Skyfall had an incredible opening weekend in the United States. It is now the top grossing film in the James Bond franchise. So did it live up the hype? Absolutely.
As the film begins James Bond is in a lot of trouble. Someone has gotten a hold of the names of all of the field agents in MI6 and they plan on releasing those names to the public. In the process of fighting for the list of agents’ names Bond is shot (by our beloved Miss Moneypenny nonetheless!). In fact we are pretty sure he is dead. He falls from a huge height into a body of water. How he survives we are unsure (James Bond magic). But he is dead. Not physically (though MI6 declares so) but emotionally and spiritually. He is tired and he seems to be done with the whole secret agent thing.
He finally returns upon hearing that there has been a terrorist attack at MI6 headquarters. Not that he is ready to protect and serve. He is forced to undergo testing to see if he is fit for duty. The testing scenes are painful, showing that our beloved Bond has turned into a bitter alcoholic. He fails even the most “basic” physical examinations. He can’t hit a target even up close. We are left to wonder what has happened. Perhaps he really has reached the end of his rope with this lifestyle. Somehow, he is found to be “fit for service.” We know that he has failed the test and that M passed him through (without his knowledge).
While all of this is going on we find that out that M is being investigated by the government. She is seen as incompetent in running the security organization. The fact that she lost the names of agents puts her in serious trouble. They argue that her style is old fashioned. She argues that her way is proven. The theme of old versus new is huge in this film. We see some fresh new faces (Q and Miss Moneypenny) face off against older and wiser characters (007 and M). These interactions are wonderful. Even we fear that 007 has lost his edge.
As 007 pursues the bad guys we hold our breath. If he isn’t fit for duty how is he going to pull this off? He does just fine (sigh of relief through the crowd) and ends up tracking the list down to Javier Bardem’s character, Silva. We find out Silva is ex-MI6. He was abandoned by M and disabled by a faulty potassium cyanide pill (can that even happen?) and is left bitter and tortured by his past (there’s a lot of “bitter and tortured” in this movie – but hey, this is espionage people!). He doesn’t seek to rule the world. He is only attempting to kill M.
007 and Silva have many things in common in terms of their feelings and experiences with M, but Bond is left taking the high road and fulfilling his obligation to protect the government. After Silva is kidnapped and subsequently escapes we end up on a chase all the way to Skyfall. This is James Bond’s childhood home. He and M wait there, luring Silva to the fortified location. After an incredible battle (and some innovative use of technology that would make Q proud) Silva is killed. But not before he manages to kill M. The audience is left with mixed feelings about M. During the film she is being questioned for really screwing up security at MI6. She loses very precious information and puts the whole government in jeopardy. She is also personally responsible for abandoning Silva. But she had faith in 007 when no one else did. And her intuition was right. He did the job and he did it well. Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks?
Daniel Craig once again proves that he is one of best men ever to step into the role. One of the things that is so great about Craig’s portrayal of 007 is that he got the chance to play a James Bond that was no where near cool, calm and collected. You could sense his pain, anger and heartache. This Bond is much closer to that original secret agent drawn by the pen of Ian Fleming. This film gave us a chance to see a bit more of the human side of James Bond. We couldn’t really praise him enough for this role. He continues to make the franchise edgy after almost 50 years.
And of course Javier Bardem. The casting is absolutely perfect. Bardem steals every scene he is in and manages to actually capture the audience in a way that is rare for a Bond villain. Of course Silva is an awful human being who has down awful things but, as the audience, we feel his pain. We can understand wanting to punish M for the pain Silva had gone through. And of course the scene everyone is talking about is Silva’s come-on to 007. The chemistry between the two in this scene is electric. They play off each other in a perfect way. The filmmakers could have chosen to have James Bond be homophobic, but they took the high road. And while we could make the critique that making an evil villain Queer is such an overplayed stereotype (The Silence of the Lambs, The Lion King, Psycho) in Skyfall it is done right.
The supporting cast is, frankly, incredible. Ben Whishaw is a fantastic Q. Some people are upset that Q is actually younger than Bond (and gorgeous in his own right). The author doesn’t tend to have an issue with the modern updates to the franchise. Yes, Daniel Craig is blonde. Yes, M is a woman. Yes, Miss Moneypenny is Black. Yes, Q is very young. But isn’t that why we still want to see these films? Because they adapt a 50 year old idea to the present? The cars, guns, women and explosions are all still there. But back to Q. He embodies the theme of experience vs. youth. We only hope he sticks around. Naomi Harris also plays a captivating Miss Moneypenny. She is very by-the-book in her approach to fieldwork ,putting her at odds with Bond’s sometimes very off-the-book approach. The chemistry between the two of them is incredibly fun to watch. And of course the reveal at the end that she is indeed Miss Moneypenny made many faces light up in the theater.