This review is part of Project Bond, wherein over the course of 2014 we watch all of the James Bond movies in production order.
Summary: in which EEE we finish Project Bond!! Also, M is a target, Bond is broken, and this time they’re fighting one of their own.
Alex: before I get into more details, I want to get my very great disappointment with this film out of the way. Now I love this film, but there is one thing that makes me see red. All of my notes – because I wrote them like this was a first-time viewing – refer to “the black woman” until right at the end, when the MI6 operative who’s been fairly important finally gets introduced. Her being nameless is not the problem, because it doesn’t get in the way of her competence. And the big reveal – that she is Moneypenny!!! – is not the problem and actually that is SO COOL. I am happy to have Moneypenny back in the franchise, and I am beyond excited to have her as a former field agent. My problem is with why she is now M’s secretary. Bond expresses surprise early on that she wants to go back into the field after she’s cocked up badly (that is, shot Bond instead of the villain), saying “it’s not for everyone.” And then, at the end, after proving that she’s cool under pressure and all of that, Moneypenny agrees that field work “isn’t for everyone.” And I KNOW that that’s true, and I don’t MIND that Moneypenny has chosen a different way of serving queen and country. What I have a problem with is that a) it’s only a woman shown making this choice; and b) more importantly, WHY she makes this choice is NEVER explained. It would have been so easy to have her wounded in the line of duty and make it impossible to keep being in the field; or, sensitively, to somehow show her not coping in the field.
I may still be angry about this.
Anyway. Overall, I really like Skyfall. Apparently it’s the highest grossing Bond yet. It’s not as good as Casino Royale, but it makes up for Quantum of Solace.
I’ve loved the recent development of having M play a real role in the narrative, not just be a hand presenting an envelope, and this is taken to the ultimate here: M is the target of an ex-agent who is seeking to take down all of MI6 in revenge. M is tough as nails – shoot even if you think you might hit Bond; “to hell with dignity, I’ll leave when the job’s done” – as well as becoming more rounded: reference to a poetry-loving deceased husband, her lovely interactions with Bond’s gamekeeper Kincaid, making bombs from lightbulbs… I just love Dench. When I first saw the film I was really, really sad that they killed her off (that plus the Moneypenny issue made me very cranky), but I do accept that perhaps she wanted out of the franchise, and on reflection I have less problem with her going out in the field than simply retiring to get grumpy at her roses. (Actually, now I think about it I do believe she would have turned out like Helen Mirren in RED, and taken jobs on the side…). And while I’m talking about M, I like that Mallory is the new one. Yes it’s sad that we’re back to having a boy ordering a boy around; but Mallory has a proven track record (Northern Ireland, held by the IRA; saving M from Silva), and I like his spiky-with-respect relationship to Bond. I hope they get to keep Fiennes for the next one.
The narrative, of an ex-agent seeking revenge on MI6 in general and M in particular for selling him out, is not overly complicated (although getting there is; the first half feels far more devious than perhaps it needed to), but I found it thrilling nonetheless. Starting with someone stealing a list of NATO agents embedded in terrorist organisations, it looks like someone just out to make money, but then the information is revealed on YouTube… and Bond eventually finds his way to Silva and takes him into custody.
The concept that Silva wanted to be caught and taken to MI6’s new underground digs, that this was all “years in the planning,” is the first time in 23 films that I thought “well that’s a bit preposterous.”
Silva is an interesting villain and is a call back to Alec Trevelyan. While Alec had decades of familial revenge on his mind, Silva’s is entirely personal: he was traded to the Chinese for other British agents before the Hong Kong transfer. So he was genuinely badly treated – and when he reveals that he did, eventually, take his cyanide but it didn’t kill him, instead horrible mutilating him (oh look, the villain is physically scarred) – well. I do feel some sympathy. Of course he has already shown that he’s a psychopath (killing Severine; plus he was going against orders already when M gave him up), and continues to do so (and seems a bit Oedipal towards M), so it’s not too much sympathy.
Despite the narrative being focussed on Silva and his angst, let’s be honest: Bond is the focus of this film in a way that he is in no other one except perhaps Casino Royale. He’s at his worst in this film, spending the first part ‘enjoying death’, as he tells M, and looking haggard; and then trying to get back into shape… it’s not often that I actually feel sympathy for Bond, but it happens here. And then there’s Skyfall. His family home. A bleak house in a bleak part of Scotland that he hasn’t been back to as an adult, that has been sold since he was declared dead, and is still being looked after by a cranky gamekeeper who delights in putting Bond in his place (“jumped up little shit”). And we see a gravestone that seems to confirm that Bond is actually his name, which I was doubting after the discussion about M saying Silva’s real name.
Meanwhile, Q is back! I love Ben Wishaw as Q. I like Bond’s shock at his youth and their developing camaraderie as Q is unruffled and gives as good as he gets; I love Q’s aplomb and that he is comfortable with his own genius (no false humility here) Swoon.
And I also love the theme song.
James: Straight into the action, Bond with his gun drawn; cars and motorbikes in Istanbul, then onto a train with a Cat excavator as the finale to one of the more spectacular openings yet – Bond is shot and falls from the moving train to his apparent death in a raging river. The credits continue with the modern Bond graphic novel-style with daggers turning into crosses in a graveyard, blood and water. The Adelle penned and performed theme song harks back to the Shirley Bassey era. For the film nerds this is the movie where Bond ends up going digital – shot on an ARRI ALEXA – the end of an era.
We return from the credits with M writing Bond’s obituary while he’s living on a beach enjoying the company of a young lady and doing bar tricks for money. He looks quite grumpy though. Next Bond appears in M’s house (again) … “Where the hell have you been ?” – “Dead” … Testing … Testing … Training … Bond and Q … “A gun and a radio.” … “That’s it ?” … “Were you expecting an exploding pen? We don’t really go in for that anymore”. The cinematic style and the soundtrack is very Christopher Nolan, very Batman. Some things happen and then there is a car chase back in the DB5, out of secret storage with the classic Bond theme music to lead into the finale – many things blow up and M dies. 3.5 Martinis with a bitter twist.
This movie annoys me for two reasons and they wrap up in the denouement
1. Bond loses. The villain completely and utterly gets what he wants. Silva achieves all of his goals.
2. This movie doesn’t have the ending that’s telegraphed, only because its a Bond film. You can see the lines of this movie in its final act. Everyone should die. Bond looks like he is killed and if this was not a Bond movie, his character dies there in that lake. The only reason why I can see he survives is authorial fiat and that he’s Bond. This is strum und drung, with the three principals dead, or should be.
I do hope they keep Fiennes as M, I do like him in the role, since Dench has clearly decided to move on.
I think it’s a really interesting choice, to let Silva get everything he wants. It’s showing that although (as per next comment) it’s a Bond film, there are changes to update(?) it.
I don’t mind Bond surviving; that’s the premise of the franchise, after all. Maybe not the greatest creative choice but there you go.
I believe killing off M was the choice of the writers and producers, but Judi Dench went along with it quite happily because (a) she’s played the role for seven films now, and (b) she’s sadly going blind and is trying to cut down on her work anyway.
Interesting. I didn’t realise she was going blind. At least they managed to give her an actual out – and made her the focus, in many ways, of a film. That seems… just?
For me I would have preferred to see M bow out injured, unable to work again perhaps, but still alive.