Spoilers. Gigantic spoilers.
Director: Sam Mendes
Screenwriter: Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, John Logan
Cast: Daniel Craig, Judy Dench, Javier Bardem, Ralph Fiennes
Runtime: 143 mins
Release Date: In Cinemas Now
For the most part, Skyfall is a throwback; a quip heavy, action laden, globe-trotting romp (albeit one with plenty of 21st Century grit) which sees 007 flirt, fraternise and kill for King and Country. Yet the final reel migrates to somewhere distinctly un-Bond-y when, in an attempt to protect M (Judy Dench) from the vengeful Silva (Javier Bardem), Bond (Daniel Craig) retreats to his childhood home in the Scottish Highlands, a building named Skyfall. Throughout the franchise’s history, Bond’s shadowy childhood has been seldom dealt with and the climax of Sam Mendes’ blockbuster makes for a satisfyingly poignant change.
Skyfall is one of Bond’s strongest entries because of the relationship which drives the film, coming to the fore in the final act. Judy Dench – who has been commendable since GoldenEye for her exasperated portrayal of M – is finally given a real and emotional character arc which foregrounds her vulnerability, her relationship to her country and, more importantly, her agents. The finale brings the characters together as a metaphorical family: M and Albert Finney’s Kincade stand in as Bond’s mother and father, and Silva is the brother and son consumed by jealousy and, more prominently, betrayal.
“Done” answers Bond – with the cynical anger that we have come to recognise in Craig’s portrayal – when the word ‘Skyfall’ is mentioned during a word association test. One does not need to be a psychologist to see that this man is far from free of his anguished past and, as it transpires, ill fit for duty. Faking his test results, M dispatches Bond into the field where he eventually finds Silva, a cyber-terrorist former agent with genius levels of intellect and the capacity and inclination to mentally torture those who have wronged him. From his entrance – an uncomfortably threatening homoerotic encounter with Bond – through to the climax of a third act gunfight in a courthouse, Silva manages to outsmart the British Intelligence, personally undermining Bond and M along the way.
Having survived a dosage of Hydrogen Cyanide (“Life clung to me like a disease”) which left him mentally and physically disfigured, Silva is hell-bent on wreaking havoc in M’s life as her decision – expending him to ensure the safety of six other agents – wrecked his. His anger manifests itself in a manner akin to a child upset at a mother who will not appreciate him, a sense of betrayal all the more affecting as it is wrapped up in adoration and love. Moreover, Bond is the new ‘son’ of M of whom he is jealous and their encounters are battles of assertion and wit. This begins with Silva’s deconstruction of Bond’s sexuality and machismo and by revealing the information that M sent him physically and mentally unstable into the field. Silva’s plan reaches its apex when he escapes from his capture in MI6 and draws Bond into a game of cat and mouse in subterranean London culminating in the aforementioned shoot-out. Fleeing the courthouse, Bond decides to outwit Silva by drawing him away from his carefully laid plan and into his shadowy past.
For 50 years of exploits we have seen Bond battle with outlandish foes grasping at megalomaniac ideas, but the stakes of this narrative are more concerned with the inner conflicts of the characters. The sexiness and glamour give way to Gothicism in a stunningly photographed – Roger Deakins makes sure that this is the most beautiful Bond has ever looked – home invasion sequence which is all-but devoid of high-tech gadgets and weaponry and sees M out from behind her desk with a gun in her hand. Skyfall is destroyed in a breathtaking explosion and the action retreats to a small chapel in the moors where, having left Bond supposedly drowned in a frozen lake, Silva readies himself for the tearful execution of M and of himself. Bond arrives and, by driving an old hunting knife deep into the back of the villain, saves his ‘mother’ from an undignified death. Of course, M has been mortally wounded in the invasion but Bond is at her side and cradles her as she dies.
This final scene is arguably the most symbolic the franchise has dared to venture, having the conflicted hero literally retreat to his tragic past and protect his figurative mother and gain a sense of closure and import. Whilst he is unsuccessful in saving her life, the scene sees him reunited with the maternal figure that has been missing in his life which, whilst glamorous and debonair, has been devoid of compassion and family. In a neat coda, we see that Bond will return, now with a rebuilt sense of duty: he will serve and protect his country in his mother’s honour.