Skyfall (2012)

For such a successful franchise of movies, there is no denying that of the 23 James Bond installments, a handful of the movies are nothing special on their own. That is to say, strip away the Bond allure and you’re left with a lot of movies that probably resemble a 2014 Kevin Costner film (3 Days to Kill, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit… you get the picture). But the most recent entry Skyfall certainly does not fit into this category of Bond movies. In many ways, Sam Mendes’ first Bond movie is not a typical Bond film; making it not just a great James Bond movie, but a great movie in general.

Mendes gives the viewer this sense early when Q says to Bond — but really to the audience as a sort of aside — “what did you expect, an exploding pen?” It’s Mendes way of saying, “what did you expect, a typical Bond movie?” In the case of Q, what he gives Bond — a fingerprint encoded gun — is even better. And in the case of Mendes, what he gives the viewer is also far better.

Too often, Bond movies fall short by neglecting characterization — believing Bond needs none — and creating nonsensical villains, the kind that only “want to take over the world” or create mass destruction for no apparent reason. Skyfall, on an elementary level, is better than most movies because it actually works hard to characterize Bond, not just fall back on the character we all know with no modifications. We all know he’s the coolest spy ever, but, in Skyfall, we get to know an aging Bond a little better.

He’s not the same spy he was years ago, but that’s not going to stop him, and M won’t let it either. His age and, more generally, the battle between the old and the new is an integral part of the movie. One telling scene is when Bond meets the new and very young Q at an art museum. They are staring at a painting of an old, decommissioned warship being hauled off for scrap. The symbolism is not necessarily subtle, but it serves the purpose nonetheless. Bond is determined not to be that ship being hauled off. Both he and M have work to do.

Specifically, they need to stop Silva, the former MI6 agent betrayed by M who, through the power of technology has infiltrated the agency and put its agents at serious risk. Silva, unlike the aforementioned Bond villains, does not want to take over the world or steal trillions of dollars. He just wants to exact vengeance on the woman who gave him over to the Chinese for torture, M. The clear and understandable plan and motivation for Silva makes him such a great Bond villain.

Also, he is an absolute genius and, for most of the movie, has both Bond and M playing right into his own plan. Reminiscent of the Joker in The Dark Knight, Silva has an intricate plan which does, in fact, include getting captured. However, Silva the character is nothing without Javier Bardem the actor. Bardem easily put in one of the best Bond-villain performances in the history of the franchise (the stage has been set, Mr. Waltz — if anyone can top it, it’s you).

Like in most of his movies, Bardem is almost unrecognizable, this time as the blonde Silva. His portrayal of the calculating and calm yet clearly vengeful character almost gives the viewer chills. His opening scene on the island where he tells the story of the rats is phenomenal in introducing his character and providing a nice backdrop story for the whole movie: Bond and Silva are the last two rats, M’s last two rats.

In the end, Bond, unsurprisingly, is the last rat standing, but not until after an epic final battle between Silva and his men and Bond, M, and Kincaid at the titular location, Skyfall, where Bond grew up. The scene is like Home Alone, only if Michael Bay directed Home Alone. Silva brings enough explosives to make Bay proud and enough to make up for the fact that Bond, M, and Kincaid are fighting with rifles and homemade explosives. Silva’s entrance to the unconventional battlefield is one of the more memorable aspects of the movie too. He flies onto the scene blasting the rock song “Boom, Boom”. In this scene, it is clear that, although Skyfall is not a typical Bond movie, it has not sacrificed any of the signature elements of cool that all the movies have.

Like Silva’s entrance, the whole scene is pretty awesome too and once again indicative of the more general theme of old vs. new. While Silva is arriving on a helicopter with machine guns and grenades, Bond is in an old house fighting with makeshift weapons. In the end, the oldest and simplest weapon of all, a knife, ends it when Bond throws it into the back of Silva before he can exact his long-awaited revenge on M. The end isn’t all happy, as M does die — ending Judi Dench’s long run as the character, unless she comes back from the dead like Bond does in this very movie. However, she can die in peace knowing that she is, in fact, leaving the agency better off than she found it.

Director Sam Mendes has proven what he can do with a Bond movie, and the results were impressive. As I’ve said, he improved on a lot of the shortcomings of many Bond movies but still managed to stay true to the Bond franchise. The music, for example, was reminiscent of the old movies. Bond’s swagger was unmatched as usual. And the opening chase scene as well as the climactic scene were both as epic as you would expect in any Bond film. It will be hard to top Skyfall, but with Mendes at the helm, at the very least we can expect to see from Spectre is another unique, exciting movie that still stays true to essence of Bond.