5 of 5 stars
Typically when a movie has a troubled production, the resulting product is predictably messy and awful. Examples include the 1967 comedy Casino Royale and the infamous 1987 comedy Ishtar (which, in hindsight, isn’t nearly as bad as contemporary critics claimed). Both of those movies fell way behind schedule and went way over budget. Skyfall at first appeared to be following a similar track. Production was put on hold due to MGM’s financial woes. When the movie was finally green-lighted, it was given an estimated budget between $150 million and $200 million.
But occasionally, filmmakers can prove to triumph over adversity. A couple examples include Lawrence of Arabia and Star Wars (or, as jerks call it, Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope). Skyfall would turn out to belong to the latter category.
Skyfall starts off as a techno thriller. Bond and Miss Moneypenny are in pursuit of a bad guy who has stolen a hard drive. After an exciting and original motorcycle chase atop and through the Istanbul bazaar, Bond gets into a fistfight with the bad guy atop a moving train. Given his experience in this matter, you’d think Bond could easily get the best of said bad guy. Instead, when it looks like he is struggling, M, listening in from London as Moneypenny reports, orders Moneypenny to take a risky shot. She does, and ends up hitting 007, who plunges hundreds of feet to the river below, allowing the bad guy to get away.
Movie heroes typically don’t die during the first minutes of the movie, as we assumed in You Only Live Twice, so we’re not surprised to find Bond is still alive, living the life of a beach bum, probably off his own life insurance claim (I assume spies are given diplomatic immunity for that sort of thing). Bond finally returns to London after an attack on MI6 and information on the stolen hard drive ends up on YouTube, endangering the lives of his former colleagues.
Unlike Die Another Day, this time Bond isn’t able to just snap back into his role after a prolonged absence. He seems out-of-shape and out-of-practice. We also learn he has psychological damage when the psychiatrist who evaluates him asks him about Skyfall, and he storms off.
Despite this, M clears Bond to go back into the field and tracks the bad guy from the opening sequence to Shanghai. Unfortunately Bond drops him off the side of a building Hans Gruber-style before discovering his employer.
Bond’s next lead takes him to Macau, where he randomly encounters a sexy, mysterious woman named Severine who witnessed Bond in Shanghai. She works for the same man as the one Bond dropped from the Nakatomi Building. The villain we have yet to meet is perfectly set-up here. Bond tries to learn about her employer, and we learn she is genuinely afraid of him.
She takes Bond to her employer, who we learn is a former MI6 agent with Julian Assange’s bad hairdo named Silva set on revenge against M for a long-ago betrayal.
Silva isolates Bond on the set from the B’z music video “My Lonely Town.” He has Bond strapped to a chair and slides his hand up his thigh, inching toward his crotch, in a way that cleverly recalls the laser beam scene from Goldfinger.
Some problems with the story come with the foot chase through the London Underground in the middle of the film. Bond captures Silva with the help of a radio he received from Q. MI6 is keeping Silva in a holding cell that looks a lot like Hannibal Lector’s.
When Q hacks Silva’s computer, the security is shut down at MI6, and Silva escapes. Bond pursues Silva through subterranean London, as the latter makes a beeline to where M is defending her department at a governmental hearing. Q informs Bond this was all part of Silva’s plan. The plan was years in the making.
So I guess Silva planned years in advance the exact moment Q would hack his computer and knew exactly where M would be at that moment. Did he have cop imitators perpetually waiting for him in the subway to hand him the police uniform? He also apparently planned the precise spot where Bond would catch up with and had a bomb planted there. What would he have done if the train hadn’t come by at that exact moment? That would have been awkward if he had to stall Bond for five minutes waiting for the train to come crashing through the roof.
Maybe the Simon Gruber-esque plan that played out was one of many contingencies Silva had planned years in advance. Perhaps there was some room for flexibility in the plan. He could have planted bombs all over the London Underground and his radio would just set off the closest one.
All of this is explained away with the line this was years in the planning, so it isn’t really a plot hole. However, it does raise more questions than it answers. But at the end of the day, I don’t really care. It was just a minimum amount of explanation needed to set off a very exciting and well executed set piece. Elements of the chase were homages to other subway chase scenes, especially from Die Hard with a Vengeance and Luc Besson’s Subway.
Bond rescues M from the Silva bullet and takes her to Scotland, where they will lay a trap for Silva. We’re treated to a few good meta-jokes involving the Aston Martin DB5 from Goldfinger. They hole up in Bond’s childhood home, a creepy old manor called Skyfall. This is the perfect setting for the movie’s conclusion. We learned early in the movie the word “Skyfall” caused psychological distress to Bond. Now we know this is linked to his childhood. Just like Chinatown to Jack Nicholson in the movie of the same name, Bond goes to a physical setting that has psychological significance to him. Not only will Bond have to confront Silva here, he will also have to confront his demons from childhood. This heightens the stakes more than any movie previously in the series.
Bond and M seem to be alone in the cavernous manor, but then they are crept up on by the elderly gamekee—Holy shit! Is that Sean Connery?! Wait… No. Too bad. The producers decided to hire someone other than Connery to play the part of the elderly Scottish gamekeeper at Bond’s childhood home because they thought having Connery in the film would distract audiences from the story. However, I found it distracting he wasn’t in the film as I mentally pictured Connery delivering the lines ‘Welcome to Scotland!’ and ‘I was ready before you were born, son.’ (Connery played Bond before Daniel Craig was born.)
I credit a lot of elements in this film to Daniel Craig himself. In an interview after the release of Quantum of Solace, Craig was asked where he would like Bond to go in the next film. Craig responded:
‘I’d like to go to a beach for an hour and 20 minutes and then have about 10 minutes of action. That would do me. I could look out, and explosions could be happening everywhere. And I could be sipping my cocktail.’
This wish of Craig’s seems to have made it into the film. After Bond is shot at the beginning, he appears to be living on a beach. He is having a drink on the beach when he learns of the explosion at MI6 headquarters.
In another interview around the same time, Craig talked about the direction he’d like the next film to take:
‘The relationship between Bond and M is secure, and Felix is secure. Let’s try and find where Moneypenny came from and where Q comes from. Let’s do all that and have some fun with it.’
Skyfall indeed reintroduces Q and Moneypenny to the franchise in fun and inventive ways.
Craig should also be credited for bringing his friends Sam Mendes and Javier Bardem on board as the director and villain, respectively.
Other than the psychological angle discussed above, I think the reason Skyfall resonated with audiences is because it incorporated elements of Joseph Campbell’s “monomyth”—humanity’s shared mythology that supposedly has roots in deep-seated human psychology. Here are the 17 stages of the monomyth and how they play out in Skyfall (although not necessarily in order).
The Call to Adventure: The theft of the hard-drive.
Refusal of the Call: After being shot, Bond finds a beach and refuses to return to work.
Supernatural aid: Provided by an (ironically) young Q, who gives Bond his new gun and radio.
Crossing the Threshold: Before encountering Severine in the casino, Bond passes through a dragon’s mouth. This is a Chinese symbol of good luck, but also a literal crossing of a threshold.
Belly of the Whale: As in Jonah and the Whale. This is toward the end, when Bond is plunged into a deep loch at his childhood home, and comes out reborn.
The Road of Trials: Difficulties encountered by Bond on his journey: the fight in the casino, escape from Silva’s island, chase through the subway.
The Meeting with the Goddess: The blossoming friendship between Bond and Moneypenny.
Woman as Temptress: Represented by the beach at the beginning, “tempting” Bond away from his duty. Also represented by the actual woman Bond sleeps with in this segment.
Atonement with the Father: Bond calls M ‘Mum.’ She represents a parental figure Bond needs to reconcile with.
Apotheosis: Quite moment on the road to Bond’s home in Scotland.
The Ultimate Boon: Bond saves M from Silva’s assassination attempt.
Refusal of the Return: Bond and M flee to Scotland rather than stay in the real world of London.
The Magic Flight: Bond flees with the “boon” (M).
Rescue from Without: Bond receives help from the elderly gamekeeper at Skyfall.
The Crossing of the Return Threshold: Bond returns to MI6.
Master of the Two Worlds: Bond overcomes his psychological trauma by running from his exploding home through an underground passage, emerging from the flames like a phoenix reborn.
Freedom to Live: No longer fearing death nor regretting his past, James Bond will return…