007 Mission Files: ‘Skyfall’
We’ve made it all the way to Skyfall with just one week to spare before the release of the new Bond film Spectre. I wouldn’t consider Skyfall my favorite Bond movie, but it is technically and visually flawless with great acting, writing, and directing so it might be the best Bond movie.
I think what makes Skyfall great is that, again, the producers focused on making a great movie instead of a great Bond film. It helps that they didn’t have to wade through legal troubles or recast any major characters this time around. They just built a solid story from the ground up and brought in Sam Mendes, an Oscar-winning director known for drama. Followed by Quantum of Solace, this was the first Bond movie from Mendes, who is best known for directing American Beauty (for which he won his Oscar), Jarhead, and Away We Go. This is actually his first move that wasn’t rated R.
This led to Skyfall being the most decorated Bond film, with five Oscar nominations and two wins. Goldfinger and Thunderball each won one Oscar. It’s also the second film in the series to feature four Oscar-nominated actors, with Die Another Day. Dame Judi Dench, Javier Bardem, Ralph Fiennes, and Albert Finney have all been nominated. The complete total for all cast and crew that worked on Skyfall is forty-one nominations and five wins.
Despite how simply it appears the movie came together, this is actually tied for the second-longest period between Bond movies at four years. The others all involved turnover of the cast and crew, including the part of 007. Instead, the producers stayed focused on the project and waited for Mendes’s schedule to open up so he could direct the film. They gave him a budget of $200 million, which was a little step back from Quantum of Solace. The movie went on to make $1.1 billion, almost doubling the worldwide box office of Casino Royale, which had been the highest-grossing Bond film to that point.
Product placement had always been key in Bond films, but this time around Bond left the film screen and entered television screens across the world. Deals with Heineken, Omega Watches, and Sony Electronics included commercials with Daniel Craig playing Bond. The products also obviously appeared in the movie, the deal with Heineken reportedly worth $45 million.
The movie opens in Istanbul and finds Bond on a mission to collect a stolen hard drive that contains the names and aliases of all of their undercover agents. He chases his target on to the top of a moving train. As they fight, the train nears a tunnel and M orders Bond’s fellow agent Eve to take an obstructed shot in the hopes of hitting the target. Unfortunately, the bullet strikes Bond instead and he falls off a bridge into the river below.
Due to the failure of this mission and the loss of the hard drive, M is put on the hot seat. Pressure from the Prime Minister has forced her boss Gareth Mallory to transition M into retirement within six months’ time. On her way back to the office, they are notified that the MI-6 servers have been compromised. There is a sudden explosion as the top of MI-6 is blown away.
Meanwhile, Bond is enjoying his presumed death on a beach. He has a beautiful woman to keep him company and a nearby bar where he has won the affections of locals. He’s at the bar one morning (by himself because it’s morning at a bar) and sees a CNN news story about the explosion at MI-6. He knows he is needed and returns to London. M returns home one evening to find him waiting for her. After they clear the air, Bond is put through a series of tests to determine if he is physically and mentally fit to return to the field. He fails them all, but M believes him ready and puts him back on active duty despite Mallory’s apprehension.
They use shrapnel from a bullet he took during the chase at the open to find that they are after a mercenary named Patrice. Bond is given a gun and miniaturized radio by Q, and he sets off to intercept Patrice in Shanghai. When he arrives, he follows Patrice to a skyscraper and watches him assassinate a target across the street. Bond is spotted and the two fight. Patrice falls from the building before giving Bond any information, but Bond goes through his things and finds a chip for a casino in Macau.
At the casino, Bond cashes in the chip and takes the money to the bar where he is approached by a woman he recognizes from the assassination attempt. She reveals her name is Séverine and works for a very powerful man whom she appears to be afraid of. Bond says he can protect her if she provides him with information, but she assures him that he cannot. She warns him that her bodyguards are going to kill him as soon as he leaves, but if he manages to survive he should come to her yacht before it leaves port that evening. Bond is attacked as he is leaving the casino, taking the fight into a den of komodo dragons and eventually beating his attackers. Later that night he arrives at her yacht and they are off to see her boss.
They arrive at an abandoned island and are immediately taken prisoner. Bond is introduced to Raoul Silva, a former MI-6 agent who has a history with M. He is the man that bombed MI-6 and stole the hard drive. Silva kills Séverine and is about to fight Bond when backup arrives and captures Silva.
M and Bond interrogate Silva, and Silva explains how after he was captured and was disavowed by England he tried to use his cyanide capsule. However, instead of killing him it ate away at his internal organs and his jaw, which he wears a retainer to conceal. Later, Bond finds Q hacking into Silva’s laptop. While they’re working, Silva’s program is able to hack into MI-6 and open all of the doors, including the door to his cell. He escapes into the transit tunnels below and heads to a public inquiry in which M is trying to defend her actions. Silva bursts in and shoots up the room, but M is able to escape thanks to the help of Mallory, Tanner, and Eve. M meets Bond outside and Bond kidnaps her to use as bait, telling Q to leave a trail of breadcrumbs that only Silva can follow.
Bond and M arrive at Skyfall, his childhood home in Scotland. Kincade, the gamekeeper, help them booby trap the house. When Silva arrives they Home Alone him and his crew. Eventually, M and Kincade escape to a small chapel on the grounds. Silva follows them with Bond close behind. When Silva arrives we discover that M was injured in the attack. Before Silva is able to finish her off, Bond stabs him in the back. He dies and Bond rushes to M’s side, who dies in his arms. After M’s funeral her will is read and Bond is left a small bauble to encourage him to remain in the field. Eve finds Bond and takes him to the new offices at MI-6. She introduces herself as Moneypenny and directs Bond into Mallory’s office, who has assumed the title of M.
Skyfall’s greatest achievement was in uniting its divided fan base. There are essentially three groups of Bond fans. The older generation that watched Sean Connery and Roger Moore in the theatres, the younger generation who had never seen a Bond movie before Daniel Craig or maybe Pierce Brosnan, and the group in the middle. This third group, which I fall into, grew up watching old James Bond movies on TBS (Dinner and a Movie anyone? Let’s petition to bring that back!) but appreciate that the Daniel Craig movies fit with present-day film styles while still reflecting, in many ways for the first time, the character of James Bond as he is actually portrayed in the books.
I am also a huge fan of Christopher Nolan. Nolan has said many times that he has been influenced by Bond, and you can see it in his work. For instance, the base in the mountains toward the end of Inception was based on the design of Blofeld’s lair in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. What’s really interesting is how much Bond has been influenced by Nolan since the soft reboot after Casino Royale. Clearly they inspire each other, and that isn’t a bad thing.
Skyfall has fantastic cinematography. How did this movie lose the Oscar to Life of Pi?!? That movie was shot in a closet with a green screen and a bathtub. It’s all CGI! That’s not cinematography. That’s animation.
While filming The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Daniel Craig heard about Hashima Island after speaking with Swedish filmmaker Thomas Nordanstad, who had just produced a short documentary on the island. Craig got as much information on the island as he could and presented it to the producers during preproduction for Skyfall. This became the island base for Silva. It’s a deserted island off the coast of Nagasaki, Japan known as ‘Ghost Island.’ It was established as a coal mining colony in 1887 and aided in the industrialization of Japan. There were 5,259 people living on the island at its peak, but it was abandoned in 1974 after the coal supply was depleted.
Bond fans have often speculated that the name James Bond was just a moniker and each actor is portraying different agents with the same code name. In Skyfall, they clearly state that agents have codenames; the hard drive that they are trying to recover is full of them. M tells Bond that Raoul Silva’s real name is Tiago Rodriguez and Bond’s passport says John Adam Bryce. However, to make things even more confusing Kincade addresses him as James Bond after not having seen him since he was a child. I guess the debate can continue.
It really annoys me that they push so hard at the idea that Bond is old in this movie. It’s only the actor’s third film (the first two are his first and second missions as a double-0) and he’s under contract for two more. If he’s ‘old’ now, how will he be portrayed in the 25th Bond movie?
Kincade says they sold Skyfall when they thought Bond was dead. That night it gets blown apart by psycho killers that are after Bond. I hope whoever bought the estate had good insurance for this property that they haven’t even moved into yet.
This is only the second time in 24 movies and 50 years that James Bond suffers a gunshot wound. He’s also shot in Thunderball when he is hiding among the parade floats.
Anyone complaining that Bond would have died when he hit the water wasn’t paying attention during the opening credits when he was clearly rescued by mermaids.
While filming the motorbike chase in Istanbul, they were having trouble with the bikes sliding on the streets. They ended up spraying Coca-Cola on the streets to give the tires something to grip.
Adele wrote and performed the theme song. It’s probably one of my favorite of the series. She did a wonderful job of recreating the tone of some of the earlier Shirley Bassey songs while putting her own touch on it and bringing it into the twenty-first century.
Thomas Newman wrote the score for the movie due to a long-running collaboration with Sam Mendes. He does a great job pulling in themes from Casino Royale, Goldfinger, and the famous James Bond theme to make it flow with the rest of the series. He also includes symphonic passages of Adele’s song.
Cars: This is the sixth appearance of an Aston Martin DB5 in the series with Goldfinger, Casino Royale, Thunderball, GoldenEye, and Tomorrow Never Dies. It’s a fantastic car, and I note every time it appears. My working theory is that even though this car is very rare, Bond has two of them. One that he won in Casino Royale and one that was provided to him by Q. The car in Skyfall has the same license plate and features as the one in Goldfinger and Thunderball. It is also a traditional British car with the steering wheel on the right side of the vehicle. The car he wins in Casino Royale is his personal vehicle without gadgets from Q-branch. The license plate is different and the steering wheel is on the left like an American car.
There aren’t a lot of additional vehicles in this movie worth mentioning. There are some Range Rovers of course, M’s company car is a 3.0L V6 Diesel Jaguar XJ L, there are also a number of Volkswagens, and two Honda CRF 250R motorbikes.
Allies: This is Dame Judi Dench’s seventh and final time as M. Dench announced early on that this would be her final film. She suffers from age-related macular degeneration and is going blind. It’s gotten to the point where people have to read the scripts to her and she occasionally has trouble recognizing faces. Because of this she felt that it was a good time to move away from Bond and enjoy some other roles while she still has the opportunity. Dench has done an amazing job through the series and as much as I love Bernard Lee and Robert Brown, Dench probably gives the best performance of the character.
Since Skyfall was to be her swan song, the producers wanted to explore the relationship between M and Bond. Craig and Dench had created a mother/son relationship between the characters, and M is one of the few women Bond does not see as a sexual exploit. M is really the only relationship in his life, but she’s also an authority figure. They built the story around her and it added up to the most screen time of M in any Bond film. In fact, her screen time in this one movie is more than all of Desmond Llewelyn’s screen time in 17 Bond films.
I was really surprised they killed her off at the end of the film. I knew going into it that this would be her last Bond film, but I thought she was just going to retire. Even at the end when they’re at Skyfall it seemed like she was going to settle there with Kincade and live the rest of her life in Scotland. They did a great job with it, though, and I’m happy with the outcome. My only beef is that she was killed by a ricocheted bullet shot by a random henchman. I really would have preferred for her to die at the hands of Silva if she had to die.
The box given to Bond at the end reveals M’s name to be Olivia Mansfield. In the script for GoldenEye her name is said to be Barbara Mawdsley, which adds to the belief that Dame Judi Dench is playing two different versions of M. In the Brosnan era she was a former accountant and in the Craig films she mentions missing the Cold War and fights for her agents instead of with them. Dench’s M after the soft reboot of Casino Royale clearly believes more in the branch and their methods than the character she played before. She also says in Skyfall that she oversaw the Hong Kong transfer of power while a station head for MI-6, but if this were the same version of M she would have already had the position. The only other time the name of M was mentioned was in the book The Man with the Golden Gun in which he was named Myles Messervy.
For the first time we have a second actor who is also playing M. Ralph Fiennes plays M’s boss Gareth Mallory. He’s caught in a tough place between pleasing the Prime Minister and letting MI-6 do its job. He believes in the work they’re doing, and I was really happy to see him take over as M at the end of the film. He’s a great actor playing a classy role. I think he’ll be perfect. Hopefully we can see him in the field a bit as they do mention he has military experience.
For the first time since Die Another Day we see Moneypenny, but we don’t know it’s her until the end of the movie. Eve is a field agent working on a case with Bond. She accidentally shoots him when M orders her to try to hit the target. She ends up settling for a desk job after her suspension is over, but she has proven useful with a gun. There may be some more time in the field in her future. She’s played by Naomie Harris (28 Days Later…, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest), and I was really surprised when she was revealed to be Moneypenny. It isn’t a role I would expect her to take, but again I can see the role expanding for her in the future.
We also see Q for the first time since Die Another Day, played here by Ben Whishaw (Layer Cake, Cloud Atlas) and is shown as a different type of tech genius. Instead of gadgets, he focuses more on technology. He does provide Bond with a couple of simple items for his mission, but his real strength is in hacking, which is really what a modern James Bond needs.
Rory Kinnear returns as Tanner for the second time. I’ve always liked having Tanner as a buffer between M and Bond. It will be interesting to watch their relationship with M’s changing of the guard.
The character of Kincade was introduced in the movie. Kincade is the gamekeeper at Bond’s childhood home. He took James in for a bit after his parents died and before he was taken to the orphanage. Albert Finney (Big Fish, Erin Brockovich) was a fun addition to the film. I was really happy to see him appear, but his part is pretty unnecessary. He just has some lines of exposition that really could have been delivered by Bond while he and M are exploring the grounds. I wouldn’t mind seeing him pop up again in the future.
Also, Kincade provides Bond with his father’s old hunting rifle, a .500 Nitro Express, which is an extremely powerful elephant gun Bond then proceeds to fire from the hip. If he shot that gun from the hip it would fly out of his hands, and if he actually hit his target at center-mass the entire chest cavity would explode leaving maybe only the person’s limbs if anything at all.
There were a lot of rumors and controversy around this role before the movie was released. If you look around online you can find everything from “Sean Connery was cast in the roll of Kincade and Skyfall was going to be a sort of retirement home for agents that had previously had James Bond as a codename. They even approached other former Bonds to be there as well, but Connery felt he wasn’t physically fit enough to play the part having been retired for nine years” all the way down to “the producers briefly considered asking Connery to come out of retirement but ultimately felt it would take the audience out of the movie.” I’m sure the truth lies somewhere between, and the fact is we may never know. I do like the idea of seeing all of the previous Bond actors in an MI-6 retirement village. Even if it isn’t a Bond movie. Maybe it can be a sitcom like Golden Girls.
Bond Girls Women: After 50 years, Skyfall marks the first time James Bond’s sexual exploits were referred to as Bond Women instead of Bond Girls. Welcome to 2012. All that work for women’s rights finally paid off. I will say that the movies during Craig’s tenure have been much kinder to women. He’s actually slept with only a few of them and was in a committed, albeit brief, relationship with one of them. At the end of all three of his movies he is alone.
As for Bond Women that are in the movie, there’s Silva’s girlfriend/companion/hostage Séverine whom Bond is able to convince to help him. Silva eventually kills her when he finds out. I do have to say Bérénice Marlohe does a nice job with the small part. She is cocky yet uncomfortable and as Bond breaks her down in the casino you can see the fear boil up to the surface. There’s also a character credited as ‘Bond’s Lover’ that he is with while ‘dead.’ She’s played by Tonia Sotiropoulou and does not have one line of dialogue.
Gadgets: Again, the Craig movies don’t use a lot of gadgets, and I like that. He does have a gun that is coded to his palm print so only he can shoot it, much like the camera sniper rifle from Licence to Kill, and a miniature radio so he can signal for help.
Villains: Silva is really the only villain in the movie. He does hire the mercenary Patrice to steal the hard drive. Patrice is played by Naomi Rapace’s ex-husband Ola Rapace, a role he’s probably best known for. He’s okay in the role, but he doesn’t actually have any lines. Just a couple of fight scenes with Bond.
Silva is played by Oscar winner Javier Bardem (No Country for Old Men, Collateral). Bardem brings a lot to the character, which he based on Joker from The Dark Knight and Col. Hans Landa from Inglourious Basterds. He plays it as a psychotic genius out for revenge, and it really works against Craig’s cool and collected Bond.
Silva was a former MI-6 agent working under M. When he started to become a problem and exceed his boundaries, M agreed to give him up to the Chinese in exchange for prisoners. Silva tried to kill himself with the cyanide capsule, but it only left him disfigured and ate away at his body.
Silva is actually one of the better primary Bond villains in the series, and he even succeeds in all phases of his plan. There are three things he is aiming to accomplish in the movie. First and foremost, he wants to kill M. That’s an obvious one. It’s his obsession. He feels he was betrayed by M, and he doesn’t just want her to die (he could have blown her up in her office at MI-6) he wants her to suffer by ruining the life she has by putting her career in jeopardy and then killing her after he has revealed himself to her. Check! Mallory tells M of plans to replace her and M dies. Second, he wants to die. He’s been through a lot. Torture by the enemy, betrayed by his country, and acid eating away at his body. He is ready to die. Check! Bond stabs him in the back. Finally is his plan to steal the list of agents and their aliases and release them online. He is able to steal the hard drive and release the first batch of names. It can be assumed that the hard drive was recovered when they captured Silva on his island, but this is never specifically mentioned. Either way, it would be entirely plausible that he made copies to sell on the black market. Maybe that’s how he had the money to afford everything he had.
I love the duality of Bond and Silva. Both are agents under the Olivia Mansfield version of M. Both are loyal to her and the job. Both are pronounced dead due to her decisions (Bond after being shot and missing, and Silva was sold out to China for prisoners during the Hong Kong transition). Both return from the dead to haunt M for her decisions. The difference is, Bond stays loyal to the job and rebuilds his trust with M while Silva becomes consumed by vengeance. In a way, both of these men see M as a motherly figure with a good son/bad son situation.
Overall, I think everyone can agree that Skyfall is a great addition to the Bond series. I love that this isn’t an overblown plot with someone trying to take over the world. This is a simple story of loyalty, revenge, and trust. Like the best of Bond movies, it is a film whose plot relies heavily on relationships and drama with action peppered in. I can understand why some people might call it their favorite, but what I really think it did was find a way to marry all of the eras of Bonds into one cohesive movie that everyone could appreciate.