WARNING: Spoilers ahead. If you haven’t seen the movie yet and do not wish to have any clue or hint revealed unto you, don’t read this post. Proceed at your own peril.
You can read more thorough analyses of the theme and plot and character development and all that fiddle-faddle elsewhere.
Here’s what I wrote when they announced the title of the new Bond movie last year:
I gotta say that with Sam Mendes directing, Javier Bardem and Ralph Fiennes as bad guys, and Albert Finney as the Defence Secretary (or whatever he’s playing), this is as promising a cast as EON’s ever going to assemble. Unfortunately, it seems that the money spent bringing in all that star power came out of the maintenance fund for the Bond TitleTron.
The star power paid off, though the early stories had some of the roles mixed up (Fiennes was a British official, Finney was the gamekeeper on the Bond family estate). Mendes: rehire him, or let him take turns with Martin Campbell. He had some great actors to work with, and he let them do their jobs. And I’d like to thank Mendes for holding the camera steady enough that I could follow the action scenes (let the clown who directed Quantum of Solace take note).
Javier Bardem’s Silva was Khan-as-Bond-villain, with a dash of Ledger’s Joker. I half-expected Silva to kidnap Q and put an eel in his ear. I’d have to think about how high up he belongs in the pantheon of Bond villains, but he, Le Chiffre, and Alec Trevelyan are probably the best of the last 30 years. Maybe the last 40 years. The Bond series used up a lot of its best villains early. Oscar nod? Maybe. I’m sure there’ll be worse performances among the actual nominees.
Judi Dench was good in her final outing as M, and I’m sure Fiennes will be a decent replacement. She deserves this year’s award for Best Use of Tennyson in a Major Motion Picture. Those lines from “Ulysses” also appear in one of my favorite books, The Invisible Heart (the hero of which is a high school economics teacher), so I figured there should be such an award.
Daniel Craig was… I think I just gave Craig third billing in this film. Sometimes, it seemed like that would be about right. Sure, it was about coming back from the dead because “England Expects,” and it was nice to plumb the depths of his childhood at Skyfall, but the main conflict in this film was between Silva and M. And Judi Dench and Javier Bardem owned the screen when they were on it.
Anyhow, Craig was good, as usual, and has cemented his spot as the best Bond-not-named-Sean-Connery. He is starting to look a little aged, so they’d better hurry up with those next three movies. Say ’14-’16-’18?
I worried about the title of the film, expecting it to be the name of some very, very poorly-named mission that failed, resulting in the loss of the hard drive. Nope. Once Skyfall is revealed, at the end, it makes sense. It works beautifully: it’s where he buried his real parents, it’s where he’ll protect M and (inadvertently) Kincaide– the closest he has to parents.
One of the more interesting aspects of the film was how intensely personal the main characters’ aims were. Silva didn’t have any scheme aimed at world conquest, or financial plunder, or any such nonsense– he just wanted his revenge against the woman who wronged him. M wanted to protect the service she’d built and redeem herself before her forced retirement. And, of course, Bond came back from “retirement” just to protect her. And all three of them failed– Bond couldn’t protect M (when’s the last time you saw him fail?), M lost more and more agents despite her best efforts, and, of course, M survived Silva, even if only by a few minutes.
Now, to evaluate the staples of the Bond movies:
Pre-credit sequence: Strong, but a little reminiscent of the parkour chase in Casino Royale. Not that either sequence was bad– and after all, after so many Bond movies, there’s going to be gobs of repetition– but maybe they could have gone with a sequence that didn’t echo another Craig film.
Gunbarrel sequence: The bastards put it at the end again. I’ve been watching Bond movies since 1986, and the two white dots and the rifling and the walk and the turn-and-shoot and the cascade of blood are supposed to mean that Bondian awesomeness is about to commence, not that the credits are about to roll. The story goes that Mendes thought it would have been silly to have the gun barrel sequence lead to the opening shot they chose. My response? “Then change the opening shot.” Better yet, design a new closing logo to use at the end, and make sure it doesn’t suck. For chrissakes, just put the gunbarrel back where it belongs!
Credit sequence: I liked what MK12 did in Quantum of Solace, but they went with the traditional fonts this time around. The sequence was… ominous. And next time, can we please leave Daniel Craig’s creepy eyeballs out of it?
Title song: Adele? Best choice for the job, aside from Shirley Bassey. I hope one day to hear Shirley’s cover of the theme song. Bombast? Check. Hints of Barry’s/Norman’s Bond theme itself? Check. Nonsensical lyrics? Check. Mention the title? Check. All the elements of a great Bond song.
Music: I don’t think it rose to the level of David Arnold’s work, but it was fine. However, if a score distracts you, it’s not working at that particular moment. And there were a few scenes (the “Ulysses” scene comes to mind) when it was a little too noticeable.
“Shaken, not stirred”: Shown, not stated. Nice job.
“Bond, James Bond”: Typical usage. At least they remembered to use it this time, unlike last time around.
Aston Martin: I was glad they put the steering wheel on the correct side this time, and that they put the correct registration plates on, and that they put the red ejector button in the correct spot. But when I saw Silva’s men approaching the castle, and realized they were including the DB5 in every shot of the approach, I got as giddy as a kipper. I don’t know what a kipper is, and I hope it’s nothing embarrassing, but that’s how giddy I got, because the bad guys were walking directly into the firing line of the DB5’s headlight machine guns. And then the guns popped out and blew away the bad guys. When’s the last time we saw those guns? Goldfinger?
“Q”: Finally back. They even worked in “You must be joking.” I’m glad they didn’t call him Major Boothroyd, because it would’ve been a bit of a stretch that such a youngster would have made Major. I thought Ben Whishaw was good in the role. It’s fine that Q is a whippersnapper; it makes as much sense to have a whiz kid in that position, as it does a battle-tested engineer. But the hipster crap needs to stop, now.
Moneypenny: I pride myself on knowing that Eve was Miss Moneypenny as soon as Bond didn’t sleep with her after the shaving scene.
The final scenes found Bond, and the series in general, in uncharted territory. He stands on the rooftop, gazing upon London– and we saw more of London in this movie than we might’ve seen in the entire series. Some key elements of the Bond mythos– the Aston Martin, M, his childhood home– are gone. He seems lost and alone.
And then Eve brings him back downstairs into the building. And they walk into her office, where the coatrack seemed to be in too conspicuous a position. For a second I thought Bond was going to throw his hat onto it.
And then Eve introduced herself as Moneypenny. And then they showed the old cushioned door to M’s office. And then there was M’s desk, and the naval paintings on the walls, and it looked about as close to Bernard Lee briefing Sean Connery as we’re ever going to see again. And the Bond universe was back to normal. Great ending, great Bond flick.