Skyfall stars Daniel Craig as Bond, Judi Dench as M and Javier Bardem as Silva. Supporting performances are Naomi Harris as Eve, Bérénice Marlohe as Sévérine, Ralph Fiennes as Mallory, and Ben Whishaw as Q. Sam Mendes directed it.
Note: Spoilers are blacked out like this [blackout]secret[/blackout]. To reveal a spoiler, just highlight it.
The title references the Setting archetype: ‘Skyfall Lodge’ is Bond’s childhood home. Making a reference to one of the settings in the title is a classic title generation technique.
(For more on titles, see How to Choose a Title For Your Novel)
After an ex-MI6 agent with a vendetta on M steals a hard-drive with the names of all Britain’s agents on it and then comes after M herself, Bond must overcome demons from his past and present in order to save M.
(For more on loglines see The Killogator Logline Formula)
Skyfall: Plot Summary
We open with a missing hard drive containing a list of all Britain’s agents. This leads to a motorbike chase through Istanbul followed by a fight on a train. The chase ends with Bond seemingly dead, accidentally shot by Moneypenny (who is a field-agent, not a secretary).
Bond survives and disappears, spending his time having sex and drinking heavily. But MI6’s agents have been decimated and, to make things worse, a bomb explodes at headquarters leaving the service shattered.
Bond returns, recognising his duty. He undergoes tests and M reinstates him to his 00 status, despite (the audience learns) Bond failing. In this sequence, 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’s due in Shanghai. Bond finds the assassin, kills him and finds a casino chip that leads him to Macau. There, he meets Sévérine, who immediately decides to help him. It’s a magnificent scene, and well-acted by both Craig and Marlohe, but has limited plausibility. Cue gratuitous sex scene as Sévérine delivers Bond to the main villain, Silva. Silva’s lair is an abandoned island off the coast of Macao (in reality Hashima Island, off the coast of Japan).
Bond meets Silva. Bardem, playing Silva, is excellent: giggling, mad and seemingly physically attracted to Bond. The homo-erotic overtones make this scene genuinely edgy. However, this confrontation dissolves into a fairly weak ‘villain challenges Bond’ action sequence where Silva kills Sévérine. Finally, 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, trying to kill M. Gun play and chasing through tube tunnels ensues. M will not be safe anywhere official, as Silva can hack Mi6 at will. Instead, Bond sets a trap by heading for Scotland and his childhood home, Skyfall Lodge.
The bad guys arrive. Can Bond save M, and himself, from the vengeful Silva?
Well [blackout] Bond, M and the gamekeeper, played by Albert Finney, kill the first wave with an array of homemade traps. Unfortunately for them, an even bigger attack arrives in a helicopter. Bond tells M to escape in a secret tunnel that leads to the chapel. He then wires Skyfall Lodge to explode and retreats via the same tunnel. Only Silva and a couple of henchmen survive the explosion.[/blackout]
Last Rat Standing
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. Silva tries to persuade M to take both their lives in a suicide pact, but Bond arrives and kills him. M dies anyway, from an earlier gunshot wound. [/blackout]
The final sequences confirm the obvious for the slow viewer. Naomi Harris is [blackout]Moneypenny[/blackout] (previously we’d only heard her first name, Eve). Ralph Fiennes is [blackout]the new M[/blackout].
(For more on summarising stories, see How to Write a Novel Synopsis)
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 more like From Russia with Love, which Sam Mendes has stated is his favourite Bond film, than Moonraker. 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 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 like the ending in Blofeld’s castle in the novel.
Skyfall has an uncommon plot structure I call ‘Playing Defence’ (see Spy Novel Plots). In a Playing Defence plot, the Protagonist remains off balance and reacting to the Antagonist throughout most of the story.
The Playing Defence Plot
- Is involved in an Inciting Incident caused by the Antagonist.
- Makes a plan to stop the Antagonist.
- Trains and gathers resources to stop the antagonist.
- Involves one or more Allies in their defence (Optionally, there is a romance sub-plot with one of the Allies).
- Attempts to prevent the Antagonist’s attack, dealing with further Allies and Enemies as they meet them.
- Has their plan undercut by the Antagonist attacking differently.
- Narrowly fails to stop the Antagonist (or stops the Antagonist who then escapes)
- Has a final confrontation with the Antagonist and stops (or fails to stop) them carrying out their plan.
Skyfall’s Plot Holes
Overall, the story moves between its set pieces smoothly enough with few 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 Silva has Sévérine 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.
There’s also the problematic ‘List of All Our Agents’ which is a MacGuffin and also just disappears in the second half of the movie.
The retreat to Skyfall Lodge makes limited sense. Setting a trap for Silva is logical, but is holing up with nothing but a few shotguns and a couple of geriatrics against a man with a private army much of a plan? Couldn’t Mallory, who’s ex-SAS, have found a squad of ex-army cronies to lend a hand? As it is, the movie gives Ralph Fiennes very little to do except establish his character (dry wit) for future films.
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 (although see my Spectre Review). 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 an ejector seat.
Finally, although M’s death scene is touching, 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.
Skyfall got a lot of grief for having Bond drink lager. That particular scene didn’t concern me much, it’s just a brief shot of Bond in bed with an unnamed woman, drinking from a bottle and looking moody.
However, some of the other product placement in Skyfall 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.
The Action Sequences
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 okay, 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’s 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 perfectly integrated. 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.
Skyfall: My Verdict
So, to summarise, a strong action thriller, with emotion, tension, excellent 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 discuss anything in my review, please email me. Otherwise feel free to share it using the buttons below.