For more thoughts on Skyfall, watch this week’s That Bond Show.
A sweeping, gorgeously shot, and emotionally resonant film, Skyfall is a masterpiece and a triumphant and brilliantly-crafted Bond film, one that was the perfect way to ring in the 50th anniversary of the James Bond film series.
Star Daniel Craig gives one of the finest performances of his illustrious career and arguably the greatest of any Bond actor here: delivering a more subtle and introspective performance than his portrayal of 007 in Casino Royale, but one that is packed with emotion, grief, existential dread, and even the very nature of whether a man like Bond has a place in the world any longer.
Craig is given so much to work with and so many other similarly fantastic actors to work off of. Particular praise must be directed toward Bond and M’s relationship here, with Craig and Judi Dench delivering award-worthy performances and forging the emotional heart of the film. It is a brilliant subversion of the usual “Bond girl” trope to flip that on its head and make Dench’s M the main female co-star to Bond.
The idea and relationship here works wonderfully, building off the work between these two done in Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace. Dench’s M gives an anguished and proud performance as she is also tasked with confronting the reality of her time drawing to a close. Of being forced to take stock of the decisions and choices she’s made and the impact she’s had.
One of those decisions helped lead to the creation of the film’s villain, Javier Bardem’s electrifying Raul Silva. Bardem, like so many in Skyfall, delivers one of the greatest performances of his career as he transforms into the brilliant, unnerving, and subtly terrifying villain. Silva walks in the footsteps of so many prior Bond villain giants. The likes of Dr. No, Auric Goldfinger, Blofeld, Franz Sanchez, and 006 can all be found in the DNA of Silva.
Bardem gives Silva this almost terminator-like ability to just keep going and to always be five steps ahead of everyone else. It should also be noted that as my That Bond Show co-host Trevor pointed out, Silva is virtually the only Bond villain who accomplishes his big goal in the film, making him historic for that reason as well.
I could watch the first meeting between James and Silva in this movie again and again and constantly pick up new things and find new ways to be delighted by it. From how it was staged, with the set deliberately designed to be just long enough for Silva to slowly walk towards Bond while delivering his speech, to the sudden intimacy of Silva and Bond sitting almost on top of each other as they verbally spar and try to suss the other out. Silva shines as this unknown and creepy figure and perfectly matches and exceeds Bond’s sexual energy in new and fun ways.
There is just this trio of excellent characters here in Bond, M, and Silva, yet to only talk about them would do a massive disservice to the also great debut performances of Ralph Fiennes, Ben Whishaw, and Naomi Harris all who deliver wonderfully in stepping into the shoes of iconic roles and characters. The chemistry between Harris and Craig in particular is out of this world, with the shaving scene between the two being one of the most intense and delightfully intimate scenes in the entire series’ history.
Daniel Craig’s run as James Bond is divisive, including for me, yet unquestionably he delivers a series- and career-worthy performance here. Understated, emotional, and delving for the first real time into the mythology and the very nature of who James Bond is and what made him, his performance in Skyfall is a masterclass.
If the three-film run of Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace, and Skyfall has a major throughline it is how this raw and blunt instrument became the Bond we know from his prior 20 films and 40 years.
Craig’s answer is a simple but tragic one: through loss. Grief, heartbreak, and gut-wrenching near-suffocating pain increasingly close in all around Craig’s Bond. His parents are gone and he’s just an orphan. The woman he loves betrays him and sacrifices herself to save him. Allies work against him. His maternal figure dies in his arms. Anger, rage, grief, and loss swirl up to craft this man. One who, by the end of this film, is unmistakably James Bond.
The end of things, the loss of order, and the old ways define so much of Skyfall. James serving for Queen and country, for this belief in England that seems to only be hanging on by a thread with the loss of empire, power, and prestige prompting its own crisis of confidence in the nation. Daniel Craig’s James never really wavers. Craig’s Bond is beaten, twisted, broken, and yet unmistakably carries on.
In Craig’s hands, the character undergoes a major reinvention but also a return to the most fundamental of the character’s traits” loyalty, duty, and if nothing else, a will to keep going on, despite the advances of age and time and the scars of the past., To make what difference he can in an equally-broken world.
I mean the train sequence of the pre-title scene is particularly spectacular and shoutout to Daniel Craig for performing the stunts himself. As mentioned, the first meeting of Bond and Silva is dynamite. The nighttime fight between Bond and Patrice is phenomenally shot and staged. I love M’s reading of the Tennyson poem at her hearing with cuts to Silva and Bond.
Ultimately though, the film’s strongest moments and peak comes at its end, once the film arrives at Skyfall and Bond’s ancestral home. As a lifelong Bond fan, it is something I never thought we would see and even remotely delve into. Skyfall seeks to strip back Daniel Craig’s James of everything, even killing him off only to bring him back as this almost reborn man who must relearn his skills, finally confront his past, and decide, once and for all, the man he will be.
The final image of James on the London rooftops with the Union Jacks flying in the breeze might be my favorite image in a brilliant film.
Raul Silva is the greatest Bond villain of all time. In many ways I’m not even sure if it’s all that close. Menacing, unnerving, and with this just simmering explosive rage underneath it all, Raul Silva is a force of nature and a perfect almost mirror Bond. Silva is all the cliches and worst elements of classic Bond brought to light and laid bare before the man himself. So so so so so good. 10/10.
God, I really love Ben Whishaw. From the return of Q we also get our series’ first gadgets.
The palm reading gun is neat, and the radio is also neat. We start smart with gadgets but will build. We do get the DB5 with ejector seat and guns in the front so that’s an incredibly nice touch.
I really enjoy Skyfall. It’s been a nice experience getting to rewatch all of the Bond films to arrive at this point, which in so many ways really does feel like the natural stopping point for Craig’s era with the character. I think that the trio of Goldfinger, Casino Royale, and Skyfall are just the three greatest Bond films by some measure and I love the idea that each brings out a different element and dimension of James and what makes the character so special.
I do think that Goldfinger and Casino Royale are probably the most “fun” to just sit back and watch. I mean those two are basically perfect movies and a joy to experience. All three films are among some of the best of their decades. Ultimately though, as we talked about on That Bond Show, the level of execution that Skyfall operates at is just absurd. Every character, every set-piece, its themes, its cinematography, the direction, and finally the story and journey it takes Bond on are all just brilliantly done. It is a finely-tuned piece of art and just incredible to watch. Skyfall is a 10/10. It’s easily one of the best movies of the past 10 years and after 50 years, claims its spot as arguably James Bond’s finest hour.