It was at a party thrown by Hugh Jackman in 2010 that Daniel Craig ran into Sam Mendes after downing a few cocktails. Mendes was curious about the next James Bond movie and asked Craig who’s directing it. “Well, you are”, the star blurted out. It was basically just a joke between two guys who were out partying… but there was a smidgen of truth to the idea. Mendes, the man who won an Oscar for American Beauty (1999), started thinking about what it would be like to direct a Bond movie, and Craig didn’t back down. When Skyfall was finally greenlit, perennial producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson must have known that they would strike gold.
Accidentally shot on a train
When we meet James Bond (Craig) again, it’s in the middle of a mission to Turkey where he and a fellow agent, Eve (Naomie Harris), are trying to retrieve a hard drive that would expose NATO agents working undercover in terror organizations. While battling a hired killer on top of a train, Bond is accidentally shot by Eve, falls off the train and is presumed dead. He survived though and only decides to reemerge when MI6 headquarters are subjected to a terrorist attack and the whole organization is moved underground.
With a little help from M (Judi Dench), a somewhat rusty 007 passes required tests and is sent to Shanghai to track down the killer from the train. Eventually, the trace leads Bond to Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem), a brilliant former MI6 agent who went rogue and now wants M to pay for what she did to him.
A perfectly executed Bond
The 23rd film in this franchise is the best since The Spy Who Loved Me (1977), even surpassing Casino Royale (2006), and shows how well the series has been handled ever since Craig was hired and a reboot was decided. It’s ironic, at the same time, because this chapter brings closure to that story; in the final scenes of Skyfall, everything that was different about Casino Royale has been restored to its former glory. Which must please the old fans… but it leaves the franchise in a full-circle position where the next film might as well be Dr. No. So what happens next? That’s a future challenge for the producers.
What we have here is a perfectly executed Bond film that echoes Ian Fleming’s novels, but also adds a touch of the modern anarchy theme from the last two Dark Knight films as Silva’s bold attack on MI6 will end up showing doubting politicians why society still needs an effective intelligence network. The action is thrilling right from the start, with the exciting train fight that even involves an excavator (!), through a chase in London’s subway system, leading up to a fiery, emotional climax where Bond says goodbye (and even good riddance) to the place where he grew up, along with ample support from M and Albert Finney’s aging groundskeeper.
A few laughs also, as well as moments of warmth between Craig and Dench who play their twisted mother-son relationship to great effect. That part also becomes a key ingredient in a story that addresses Bond’s past and the issue of loyalty between M and her agents. As always, Bardem is excellent as the main villain and, along with Craig, has a little homoerotic fun with the traditional machismo in these films.
I mentioned The Spy Who Loved Me. Both films open with main title credits that are brilliantly designed… but on the whole they’re very different. That’s not to say one is better than the other. With Roger Moore, the franchise moved in a direction that reached its audacious zenith in the 1977 film. With Craig, the franchise is firmly footed in a tradition that fits our time like a glove.
Skyfall 2012-U.S.-Britain. 143 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by Barbara Broccoli, Michael G. Wilson. Directed by Sam Mendes. Screenplay: Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, John Logan. Cinematography: Roger Deakins. Music: Thomas Newman. Song: “Skyfall” (performed by Adele). Cast: Daniel Craig (James Bond), Judi Dench (M), Javier Bardem (Raoul Silva), Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris, Bérénice Lim Marlohe… Albert Finney, Ben Whishaw, Ola Rapace.
Trivia: Finney’s last film. Kevin Spacey was allegedly considered for a role. Followed by Spectre (2015).
Oscars: Best Original Song, Sound Editing. Golden Globe: Best Original Song. BAFTA: Best British Film, Original Music.
Last word: “Where I stole from was the last two Fleming novels – ‘Man with the Golden Gun’ and ‘You Only Live Twice.’ In the movie versions they abandoned a lot of the dark stuff from the books, because the Bond of those later books is very cynical, kind of dark, really interesting. And I thought that was something that we could play around with at the beginning of the movie, after Bond has gone into the depths and lost himself and is woken up by this terrorist attack.” (Mendes, The Playlist)