My favorite Bond film; also commemorates the fiftieth anniversary of the first James Bond film and includes several call backs. Daniel Craig returns as Bond, Judi Dench returns as M. Naomie Harris (her voice gives her away at times as Tia Dalma from Pirates of the Caribbean) joins the cast as Eve (we find out at the last minute her surname is Moneypenny!) and Ben Whishaw (Richard II in The Hollow Crown [he’s brilliant, check it out], grown up Michael Banks in Mary Poppins Returns) is the new Q. Ralph Fiennes (Voldemort, the Duke in The Duchess) is Gareth Mallory and Albert Finney (the reformed pastor in Amazing Grace and Daddy Warbucks in the 1982 musical film Annie…a bit hard to believe) appears as Kincade [this was his last role]. The opening song is performed by Adele.
The opening involves several chases throughout Istanbul (Craig’s Bond does a lot of chasing) [this also influenced a scene I intend to include in my eventual fantasy series, though there will be no motorcycles or trains involved]. M orders Bond and his fellow agent, Eve to reacquire a very important list. It leads Bond to fight with their prey on top of a moving train (Craig did his own stunts) and Bond even gets shot in the shoulder, though he rather cleverly uses a construction vehicle as both a shield and a method to hold the train together for a few minutes. Eve follows in the car and eventually sets up to take a shot. But she warns M it won’t be clean. M orders her to take it anyway and Eve shoots Bond by mistake. He falls over a waterfall and is presumed dead. The opening credits foreshadow a large home with stags in front, as well as a graveyard.
M works on Bond’s obituary, then has to meet with Mallory, who is the Chairman of the Intelligence Committee. She has to answer for the muck-up that is the list of undercover NATO agents falling into enemy hands. Mallory states the Committee wants her to honorably retire. M sees it as them firing her; she’ll leave when the job is done. On her way back to the office a message comes through her computer and traffic stops just before the MI6 office building blows.
Never fear, Bond is actually alive, hiding out on a remote beach. But he hears the news of the MI6 bombing. He sneaks back home to London and into M’s house (again; he did that in Casino Royale). “Where the hell have you been?” M demands. “Enjoying death,” he responds, looking worse for wear. But 007 is reporting for duty. He also admonishes M, that she should have trusted Bond to finish his job. MI6 is under attack; they need Bond. But he must pass the tests to be reinstated to active service. They are now stationed in underground bunkers, leftover from Churchill during the Second World War. Tanner fills Bond in as Bond preps for his evaluations. But we see the tremor in Bond; he’s not quite back to full capacity. His shoulder still aches and he struggles with the shooting test. Then walks out of the psych eval when the word “skyfall” is mentioned. Afterwards, Bond digs the bullet fragments out of his shoulder and orders they are for “her eyes only” (a reference to an earlier film starring Roger Moore).
Bond meets Mallory and M informs him that he has passed his tests and is ready for the field. Mallory does question Bond whether he wants to continue in the spy game; he had the perfect way out. Why not just remain dead? M defends Bond. Mallory tells her later that she is sentimental about Bond (this film really seems to delve into that mother/son bond that M and Bond possibly have. Just in Quantum of Solace, Bond remarks to Camille that M likes to think she is Bond’s mother, and Pierce Brosnan has remarked on it in interviews). And in actuality, M reveals to Tanner, Bond did not pass his tests.
The shell casings lead MI6 to an assassin for hire and leads Bond to Shanghai. First he meets the new Q, a young nerdy-looking man [regularly referred to in fandom as a “boffin;” a British slang term for a scientist or engineer, though the fandom uses it with endearment]. Bond is not impressed at first. “Age is no guarantee of efficiency,” Q informs the agent when the older man questions his competency. “And youth is no guarantee of innovation,” Bond fires back. Q hands him a gun coded to his palm print, and a radio transmitter. Sorry Bond, no exploding pen (like in GoldenEye). Bond tracks his adversary to a glass skyscraper in Shanghai where he watches him execute a man in another building, then attacks. The man falls to his death without revealing who he’s working for, but Bond finds a chip in the case for a casino in Macau. Eve joins Bond and he finally fully cleans up, clean-shaven and in a tux. Eve even spiffs up to assist him in an evening gown. Bond meets a woman he recognizes from the assassination; she’s connected to the man behind the operation and Bond offers to protect her. First, he has to get by the guards. He joins the woman in her shower afterwards.
They sail to a deserted small island and Bond is led away. The slightly creepy Raoul Silva introduces himself; he once worked for MI6 and is upset with M. He was once her favorite in Hong Kong between 1986 and 1997 (about how long of a hiatus the films took between Licence to Kill in 1989 and GoldenEye in 1995). He also has Bond’s file and tries to get Bond to distrust M, revealing that he did not pass and M sent him into the lion’s den. He also attempts to hit on Bond. Carrying on, Silva holds the view that technology has changed the game; Q and Bond hit on it when they met: Q can accomplish quite a lot in his pajamas than Bond can in the field in a year. But someone will still have to pull the trigger; or not. “It’s hard to tell in your pajamas.” Nevertheless, Silva takes Bond outside and improvises a William Tell-like shooting competition with the girl. Bond can’t, or doesn’t make the shot. “Is there any of the old 007?” Silva whines, then shoots the girl. Waste of good Scotch, Bond huffs. Then has no problem taking out Silva’s goons. The cavalry arrives (and the Bond theme), thanks to the latest from Q branch, a radio.
M visits Silva alongside Bond. The man in the glass case has a lot of issues with M; he was tortured for five months and she didn’t lift a finger to retrieve him. He tried his cyanide capsule, but it didn’t work properly, he didn’t die (his mouth is a bit deformed [creepy as all get out], which he hides). M flatly tells him “soon your past will be as nonexistent as your future,” his name will be struck from the memorial wall. M clarifies to Bond that Silva had overstepped his bounds in China and was going to cause them problems. [If we recall, M has issues similar to this with Pierce’s Bond; in their first encounter, she assured him that she had no problem sending a man to his death, but it would not be on a whim. And in Die Another Day, Bond himself is held prisoner and tortured for fourteen months and does not break. And is actually angry that M made the trade for him; he understood the risks…just proves to me that Bond is stronger than Silva]
M continues to face an inquiry and Q tries to hack into Silva’s laptop. Bond helps see a key in the code, which unfortunately backfires on them and frees Silva. Bond chases after him into the tube system (some wonderful banter between Q and Bond…love it), deducing that Silva is going after M. He indeed enters the building and begins shooting. M, meanwhile, puts the inquiry in their place, with support from Mallory. The shadows of the world are still evident and that is where the bad guys hide and that is where her people operate. This new world they are in frightens her; Britain’s enemies are no longer visible and known, they are no longer a nation. They are individuals and a lot harder to spot. She quotes Tennyson: “We are not now that strength which in old days/ moved earth and heave; that which we are, we are/ one equal temper of heroic hearts/ made weak by time and fate, but strong in will/ to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.” As she ends, Silva bursts in. Mallory pulls M down and gets a shot to the shoulder. Bond to the rescue! As well as Eve and even Mallory picks up a gun to cover Tanner getting M out. But Bond is a step ahead; he drives off with M in the car. If Silva wants her, he’ll have to come and get her.
It’ll just be him and M and they’ll finally get a step ahead of Silva. Bond calls Q for some tech help, then switches cars with M to a classic silver Aston Martin (along with the Bond theme). It even has the ejector seat, which Bond threatens M with if she continues complaining. They’re going back in time, Bond remarks. Mallory checks in with Tanner and Q and even gives them the go-ahead with their plan. Bond and M head north to Scotland [I adore the Scottish landscape; while Italy and the Med would be beautiful to visit, I want to live in Scotland]. M knows Bond’s story and again comments that orphans make the best agents (recalling conversations from GoldenEye and Casino Royale). They arrive at Skyfall, Bond’s childhood home (flanked by a stag statue) [it’s a gorgeous home, I’d love to restore it]. The old groundskeeper, Kincade is still there (originally written with Sean Connery in mind, but the director ultimately decided that it would detract from the story). The three of them set about MacGyvering ways to defend the house. While they’re at it, Bond assures M that she did her job correctly.
Troops arrive. Bond is hiding in his car and uses machine guns to take out some. Their tricks inside the house help; Kincade greets them with a shot and “welcome to Scotland” [I laugh out loud]. A helicopter finally arrives and shoots up the house [poor house]. Silva exits with more men and throws grenades into the house, starting a fire. Bond sends Kincade with M through the priests’ passage to the church (Bond had hid in there for two days after the death of his parents). M is wounded, despite her assuring Bond she was fine, so the going is a little slow. Silva blows up the Aston Martin, which pisses Bond off, so he blows tanks in the house, catching the helicopter, which finally destroys the rest of the house [did they really have to blow those up?], though Bond grumbles “I always hated this place,” as he takes cover, diving out of the shockwave in the tunnel.
Silva spots the flashlight from Kincade on the moors and goes after M. Bond takes out the last two men, after a dip in the frozen lake. Silva makes it to the chapel first and motions Kincade to not interfere. He’s saddened that M was hurt, against his orders, and asks her for a quick death for both of them, holding his gun to her head so it would go through both of them. Bond throws a knife into Silva’s back and finishes the man. He catches M as she collapses and holds her. “At least I got one thing right,” and she dies in his arms. Bond sheds tears [as do we. Except I would have cried more if Pierce’s one idea had been followed through; he felt he should have been with M when she died].
We end in London, Bond looking at the skyline (Sherlock echoes this in a later season). Eve presents Bond with a final gift from M, her British bulldog figurine, and reveals her last name to Bond: Moneypenny. Bond greets Mallory, the new M (in rooms that recall the original Bond films and alongside the theme). There is a folder for 007: Top Secret. M remarks there is lots to do, is Bond ready to get back to work? With pleasure. And the gun barrel sequence.
This is a more cohesive story that Craig’s prior Bond films and I utterly adore the bits in Scotland. And all the little bits thrown in calling back to the old Bond films make me actually want to watch them. Silva is creepy as all get out, because even when he’s gentile, we can tell it’s a mask, there is something sinister lurking beneath the surface. And yes, technology helped in the film: Q tracking Bond and Silva, but it does boil down to hands-on work, Bond versus the villain. As M points out, the world may be changing, but it’s still dangerous and MI6 still has a use and work to do.
Up Next: Finishing the current Bond movies with Spectre