Skyfall (2012)

Director: Sam Mendes

Starring: Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Javier Bardem, Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris, Bérénice Lim Marlohe, Albert Finney

It has been said that the darkest hour is just before the dawn, that you have to experience a fall before you can see the light at the end of the tunnel. For the James Bond franchise, on occasion, this has meant that the series has weathered a less-than-stellar entry just before being blessed by a magical one. “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” followed the disappointing “You Only Live Twice,” “Casino Royale” stood the series back up on its feet after “Die Another Day” had knocked it down, and the forgettable “Quantum of Solace” was made up for by the mighty “Skyfall.”  This sentiment gets turned on its head when the same application is given to Bond himself. In each of the three superior films cited, Bond’s usual armor of invincibility is penetrated and he is forever changed by the experience.

After a breathtaking chase sequence from rooftops to a train in Istanbul, the prologue to “Skyfall” literally ends with James Bond (Daniel Craig) taking a fall, having been accidentally shot by Eve Moneypenny (Naomie Harris). He’d been trying to recover a stolen hard drive containing a list of MI6 agents currently undercover in the not-so-nice parts of the world. Not the sort of information you want leaking out, but leak it most certainly will. With Bond presumed dead and the mission a complete bust, M (Judi Dench) is the one who must shoulder the blame. It is suggested by Gareth Mallory (Ralph Fiennes) that she retire with grace and dignity. M would much rather clean up her mess first, but she’s got a long way to go before being able to do that. On the way back to MI6, M’s car gets caught up in traffic. She then receives a cryptic message on her computer just moments before witnessing an explosion at MI6 headquarters. Catching a CNN breaking news bulletin about the attack, a very much alive Bond resurfaces. Although he dismally fails the required physical and mental evaluations (which include a rather amusing word association test), M nevertheless restores Bond back to active service.

Following a lead provided by shrapnel removed from Bond’s shoulder wound, 007 tracks the hard drive thief to Shanghai where the man, named Patrice, is performing an assassination. Not only does Bond not prevent the murder, but the ensuing struggle leads Patrice to plummet to his death without revealing the identity of his employer. Among Patrice’s things, Bond finds a gambling chip, redeemable at a casino in Macau. Once there, Bond meets Séverine (Bérénice Lim Marlohe), a woman employed by the same person as Patrice. Séverine was curious to see who might be the one to cash in the casino chip. Working under duress and in fear for her life, Séverine promises cooperation if Bond agrees to kill her boss. Once Séverine has brought Bond to the private island her boss acquired for himself, the man reveals his identity as that of Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem), a disgruntled former MI6 agent with a personal vendetta against M. Silva worked for MI6 from 1986 to 1997, until being captured by the Chinese while pursuing an unsanctioned mission in Hong Kong. Feeling abandoned and betrayed, Silva has plotted his revenge ever since. Silva shoots and kills Séverine, but Bond uses the radio transmitter given to him by Q (Ben Whishaw) to signal for backup and takes Silva back to MI6 as his prisoner.

All is not as it seems, however. It turns out that Silva had intended all along to be caught so that he could attempt to kill M. Bond realizes this when Q foolishly attempts to access Silva’s computer, thereby allowing it to hack into MI6’s mainframe and free Silva from his cage. Dressed as an officer of the law, Silva and a few other armed men barge in on a public inquiry regarding the stolen hard drive and opens fire. Thanks to resistance from Bond, Mallory and Moneypenny, Silva is unsuccessful in his attempt to kill M, but hasn’t given up on his goal yet. Knowing this, Bond drives away with M in his 1964 Aston Martin DB5 and heads directly for his childhood home of Skyfall in Scotland. Intending to end the chase once and for all, Bond tells Q to leave a trail for Silva to follow. Sure enough, Silva and his men show up and start shooting up the place. Unfortunately, Skyfall is not as well-stocked with weapons as it once was, and Bond sends M through a secret passage with Bond family friend Kincade (Albert Finney) while he remains behind and booby traps the house. Bond joins them in the tunnel just in time as the explosion destroys the house and takes with it Silva’s helicopter, the villain watching in shock from a safe distance on the ground below.

A confrontation between Bond and Silva’s men results in the ice beneath their feet giving way. Satisfied that Bond has either been killed by his henchmen, drowned or frozen to death, Silva presses on to the chapel where M and Kincade are hiding out. Upon arrival, Silva discovers that M has sustained a gunshot wound during the battle, and attempts to force her into using his gun to fire a single bullet through both of their heads. Quietly, Bond enters the chapel and throws a knife into Silva’s back, killing him.Despite defeating his enemy, Bond has arrived too late to save M, who succumbs to her earlier wound and dies in his arms. For the orphaned Bond, losing M is like losing his mother all over again. An epilogue shows off a more old school MI6… with Miss Moneypenny now a secretary, Mallory installed as the new M, and M’s office almost an exact duplicate of the one which appeared from 1962 until 1989.

If “Casino Royale” was Bond’s “Batman Begins,” then “Skyfall” is most certainly his “Dark Knight.” It isn’t just that Raoul Silva has a lot in common with Heath Ledger’s Joker (including his affinity for the creation of chaos), or that Bond bests his nemesis while failing to protect a woman he cares for. “Skyfall” is also just a hair better than “Casino Royale”… no small feat. There’s so much that “Skyfall” gets right that it renders any plotholes insignificant. Adele’s Oscar-winning title tune is the best piece of Bond music since Paul McCartney’s “Live and Let Die.” Javier Bardem, though not as menacing as he was in “No Country for Old Men,” makes Raoul Silva my favorite Bond villain. I also love the fact that Judi Dench is given a meatier role here than in any of her previous appearances, which date all the way back to “GoldenEye.” But the greatest of all is, of course, Daniel Craig. It was with “Skyfall” that Craig dethroned Sean Connery as my favorite actor to portray James Bond. I have nothing but love for a movie that can pull that off! To date, “Skyfall” is the only Bond film I’ve ever seen theatrically. My knee-jerk reaction to it at the time was to call it my all-time favorite Bond film. It’s not quite THAT good, but it’s brilliant enough to get closer than anything else the series has produced in years.

  1. Sylvia Williams says:

    I concur 100%! Excellent review of my second favorite Bond film of all time!

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