Skyfall – a spoilery review

Right. Here’s my review of the new Bond film, Skyfall.

First, the short spoiler-free version.

What? You want more? Hmm. Keeping it spoiler-free:
The best Bond in the best Bond film, bar none.

Seriously? That’s not enough? Right. You asked for it. Warning, spoilers abound within.
*flexes fingers*

I was serious about the best Bond. I fully admit that I was nervous when I heard that Daniel Craig was going to be Bond, but within 30 seconds of Casino Royale starting, I was sold. By the time we hit the opening credits I knew we were in safe hands.

I *loved* Casino Royale, by the way. More of that another day. I even quite liked Quantum of Solace, though mainly due to Craig’s Bond.

(I’ve had several discussions with people over the ‘best’ Bond. Connery is the popular choice here, though I have a huge soft spot for the Moore era, as that was the Bond I grew up with. Lazenby is highly underrated and Dalton could have done so much better with a half-decent script. I loved Brosnan’s Bond, though not his Bond movies which were sub-par at best. Yes, even GoldenEye. And the least said about the invisible Aston the better. I mean, who on earth wants an invisible Aston Martin? They’re bloody gorgeous!)

Ahem. Where was I? Oh yes, Skyfall.

It was with a little trepidation that I sat down to watch Skyfall. Were we going to get another Casino Royale? Or another Quantum of Solace-esque mishmash of confused plot?

Again, within 30 seconds of Skyfall starting, I breathed a sigh of relief.The old gun barrel opening wasn’t there, but the way Bond appears, stealthily down a darkened passage only to pop into focus in an artfully placed shaft of light?

Bond is back. Properly back. The pre-title sequence is breathtaking, starting with a car chase, then bikes, bikes on rooftops, bikes on trains, diggers! On trains! Piling one thing on top of another, pressure upon pressure, just the way a good  Bond sequence should.

Then that wonderful beat, that glorious split second where Bond jumps down from the digger (on a train!) as the back is ripped away from the carriage. Bond stands as the carriage behind him falls away and, cool and calm as only Bond could be, straightens his shirt cuffs.

I’ll say it again: Bond is back. Properly, properly back.

There’s the theme tune. After Casino Royale’s “You Know My Name” by Chris Cornell (which I still rate as a decent Bond tune, though realise that I’m firmly in the minority here) and Quantum of Solace’s theme, which I really dislike with a passion, we get a full-blown Bassey-esque belter, courtesy of Adele.

This is a proper Bond tune, for our proper Bond. One which you can still hum days later. Big, brassy and bold. Utterly splendid, it wouldn’t feel out of place in any of the earlier Bond movies. Easily in my top 5. But that’s for another post, another day.

As for the film itself, it fairly rattles along at a marvellous pace, gleefully referencing Bond movies across the series’ 50 years. We get the classic Aston DB5, complete with gadgets, guns and gizmos. We get Bond escaping from mortal peril by runnning across the backs of komodo dragons, a nice little nod to Live and Let Die’s alligator farm. We get the Moore-esque comedy one-liner as Bond jumps on to the back of a speeding tube train. Brilliant little pieces which are scattered throughout the film like chocolate chunks in a particularly tasty ice cream.

In Javier Bardem’s Silva we get one of the best villains the series has seen for a very long time. Forget card-playing terrorist bankers. Forget media moguls trying to sell newspapers (if only I could). From his entrance in slowly descending Rocky Horror-esque lift, delivering a beautifullly paced monologue (what is it with villains and monologues?) as he slowly walked towards the camera, you just know Bond is in for a bit of a rough time. This is a villain with an actual honest to goodness reason for doing what he’s doing.

That moment where Silva toys with Bond, hand opening his immaculate white shirt, stroking Bond’s chest affectionately gives us one of Bond’s best lines:
“what makes you think this is my first time?”
He is an Eton old boy, after all…

Silva has one thing on his mind though, and it’s not Bond. The movie is all about M. M loses the NOC list – sorry, wrong spy franchise – and Bond has to get it back. It’s why Bond comes back from the dead. ‘Mummy dearest’ M is in trouble, so Bond drags himself out of his Heineken-soaked retirement to save the day. M finally gets the part she deserves in this, along with some brilliant one liners of her own. I loved the “well, you’re not bloody staying here” to Bond after his reappearance in her house.

On an aside, that was one thing which struck me – Silva goes through quite an elaborate series of Proper Villian shenanigans and plots to get to M, whilst Bond waltzes into her house, past lord knows how many alarm systems on a fairly regular basis. He hacks into her computer with a kind of bored ease, something the ubergenius computer hacker Silva appears to struggle with.

Oh, the hacking bits. Love. Especially the moment where Ben Whishaw’s delightful Q realises that Silva has hacked MI6 because he’s been numpty enough to plug Silva’s laptop into the network. Muppet.

I love that Q is back, drinking Earl Grey from his Q scrabble mug. Please, please let us keep him. And they’ve avoided another excruciating turn from John Cleese. Q has another nod to the franchise history with his lovely “what did you expect, an exploding pen? We don’t really go in for that any more”. Marvellous stuff.

Skyfall is packed with glorious cinematography – the night time neon-lit sniper action in Shanghai is absolutely gorgeous, as are the Scottish highlands (though it’d take some effort to make them look bad). And I loved that the bulk of the film is set around the UK. Well, London and Scotland at least. Bond struggling through the rush hour tube was fun to watch.

As for the Bond girls, we’ve got Eve (the lovely Naomie Harris), who turns out to be more than expected and Severine and of course, M. Can we say Oedipal complex, boys and girls?

Severine was the trickiest of the lot – Bond sizes her up as being a former child prostitute and product of the sex trade, then goes right ahead and shags her anyway. Heartless swine that he is. Then there’s a moment soon after where Silva forces Bond to try and shoot a glass of whisky placed on Severine’s head, with what appears to be a flintlock of some description. The inevitable happens (though at Silva’s hand as Bond refuses to play Silva’s game), and Bond turns to deliver the line “waste of bloody good scotch”. Shocking and callous at first glance. But there was a beat, a fraction of a second where you can see in Bond’s eyes that Severine’s death hit him.

But this is the new Bond, hardened by the death of Vesper in Casino Royale, armour fully in place.

I could go on, but this is getting ridiculously long as it is. Silva is a magnificent Bond villain, and the only one from the series that comes to mind who actually gets what he wants, in the end. A brave move by the writers.

Ralph Fiennes taking over as M at the end of the film feels in a way like it’s the series saying “Right. We’ve cleared the decks. Bond has been set up. Q is here, as is Moneypenny. The old M is gone, the last remnant of the former series. Time for a new story.”

Where will they go next? I can almost see them going back to Doctor No – it’d be fascinating to see Craig and his new, realist, battered, bloodied Bond take on some of the classic Fleming stories.

Have you seen Skyfall? What did you think? Is Craig’s Bond the best Bond ever? Is Skyfall? I would love to know what you think.

Author: dave

Book reviewer, occasional writer, photographer, coffee-lover, cyclist, spoon carver and stationery geek.

13 thoughts on “Skyfall – a spoilery review”

  1. Love your review, and I couldn’t agree more!

    As a rare fan of darker Bonds such Dalton and The Living Daylights (although I’ll always have a soft spot for Roger), I was slightly apprehensive about the reintroduction of ‘gags’ and humour. It’s such a relief to see all that stuff well balanced and not awkwardly shoehorned.

    It’s pretty clear that the aim was to crank up the IQ level of the film’s script and style. Sam Mendes, Roger Deakins and John Logan all pulled it off perfectly. It’s so satisfying to have a Bond film with a central theme running from start to finish (unlike QoS – I actually got bored after the fifth explosion) – the whole idea of Bond and Silva being part of the Yin Yang relationship, not to mention M at the centre. I see it as an evolution to a more “thinking man’s” Bond. The mere presence of Ralph Fiennes kind of proves it, I mean can you imagine Ralph agreeing to do DAD?

    I also love how the film promotes Englishness or Britishness in a contemporary, Spooks-eque way without the usual flag-waving nonsense – from cinematography to the choice of locations. There was something cool about watching a black Range Rover cruising across the Thames under grey skies with Newman’s score pumping in the background. It’s all so subtle and yet so informative. Very Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.

    I really hope audiences will appreciate the great filmmaking involved as well as the action, set pieces etc. Craig and Mendes together have made a traditional and classy Bond. Love!

    1. It’s a pleasant surprise to get a Bond film where you can discuss things like cinematography and plot! For me, it’s not just a great Bond film, it’s a great film, full stop.

      I wonder if Mendes will make another? Or will he, having set the bar so high, just step away? Would love to see him tackle another.

    2. Finally saw “Skyfall” last night and was every bit as thrilled as I was hoping to be! Aside from the spectacular cinematography and settings, I really appreciated the character development. No one was completely good nor completely evil. Even Silva had a rational motivation ~ he had been M’s sacrificial lamb. It’s all well and good to say “it was done for the greater good and I saved six agents” but when you’re the one who has been abandoned to unspeakable horrors, statistics mean nothing.

      The acting was extraordinary. A good example is Severine’s eyes that expressed genuine fear even as she appeared to be the epitome of sophisticated coolness, as Bond observed. Silva, Bond, M, Moneypenny, Q ~ all a delight to behold.

      As a child of the 60s I grew up with Sean Connery and it’s been hard for subsequent Bonds to live up to that standard. But Daniel Craig has managed to preserve Connery’s tongue-in-cheek, almost robotic sophistication while not being afraid to expose his vulnerable core. Even my husband, who up till now has basically refused to see any Bond movies since Connery, concedes that “Skyfall” was brilliant. Indeed, after 50 years, Bond is back!

  2. Wrong, wrong and wronger still. In a nutshell: Craig=good. Baddie = very good. The setting? UK = felt like episode of Spooks. The opening = spoiled if you have seen Taken 2 – really? The SAME rooftops? There aren’t other rooftops one can chase around on?! Back to the baddie – HOW did he do what he did? Yes, room full of computery “things” but what were they? What was the point? How did Bond track the baddie down? By sleeping with the girl WHILST HER BLOOMING SHIP TOOK HIM TO THE BAD MAN’S HIDEOUT (which was good b the way) at which point Bond allowed the girl to die and someone else (in helicopters) swoop in and save the day. This is a James Bond film, bloody BOND IS SUPPOSED TO SAVE THE DAY (and the girl, unless and let’s be clear he is a)married or b) I love with her, THEN they can be bumped off!! The house in Scotland = Home Alone (never seen it but a testament to it that I know a house full of booby traps is homage enough!!). The big finale, knife to the back? No lasers, no exploding gas canister, no exploding pen????!!! At least tell us M is short for “Monique”. How good would THAT have been? “Mommy has been very bad” = best line by far!
    Next Bond. Craig= YES!! But maybe a spaceship, a submarine eating submarine or at least in the name of all that is holy a pen, that quite simply explodes whence it is required to = happy Bond-fan.

    1. Sounds like a fun discussion can be had at Christmas over a couple of ciders. 🙂

      Bond deliberately let himself be taken to Silva’s hideout! And had his Q-Branch issued mini-radio to call in the troops.

      And the end piece, in Scotland? Brilliant. Twisted round the formulaic Bond has to infiltrate the bad guy’s lair schtick that’s run a bit past its sell-by date. Plus he got to use the Aston’s gadgets!

      M (well Judi Dench’s M) is called Barbara Mawdsely, though the ‘M’ is more of a job title than anything else, despite previous (and new) Ms all having a surname starting with the letter.

      I did say I’d love to see Craig as Bond take on the classics. How good would that be?

  3. It was very definitely a “Bondy Bond” – loved the whole aside about Mallory being formerly of the Hereford Regiment – the new M is ex SAS boys and girls.

    I rather like to think that all “real” identities in the secret spook world are cover identites and that Mallory is actually the same person as John Steed 🙂

    1. There’s the ongoing theory that James Bond is also a cover identity, which neatly covers the reason why Bond has been going on for 50 years. Doesn’t quite explain why some of the previous Bonds have mourned the death of his wife though.

  4. I haven’t seen it yet, but after reading this review I will. I loved Casino Royale and warmed immediately to Craig as Bond. It sounds like a grand romp. Thanks for a fun to read review. =o)

  5. Lovely review but one in which I disagree with on the main premise and that was the film which bored me and was for me a serious disappointment.

    I do agree with you on Craig as Bond, the best by far for me and he has (until now) helped to breath some life into what had become a brand without relevance and was close to disappearing up it’s own arse if it had not already done so. Suddenly there was interest again, a grittiness that had knowing winks to the lineage but was clearly out to reshape things going forward. This film had well documented money troubles and you can feel it in the film almost as though the film was going to be one thing but as the cash ran out they attempted to complete it on the cheap and in doing so limped along to a finale that they all simply couldn’t wait to get out of.

    Happy with the song by Adele and the introduction of Fiennes is a good shout and you can see the potential of him, Craig and the new Q taking things on to a different level (although for me Q was not in the least bit believeable). I thought the film completely regressed in terms of female characterization as well – Moneypenny get back behind that desk where you belong, M lets pension you off or kill you and let the boys do all the proper work thanks very much. I’d expect better from Mendes.

    As for Javier Bardem I’m never going to be able to watch him in any film without laughing hysterically as I remember this ham fisted, over acted load of tosh that he put in, which allied to the farcical plot had me wishing the film to just end. For christ sake just shoot M if you want her dead and stop phaffing around.

    The franchise is now at a real crossroads for me, continue down the Casino Royale route and develop it into something of relevance of vanish back up it’s own arse.

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