The Bond: In Licence to Thrill, Bond scholar James Chapman mentions the theory in the Bond community that an actor’s third film is the one where everything finally comes together. Daniel Craig pretty much proves that with Skyfall.
The Release: Quantum of Solace made a terrific amount of money, but it was mostly seen as a disappointment by critics and Bond fans alike. Moreover, 2012 marked the franchise’s 50th anniversary. So, Skyfall had a lot to live up to. The film hit theaters on October 26th in the UK and November 9th in the US and went on to become the highest grossing Bond ever (adjusted for inflation, it’s still Thunderball), earning $1.1 billion worldwide and $304 million domestically.
The Girl: The film once again follows the modern 2-Girl structure. The first is actually a new take on an old standard: Naomie Harris as Eve Moneypenny. One could bristle at the fact that this particular iteration goes from a field agent to secretary because she nearly kills Bond, but she’s so active within the film, so in control of herself, that it’s difficult to take that stance. In terms of her chemistry with Bond, that same sexy, adversarial tone is there, but here it’s at least heavily implied that she and Bond sleep together, finally ending 50 years of unrequited love.
The second girl is Bérénice Lim Marlohe as Severine, who fills the usual role of the villain’s girlfriend who dies after sleeping with Bond. However, Marlohe does a phenomenal job with her limited screentime. In just one scene in the Macau casino, she has to convey cunning as the character ties to figure out why Bond wants to meet her “employer,” fear of said employer, hope that Bond might save her and hurt at the memory of her childhood.
However, the real main Bond Girl here is Judi Dench’s M. While she and Bond barely tolerated each other in Casino Royale, there’s a strange affection between them now. However, Bond spends much of the movie wondering if his mother figure has his best interests at heart or sees him merely as a tool. He doesn’t get proof that it’s the former until the end, when M basically says she’s proud of him right before SPOILER dying in is arms. It’s a devastating moment not only because Bond is losing someone he cares about, but because he’s reliving the childhood trauma that sent him on a path toward MI6 (the sudden death of his parents) in the crumbling remnants of his childhood home.
The Villain: After two relatively normal villains, Javier Bardem’s performance as Silva feels like a throwback. He’s no less weird than Donald Pleasance as Blofeld in You Only Live Twice, but he’s far more controlled. The character doesn’t appear until halfway through and it’s a hell of an entrance. The camera sits just above Bond’s right shoulder and slowly tracks in as Silva then walks toward Bond, telling a story about killing rats. It’s an already strange scene made even more so by Bardem’s delivery. The rat sound effects he makes, soft-spoken tone and artificiality of his appearance all suggest there’s something really off about this guy.
The Gadgets: Despite introducing Ben Whishaw as the new Q, the movie has surprisingly few gadgets. While the small radio tracker and the Walther PPK that only fires for Bond both come in handy, it’s actually the return of Bond’s now-vintage Aston Martin DB5 that’s most memorable. He only uses the headlight machine guns, but Bond’s threat to eject M from the car at one point and her daring him to do it is one of the film’s funniest moments.
The Song: Producer Barbara Broccoli said finding a female singer with a big voice for the 50th anniversary was a priority. Enter Grammy-winning artist Adele. After reading the script, she teamed with Paul Epworth to write “Skyfall,” which eventually won the Oscar for best original song. With its big, Barry-esque orchestral melody and Adele’s booming Bassey-esque vocals, it’s a torch song with a dark edge that’s also an instant classic.
The Book: Though the film doesn’t delve too deeply into Bond’s past, almost all of the information the audience gets is from Ian Fleming’s writing, specifically, the obituary M writes for The Times of London at the end of YOLT. The film takes the names of Bond’s parents (a Scottish father named Andrew and a Swiss mother named Monique Delacroix) and refers to their premature deaths, but doesn’t mention that he was 11-years-old or that they were killed in a climbing accident in the Aiguilles Rouges above Chamonix. The name of Bond’s childhood estate–Skyfall–and its caretaker Kincade (Albert Finney) are purely the inventions of screenwriters Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and John Logan.
The Movie: This may be recency bias talking, but this film is fantastic from top to bottom. Skyfall feels perfectly suited to our nostalgia-heavy pop cultural moment. There’s something inherently comforting about being reminded of a familiar, pleasant past and after two films that stripped James Bond to his bare essentials, this movie is about reestablishing a familiar status quo.
The film’s ending is the most obvious example. It recreates the kind of scene we expect to see at the start of a Bond film: James flirts with Moneypenny and then walks into M’s office to get his next mission. The rest of the film is peppered with callbacks to Bond’s past too. There’s the return of the Walther PPK and the Aston Martin DB5, even a more ridiculous villain. However, one of the biggest ways the film creates nostalgia is in the score. Franchise newbie Thomas Newman’s big, orchestral sound fits right in with John Barry’s Bond work and he’s not afraid to sample the iconic “The James Bond Theme” during big moments. The music is always helping create mood, for example, slowly building tension in the scene where Bond stalks a sniper or making a moment as simple as Bond’s boat ride to the Macau casino exciting. Speaking of those scenes, they’re some of the film’s most visually sumptuous, but Skyfall is stunning throughout and may be the most beautiful Bond movie ever made.
Roger Deakins is arguably the greatest living cinematographer and every frame of this film is proof of why. The way he plays with light and shadow is incredible, but the aforementioned scene of Bond stalking the sniper, Patrice (Ola Rapace), in a Shanghai high-rise is breathtaking. In one corner of the empty floor, Patrice assembles his gun, silhouetted by lights projected on the building’s glass face. Bond slowly moves through and around the glass walls that fill the floor, using the light projections to cover his movements. It’s fascinating to watch and more memorable than action scenes with huge explosions or more complex fight choreography.
Because of scenes like that or the spectacular orange glow created by the burning remnants of Bond’s childhood home in the film’s climax, Skyfall‘s sumptuous visuals give it a grandeur that feels fitting of a 50th anniversary. Spectre has a lot to live up to.