. The fear increases as James explains that she knows the men with her are fewer bodyguards and more prison guards, ensuring she does not try to escape. She laughs sadly as she tells James that he does not truly understand fear until he has met her employer. When he says that he will try to kill Silva, and she asks if he will succeed, he quips “someone usually dies,” causing her to let out a small bark of a laugh. She doubts he can do what he says, but she knows she’s his best bet. This is all in a three-minute scene, but Marlohe just crushes every moment of it and allows for an appropriate amount of buildup for the eventual reveal of Silva. She does all of this in a fast-paced three-minute scene at a bar. It’s a standout moment in a standout film, and her character deserves better than the shower scene she eventually gets, and for sure deserved better than her death scene, where she is murdered by Silva in something that amounts to a game.
I briefly mention a fellow agent in the section about Bond, and this is the best opportunity to mention the introduction of a new Moneypenny, here played by Naomie Harris. The really interesting thing is we meet Moneypenny in the very first scene of the film, but we do not discover her identity until the very end of the film. The script does a very good job of never drawing attention to the fact that we never hear her name until the film’s closing scene but also sets up throughout the film who she is. Obviously, when I first saw this movie in theaters, I did not have a whole lot of knowledge of the overall canon of James Bond, or the significance of Moneypenny as a character, but watching it now that I have all of that, their interplay throughout the film clearly feels like a classic James/Moneypenny relationship. Deeply flirtatious (she shaves his face when he is presumably naked) and quippy (James: “A moving target is much more difficult to hit” Moneypenny: “You better keep moving then), it’s everything you want from a James/Moneypenny relationship, with the added bonus of Moneypenny actually existing as a human person, instead of just someone there to interact with James. I don’t remember much of her in Spectre but I’m hopeful that continues.
Not only do we get a new Moneypenny, but we are introduced to Ben Whishaw’s iteration of Q, although the film does not mess with this reveal, outside of James’ initial shock at such a young kid being his new quartermaster. Although Q pops up throughout the film, their first meeting is just one of the best scenes in this franchise, period, let alone the best Q scene. Although it does feel very scripted (who actually talks like this?), it’s still so remarkable. Just how quickly James is able to go from “ugh, this kid? For real” to a genuine respect for him is just so well earned, and I’m supplying it below because I just know my description of it will not be able to do it justice.
Although I discussed M above, I still get to complete the MI6 triumvirate in this section because of the introduction of Ralph Fiennes’ Gareth Mallory, who takes over as M by film’s end. And, again, the relationship growth between James and a character in MI6 is just so well done. Mallory is introduced as someone above M, who is trying to help her leave MI6 with dignity, after the failure of the hard drive situation (which is still deeply, deeply stupid). After he figures out that no matter what he tries, M is going to go out on her terms, he works mostly with James. The two characters meet when M officially tells James that is cleared to re-enter active duty, at which point Mallory inquires, quite fairly, about if James really thinks this is a good idea. Most agents aren’t given an out as good as Bond had, so why come back, even after getting shot? By the end of the conversation, he tells James good luck, and that he better not “cock it up.” From the script to the way that Fiennes inhabits the role, with a wonderful combination of dignified and authoritative, while still being deeply cool, this scene is another standout. Having it revealed that he is the new M by film’s end is such a treat, and I look forward to what he does during the rest of his time as this character.
The last character I really want to note here is Albert Finney’s Kincaid, who is Bond’s old housekeeper at Skyfall, who is still there, despite the fact that the entire Bond family is dead or hasn’t been to the house in decades, but whatever. This character, in general, is deeply unnecessary (I really don’t think he adds anything to this movie), but I like him. He’s fun.
Despite the reappearance of Q, this movie is still pretty light on gadgets, which I guess is a part of the realism of the Craig years. Q simply gives James a gun that is wired to only fire when it senses James’ handprint, and then a small radio that sends out a signal to MI6, letting them know where to find him. Both are simple and to the point, which is how I like my gadgets in these movies.
I think if you turn your brain off, this is one of the better stories of the franchise. It’s a villain’s long-term revenge plan against the woman he feels betrayed him, despite how much he would have done for her. When you start to pry even a little bit, things really start to unravel. Why does this document listing every undercover agent, their secret identity, and their location, even exist? Why is it just on a random laptop hard drive? How did Silva’s plan work out this perfectly? I’m totally fine with the idea that he knew that they would find him and that he would know MI6’s failsafe plan if their original location was compromised. What I can’t buy is that he would know exactly, basically to the minute, when Q branch would hook his computer into their system and when they would figure out the passcode that releases him? How would he know that this would all work out so he could arrive at M’s hearing about the stupid hard drive thing? How did he know where James would catch him, to the point he could set up an explosive device, that would allow a subway train to fall through it seconds later? I know, I know, suspension of disbelief, but this goes well beyond that. Even considering all that, I still prefer this story to some of the others, because it’s at least engaging and fun, and then the Home Alone ending, where James, M, and Kincaid need to set up a series of traps in order to defend M from Silva’s violent attack is a genuine joy to watch. Again, it’s not an unentertaining story, quite the opposite. It’s just way too convenient for me to act like this is the best thing the franchise has done.
Miscellaneous Spy Business:
-Between the black-and-white introduction of Casino Royale, the energetic car chase from Quantum of Solace, and an exciting chase and fight that ends with James getting shot off of a bridge, Craig, pound for pound, has the most exciting cold opens.
-I love that a random beach-side bar in this random tropical country just happens to has Wolf Blitzer playing on TV at dawn so that James can know he needs to get back to England.
-The word association test is one of the best acted moments for any Bond actor. He plays his frustration and annoyance so well, without ever leaning into over-the-top eye rolls. He just blankly stares at the doctor. The small subtle shock he shows at the mention of “Skyfall” is a perfect capper to it all.
-James questions why the only gadgets he is receiving are a special gun and a radio, and Q responds “What did you expect? An exploding pen?” It’s also interesting that he questions why his gadgets are so boring, as he (Craig) has never super had gadgets before.
-It would be a crime for me to not talk about Roger Deakins’ cinematographer in this movie. He’s easily one of the best cinematographers around right now, and that is on full display here. If I had to point out one scene where this is most readily apparent, it’s the Shanghai fight scene between James and Patrice. The colors of the outside lights, combined with the darkness of the room that they are in, and how those things mix together with the entire glass walls of the room that they are in, allows for this gloriously tense sequence, that I don’t think another cinematographer could have pulled off. Here’s just a bunch of pretty shots from this movie. You’re welcome.
-The Komodo Dragon fight scene in this movie is fun, but after having watched this entire franchise, it just doesn’t seem to fit in a Craig movie. If I told you that a fight scene ended with a Komodo dragon biting a dude’s leg, and then Bond uses another dragon as a step stool to escape the pen, you would rightfully guess that the scene is in a Moore movie. Not the case.
-So, I’ve heard that people have an issue with the Home Alone ending of this movie, and those people are dreadfully incorrect. It’s fun and shows how skilled James is, that he’s able to take the things around him and find a way to survive.
-Watching James get angrier over his car blowing up than having his ancestral family home go up in flames is such an entertaining and memorable moment in the climax of the film, and to have it followed up with James taking one last look at the house before saying “I always hated this place” is just a perfect way to lighten an otherwise tense sequence.
-Early in the film, James mocks a pug figurine that M has on her desk. After her death, she bequeaths the pug to him. Moneypenny guesses that it’s a hint that he should take a desk job. James smiles and says “quite the opposite.” Their relationship was a gift.
-The ending of this film is such an excellent callback to the franchise’s earlier films, as James leaves Moneypenny’s office, after flirting with her, in order to receive a mission from M. Without the context of the franchise, it’s a fun little ending. With the franchise knowledge that I have now, it just gives you this intense excitement for what comes next.
This was the very first Bond movie I saw in a theater, and I enjoyed the hell out of it, and I still enjoy it now. Craig is still perfectly falling into the role of Bond on every level, and this movie gives an iconic character like Judi Dench’s M a perfect send-off. As much as I love Bardem’s performance, his plan works out a little bit too perfect for the story of this movie to hold up as well as Craig’s first performance as the spy. Add to that a tone-deaf shower scene between James and Severine, and this movie doesn’t hold up to a perfect level, but it’s pretty close, and I’m still way more likely to rewatch this over a lot of the other movies in this franchise. 009/0010. These ratings are silly.
TJ At The Movies Will Return With: Spectre
References Skyfall Wikipedia Page https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Skyfall Photo/Video Credits Cover Photo http://www.007.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/BOND-007Com-Sky-movies-650px.jpg Daniel Craig with Gun https://secure.i.telegraph.co.uk/multimedia/archive/02198/daniel-craig-gun_2198095k.jpg Tired Daniel Craig https://i0.wp.com/www.fitzness.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/daniel-craig-skyfall-james-bond-training-scene.jpg Adele Skyfall https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DeumyOzKqgI Silva https://tjatthemovies.files.wordpress.com/2018/05/289d1-javierbardemskyfall.png Dead Silva https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eTeBFTlR0VI&t=143s M http://electroshadow.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/Dench-Skyfall-3.jpg Severine https://rhulgeopolitics.files.wordpress.com/2015/11/alic-3.png?w=640 Moneypenny https://thegrio.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/naomie-harris-skyfall.jpg Q Scene https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=57Uy9jPxxwI Gareth Mallory http://www.bondsuits.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/Ralph-Fiennes-Grey-Suit-Shirt-Tie.jpg Jellyfish Shot https://nofilmschool.com/sites/default/files/styles/article_wide/public/roger_deakins_skyfall.jpg?itok=mtEJfka1 Scotland Shot http://www.indiewire.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/wpid-photo-oct-29-2012-1139-pm2.jpg?w=680 Lit by Flames Shot https://filmgrab.files.wordpress.com/2014/01/6162.jpg?w=1280