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Skyfall Review

Skyfall stars Daniel Craig as Bond, Judy Dench as M, Javier Bardem as Silva. Supporting performances from Naomi Harris as Eve, Bérénice Marlohe  as Sévérine, Ralph Fiennes as Mallory and Ben Whishaw as Q. It was directed by Sam Mendes.

Note: Spoilers are blacked out like this [blackout]secret[/blackout]. To reveal a spoiler, just highlight it.

Skyfall staring Daniel Craig

Skyfall: Logline

After a hard-drive containing agent names is stolen by an ex-MI6 agent with a vendetta on M, Bond must face demons from his past and present to try and save M.

Bond: return to form?

I’ve always felt the rebooted Bond cut the right bits, the quipping, smart-arse, know-it-all Bond, his save-the-day gadgets and obligatory scenes with minor characters like Moneypenny and Q. In Skyfall, quips, gadgets, Moneypenny and Q all make a return, although the new Q, who says exploding pens are not MI6’s style any more, depreciates gadgets. However, a palm-coded gun that only Bond can use saves him when a bad guy tries to kill him with it. There are a couple of dubious quips such as Bond saying he ‘got in some deep water’ after an underwater fight, but most of the dialogue is sharp.

Because of the returning Bond film clichés, Skyfall felt to me like a step towards the classic formula after the Fleming-inspired Casino Royale and its follow up Quantum of Solace (it’s understandable that they moved in this direction, as Quantum of Solace took a critical beating and had only adequate commercial success). However, Skyfall’s tone is similar to From Russia with Love, which Sam Mendes has stated is his favourite Bond film, there’s certainly no return to the camp predictability of the Roger Moore films.

Skyfall also contains several scenes inspired by the Bond novels: the testing sequence is reminiscent of the opening chapter of The Man with the Golden Gun and Bond appearing to be dead, receiving an obituary and having a childhood home in Glencoe are taken from You Only Live Twice. In fact Skyfall almost has more of You Only Live Twice in it than You Only Live Twice did, as the battle in a castle that ends up destroyed is similar to the end of Blofeld’s castle in the novel.

Skyfall: Plot Summary

Overall, the story moves between its set pieces smoothly enough with few plot holes: We open with a motorbike chase through Istanbul followed by a fight on a train and Bond seemingly dead, accidentally shot by Moneypenny, who is in this film a field-agent, not a secretary. Bond survives and disappears, spending his time having sex and drinking heavily. But MI6 is attacked and Bond returns, recognising his duty. He undergoes tests and is reinstated, despite (the audience learns) failing. Craig plays a vulnerable Bond, on the edge of losing it. Particularly in the back-from-the-dead sequence, sporting grey stubble, he starts to look old. There are comments about fieldwork being a young man’s game.

MI6 have a lead on the guy Bond fought on the train. He is due in Shanghai. Bond finds the assassin, kills him and finds a casino chip that leads him to Macau. There, Bond meets Sévérine, who immediately decides to help him. Its a good scene, and well acted by both Craig and Marlohe, but the plausibility is limited. Cue gratuitous sex scene as Sévérine takes Bond to the main villain, Silva, whose lair is an abandoned island off the coast of Macao (in reality Hashima Island, off the coast of Japan).

Silva is introduced. Bardem, playing Silva, is excellent: giggling, mad and seemingly physically attracted to Bond. The homo-erotic overtones make this scene genuinely edgy. However, this dissolves into a fairly weak ‘villain challenges Bond’ action sequence where Silva kills Sévérine and the cavalry, in the form of three Royal Navy helicopters, arrives.

Back in England, Silva is in custody, although he inevitably escapes and causes chaos attempting to kill M. Gun play and chasing through tube tunnels ensues. Feeling that M is not safe, as Silva is seemingly able to hack Mi6 at will, Bond decides to set a trap by heading for Scotland and his childhood home, Skyfall lodge. The retreat makes limited sense; setting a trap for Silva is logical, but is holing up on your own against a man with a small private army much of a plan? Could Mallory, who is set up as being ex-SAS, not have found a squad of ex-army cronies to lend a hand? As it is, Ralph Fiennes is given very little to do, except establish his character (dry wit) for future films.

The bad guys arrive. Can Bond save himself and M from the vengeful Silva? [blackout] Well he can try – Bond, M and the gamekeeper, played by Albert Finney, kill the first wave with an array of homemade traps. Unfortunately for them, the main attack then arrives in a helicopter. Bond tells M to escape in a secret tunnel that leads to the chapel then wires Skyfall Lodge to explode and retreats via the same tunnel. Only Silva and a couple of henchmen survive the explosion.[/blackout]

Silva [blackout]chases M across the moor to the chapel. Bond chases Silva. Bond and a henchmen end up fighting underwater whilst Silva catches up with M. He tries to persuade her to take both their lives in a suicide pact, but Bond arrives and kills him. M dies anyway, from an earlier gunshot wound. Her death scene is somewhat touching, but why not go the whole hog and have the suicide pact with Silva succeed; the emotional impact would have been much stronger. Having M expire from a bullet wound after Bond saves her from Silva didn’t work for me.[/blackout]

The final sequences, confirm the obvious for the slow viewer: Naomi Harris is [blackout]Moneypenny[/blackout] (previously she’d been introduced by her first name, Eve); Ralph Fiennes is [blackout]the new M[/blackout]. These scenes make the ending a bit weak.

Skyfall’s Plot Holes

My main issue with the plot was that several times both Bond and the bad guys could easily have killed each other bringing the story to an end. Particularly in the scene after Sévérine is killed, it would have been entirely in character for Bond to have killed the man who had just murdered his lover. Later he has a clear shot in the tube tunnel but stops for a chat instead.

Skyfall also seems to throw away continuity with the two previous Daniel Craig Bond movies: there’s no resolution to the Quantum organisation plot from the previous two films; Bond’s Aston Martin DB5, set up in Casino Royale as being won in a poker game, becomes in Skyfall the gadget laden DB5 from Goldfinger, complete with machine guns and ejector seat.

Some of the product placement is over the top, gratuitous shots of Sony products abound, the VW Beetle gets a name check, as does Macallan whiskey. Bill Tanner drinking Heineken in the office seems highly unlikely, and one close up shot of Bond putting on his Tom Ford sunglasses borders on the ridiculous.

I’d argue that the film doesn’t have a truly outstanding action sequence. The fight in the shadows and neon of Shanghai is stylish, the one in the Komodo dragon pit at the Macao casino somewhat exotic, but the motorbike chase over the roofs of Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar is nothing special, reminding me of several similar scenes in other films. The fight on the roof of the train is OK but the use of the digger made little sense to me. The London underground chase sequence is tense, and I’m sure the crashing tube train cost a lot to film, apparently it was a real train not CGI, but it was not that relevant to the plot.  Perhaps this is a fault of the modern reliance on CGI, scenes that would once have seemed incredible now get a yawn. Apparently Skyfall uses more CGI than any Bond film since Die Another Day (with its notoriously rubbish invisible car and tsunami surfing scene). Here though the CGI is integrated perfectly. It seems to me that this was where the relatively restricted budget ($150M compared to around $200M for the last two) bit into the film – there was no real equivalent of the classic films’ pre-title mega-budget stunt extravaganza.

Skyfall: Alternative Movie Poster

Here is my design for an alternate, minimalist poster for Skyfall. The idea was to produce a silhouette that was recognisable as Bond and that hinted at the grittiness of the Daniel Craig Bond films. Click the poster to see alternative posters for other spy thrillers.

Alternative minimalist poster for the James Bond movie Skyfall

Skyfall: My Verdict

So, to summarise, a strong action thriller, with emotion, tension, good characters and mostly sharp dialogue, but perhaps lacking the jaw-dropping action sequence that would have blown the audience away. I rate it as good as any of the reboot Bond films.

Want to watch it?

The trailer is here:

The DVD is on Amazon US here and Amazon UK here.

A Kill in the Morning

If you like James Bond then you’ll love my novel A Kill in the Morning which SFF World described as “an action-packed romp that Ian Fleming would be proud of.”

You can read the opening here:  The first two chapters of A Kill in the Morning.

If you’d like to buy  A Kill in the Morning  then:

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