It’s almost unfathomable to think that the James Bond franchise has generated a total of twenty-three films about the roguishly charming British spy, Skyfall being the twenty-third. With the clout of Sam Mendes (famed for American Beauty) and the cool, collected aura of Daniel Craig as Bond, Skyfall is a simultaneously subtle and overt exploration of, for lack of a better term, mother issues.
Mendes, known for his sweeping, extended action scenes (see: Jarhead) opens the film in an unusual manner, almost as though it were in medias res, as Bond sets out on a chase for someone who stole a hard drive containing the names of every undercover NATO agent working within various terrorist organizations. The chase leads him to the top of a train car as he battles it out with the hard drive thief, Patrice (Ola Rapace, yes, he’s married to Noomi Rapace). All the while, Eve Moneypenny (Naomie Harris, who you recognize from Pirates of the Caribbean as Tia Dalma) follows him from the sidelines awaiting instruction from the ubiquitous M (Judi Dench, as delightfully irreverent as ever) during this hair-raising snafu. As the tussle heightens, M insists that Eve take aim with her gun, regardless of the risk she runs in hitting Bond instead. Hesitantly, Eve takes the shot, causing Bond to fall off the train after the bullet hits him and land in a raging waterfall that segues into the ethereal title sequences and accompanying Adele track, “Skyfall” (I admire the Bond franchise’s ability to always get the main song on the soundtrack to share the same name as the movie—“The World is Not Enough” and “Die Another Day” being personal favorites).
Bond, of course, survives the bullet and finds himself living island life bliss with a steady girl to fuck and no shortage of drinking games to play. It is not until he sees a news report of a recent bombing of MI6 headquarters that he is shook out of his state of relaxation. Knowing that M is going to need him now more than ever, Bond comes out of his death retirement to help her. When he appears in her apartment, M acts as though she’s been expecting him all along, and gets down to the business of setting him up for his physical and psychological exams. Visibly affected by his gunshot wound, Bond has difficulty with grip strength and stamina, not to mention his psychological analysis. During a series of word associations, the doctor brings up the word “Skyfall,” to which Bond replies, “Done” and promptly gets up from his chair to leave. The meaning and emotional weight of Skyfall does not become clear until the third act, when Bond is left no choice but to return to his childhood home in Scotland, an estate called Skyfall.
With Gareth Mallory (Ralph Fiennes), the Chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee, breathing down M’s next to get the hard drive back before the list of undercover agents is decoded, M ignores the fact that Bond has failed all of his tests and lies to both Mallory and Bond about his preparedness to return to the field. In the meantime, M continues to receive threatening messages from the person in possession of the list, warning her that five names a week will be released to the public and that M is advised to “think on [her] sins.” Puzzled as to who could be behind it all, Bond (conveniently) extracts some shrapnel from his chest that he gives to the evidence lab. The shrapnel traces to back to Patrice, who Bond was battling at the beginning of the story, and allows him to track Patrice to another operation he’s performing in Shanghai, the most surreal place ever other than inside of a Dali painting. Once Bond corners Patrice after he takes a hit out on his target from a building across the way, Bond dangles him from the ledge, attempting to get him to reveal who his primary employer is, but his hand strength is too diminished to keep holding on, thus letting Patrice fall to his death. The woman who witnessed the murder in the building across from Bond, Sévérine (Bérénice Lim Marlohe), regards him somewhat lustfully before Bond disappears with a casino chip he found on Patrice that leads him to Macau.
Alone in his hotel room, Bond is startled when, in the midst of close shaving, Eve knocks on his door. The chemistry between them is undeniable (though the chemistry between Bond and anyone with a vagina is usually undeniable) as she explains that she’s been sent as support for his mission and offers to help him shave, commenting mockingly on his old school ways—yet another theme of Skyfall: The old school is the better school.
Upon arriving at the casino, Bond cashes in his chip, entitling him to a handsome four millionish euros that immediately catches the eye of Sévérine, who takes the opportunity to use the pickup line, “Why don’t you buy me a drink now that you can afford it?” The standard Bondian banter ensues at the bar as he calls Sévérine out on being a high class prostitute (the best kind) and implores her to take him to her boss. She scoffs and tells him that if he can get out of the casino alive, he’s more than welcome to join her on the boat that’s about to dock to the island where this mysterious madman awaits. That madman is Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem, who I actually think outshines all of his past roles with this one), a diabolical bleach blonde who formerly worked for MI6 under M’s reign.
Naturally, since Bond escapes the casino after being thrown into a pit of carnivorous Komodo dragons, he is able to have a chat with Raoul, mainly involving Raoul describing a parable between an island of rats that eat each other until there are only two left—asserting that M has manipulated circumstances to leave James and Raoul as the final two rats. This is followed by a bit of tomfoolery in the way of gay innuendo and a Johnny Appleseed situation in which Raoul places a shot glass filled with scotch on top of Sévérine’s head and asks Bond to shoot at it. After Bond aims nowhere near Sévérine, Raoul takes the liberty of simply shooting her in the head.
At that moment, a swarm of MI6 helicopters surround the island and apprehend Raoul to take him back to London for trial. Raoul, however, has meticulously crafted a far more elaborate plan. Q (Ben Whishaw, who appropriately played Sebastian Flyte in Brideshead Revisited and is also currently appearing in Cloud Atlas), the resident computer genius for MI6, is blind-sided when Raoul hacks into the MI6 servers and gains entry into the London Underground system. Causing mayhem and chaos throughout the city, Raoul heads right for the courthouse where M is being questioned in her role as the director of MI6 by the prime minister. After shooting most everyone in the room, and injuring Mallory, Raoul flees the scene. It is then that Bond and M agree that if anyone is going to be able to take Raoul down, it will have to be the two of them alone.
While Skyfall adheres to the occasional corny line and the self-aware mockery of gadgetry, what writers Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and John Logan and director Sam Mendes have managed to do is create what is easily one of the best Bond movies in the vast selection of twenty-three.