NO TIME TO DIE, the latest Bond film, and the final one to star Daniel Craig, debuts in one week. For the past two years I’ve been looking back at all the films in the franchise’s nearly 60-year history. I now reach what for many is not only Craig’s best Bond, but perhaps the best in the series. Spoilers ahead…
Bond appears at the end of a long corridor in silhouette, searching through an apartment where where MI6 agent “Ronson” is wounded. Through his earpiece Bond is in touch with M and Tanner back in London. Bond wants to stabilise the Ronson, but M tells him to keep moving.
A jeep pulls driving by another MI6 agent Eve (Naomie Harris) and they pursue the villain by car.
CARS, BIKES AND TRAINS
They force the villain into a crash, but he steals a motorbike and part two of the pre-titles begins.
Within moments Bond is pursuing the villain across the rooftops of the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, and then through it, before they corner him on a bridge.
The chase continues on the roof of a moving train, and the tension is high as it is clearly Craig and co-star Ola Rapace fighting on the train.
The pre-titles end when Eve must “take the bloody shot” to get the villain. Eve shoots, and Bond is struck, plummeting from bridge to the river far below.
M (Judi Dench) and Tanner (Rory Kinnear) are called to see the new Chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee (Ralph Fiennes) who explains the Government’s dismay at M’s inability to retrieve the stolen list of agents.
M: Are we to call this civilian oversight?
Gareth Mallory: No, we’re to call this retirement planning.
Just before M and Tanner get back to MI6 headquarters, it is blown up.
We see a rough looking Bond having a seemingly emotionless relationship with an unnamed woman before drinking shots in a beach bar. He sees the news of the MI6 attack on a TV.
Bond repeats his trick of sneaking into other people’s places and waiting in the dark.
It’s here that you first reflect on how time has passed for Bond. Casino and Quantum were both continuous and Bond was just starting as a 00 agent. A few years later and Bond looks like an old timer, ready to retire. You wonder just how many great Bond adventures we’ve missed between Quantum and Skyfall.
Tanner and Bond drive to an underground facility which is the new location for MI6. There’s a nice “assessment” sequence with Bond on the treadmill and exercising whilst Tanner talks shop with him.
Bond is a big man, but he’s out of shape, and has lost the ability to shoot accurately.
The best part of the sequence is when Bond must sit in an observation room with a psychologist who wants to indulge in some word association. Bonds responses are clever, prickly and betrays his arrogance and dickishness. Until he is triggered:
Psychologist: Skyfall. Skyfall.
BACK ON ACTIVE SERVICE
Bond meets with M and Gareth Mallory and we learn Bond passed his reassessment. Shrapnel from an Istanbul wound reveals it belongs to an assassin “Patrice” – and Bond is sent to Shanghai to intercept him. M privately reveals to Tanner that Bond had in fact failed his assessment.
Bond meets the new Q at the National Gallery in London. Initially annoyed at Ben Whishaw’s geeky unkempt youth, Bond realises things are changing. He is given two presents, a gun with a handprint reader – and a small radio locator device.
Q: Were you expecting an exploding pen?
Bond follows Patrice to a rooftop where the villain assassinates a victim in the building opposite. The scene is brilliantly lit with the looming electronic billboard ads, the reflections in the glass doors and windows making it an eerie location.
Their hand-to-hand combat is brutal and filmed in one shot. Bond retrieves a casino chip from Patrice’s case.
And in London, M, recklessly clicking on some weird material on her laptop, gets another message from her mysterious tormentor (including what looks like Mexican Day of the Dead style skulls) – the first five names from the stolen agent list have been made public (on YouTube!). Does it remind of the NOC list in Mission: Impossible (1996?)
Eve appears at the door of Bond’s plush hotel room. The scene is very well written and as well as exploring their banter, we learn that Mallory was a Lieutenant Colonel in the Army.
The scene ends with Eve shaving him using his cutthroat razor and leaves us wondering what happens between them next.
Bond’s entry to the casino in Macau is stunning, arriving by boat across a lake, with suspended lanterns in the air and fireworks exploding in the sky. Beautifully shot by Roger Deakins. And amazingly, filmed in the studio in the UK.
Bond enters, and we see Eve. “Don’t touch your ear” says Bond as he passes her, a line echoed from the start of the Madagascar chase in Casino Royale.
Bond cashes in the chip, earning Patrice’s 4 Million Euro fee. A woman we glimpsed in Shanghai appears and the scene between them is great, for she starts as confident femme fatale but ends as wounded victim – after he observes that she was groomed through the Macau sex trade. Severine (Bérénice Lim Marlowe) is great in the scene and her character promises much.
Bond escapes some goons, leaving the case with Eve. And here we think: why she is here? In the hotel room, Bond even noted that the message she brought could have been sent by other means.
VOYAGE TO THE ISLAND
Bond sneaks onto a yacht taking Severine away from Macau to an abandoned island city. Bond is secured to a chair in a warehouse full of computers and servers.
At the far end of the room Silva (Javier Bardem) arrives, slowly walking towards Bond telling a story about rats eating each other – done in one take. Bardem looks great with his shock of blond hair and his good-looking smile – no more facially disfigured baddies here!
Bardem quietly dominates, thoroughly enjoying himself.
Silva: “All that physical stuff, so dull, so dull, chasing spies, so old fashioned. Your knees must be killing you”.
A wonderful moment is when he caresses Bond’s chest:
Silva: First time for everything, yes?
Bond: What makes you think this is my first time?
Silva: (Sitting back in mock horror/admiration) Oh Mister Bond!
Silva takes Bond out to see Severine beaten up and bound to a rock. Silva places a shot glass on her head and gives Bond a gun. The earlier focus on his lack of accuracy now pays off. Silva aims his gun “My turn” shoots Severine and looks at Bond. “I win”.
In a fiery scuffle Bond manages to kill the goons around him, whilst Silva stands incredulous wondering what he’s going to do now, alone on the island.
Bond produces Q’s radio tracker – and the helicopters swoop in.
Imprisoned in a glass box in MI6, Silva is questioned by M. We learn that Silva was an agent in Hong Kong in the 90’s who was abandoned by MI6 as part of an exchange deal.
Silva tried to kill himself with the poison capsule in this tooth, but it failed. He then removes his teeth and metal plate to reveal that the poison burned away the inside of his mouth and cheek. As his skin sinks and his eye waters, we realise his hatred of M goes beyond the professional.
Oh, and here we are – facial disfigurement returns. One of the oldest Bond tropes is back!
Q plugs into Silva’s laptop and surprise, malware infects MI6, infiltrates the system and manages to open all secure areas. And like that, Silva is escaping through the tunnels.
As Bond pursues, Q reveals that this was all part of Silva’s plan – and the film is so confidently made that you don’t question any of this. Because when you look at it, Silva’s plan is overly complicated, makes little sense, and requires huge leaps of faith or staggering coincidence.
Bond’s pursuit of Silva through the tunnels, then onto the London Underground is great and the location shooting fabulous to see. It’s quite a sight to see Bond exit Westminster underground then run past armed police and emergency vehicles then bolt up through Whitehall.
Silva, now disguised as a police officer, with some goons, bursts in on a committee hearing to attack M. The fast reactions of Mallory saves M – Tanner and Eve also join in. Bond arrives and by shooting out some fire extinguisher canisters (Craig’s Bond shoots a lot of canisters) Silva is thwarted.
ON THE RUN
Bond “kidnaps” M and in his Aston Martin (yes, the one with the ejector seat from Goldfinger – don’t ask) and decides to be one step ahead of Silva for once and heads to Scotland.
Before you know it, we are in Glencoe, Bond standing looking across the valley in silence. The dialogue is crisp:
M: This is where you grew up.
M: How old were you when they died?
Bond: You know the answer to that. You know the whole story.
M: Orphans always make the best recruits.
Bond and M enter an aging estate, “Skyfall” and we realise it is the house where Bond was brought up. They meet gamekeeper Kincaid (Albert Finney) – surprised to see Bond after all these years.
There is a lovely moment when Kincaid mishears Bond introduce M and says “Pleased to meet you Emma” –the tiny smile as Bond hears this is great.
Bond plans to wait here for Silva, but the house has few weapons: Kincaid has a gun and a knife. The three of them set to work booby trapping the place using various objects (which some unfairly refer to as the “Home Alone” sequence).
WELCOME TO SCOTLAND
The booby traps in the house work too – with M’s nail bombs cutting through some goons, and a neatly placed mirror misleading them long enough for Kincaid to blast them with both barrels.
Kincaid gets one of the best lines of the film as the goons fall: “Welcome to Scotland.”
THE SECOND WAVE
Silva arrives in helicopter with another group of goons. Unknown to him though, Kincaid and M have escaped through a secret tunnel to a local chapel, and Bond is arranging some gas canisters in one room. Bond and canisters – right? Boom. Skyfall is done.
In the chapel Silva seems genuinely concerned seeing M wounded from a stray bullet but he grabs her, puts his head next to hers, and puts her hand on the gun. One bullet to kill them both.
LAST RAT STANDING
Bond throws the last of the few weapons from Skyfall, a knife, into Silva’s back. Bardem plays this moment well – anger, frustration, amusement. He dies.
BOND LOSES ANOTHER LADY
M: 007, what took you so long?
But M is mortally wounded.
M: I suppose it’s too late to make a run for it?
Bond: Well I’m game if you are.
M: I did get one thing right.
And she passes in Bond’s arms. And Bond loses it here – a truly upsetting moment.
A NEW BEGINNING
Bond stands on a London rooftop, looking over the city. Eve appears and we learn she is keeping her office job.
Back in a new office, Eve introduces herself as Eve Moneypenny. And Tanner appears from the inner office: “He’ll see you know.”
Mallory: “So 007, lots to be done. Are you ready to get back to work?”
Bond: With pleasure M. With pleasure.
And the trumpets kick in, the gunbarrel slides on and a tremendous Bond film is over.
EON endeavoured to make the most Bond of Bonds and largely succeeded. Bond’s backstory is clever and makes a lot of sense for Daniel Craig’s iteration of Bond. We have followed this guy closely through tumultuous events in his life – and to get an idea of his early life is interesting.
The way the film folds in classic Bond tropes is skilful, and who doesn’t love the reintroduction of Q and Moneypenny?
I love that Bond’s vendetta in Quantum of Solace is mirrored with Skyfall’s main plot – Silva’s vendetta. And I’m not the first to note that Silva is the only Bond villain who succeeded in his plan: to kill M.
The film is a little too long, in the cinema it seemed odd when we moved to Scotland, for it felt that we had already seen the third act. Don’t get me wrong, I’m delighted that my home country played a part, but the last section seemed too long. Just like that last section of Casino Royale.
I was particularly disappointed with M’s demise. Maybe a stray bullet from an anonymous goon is “realistic” but it felt too understated.
The film is great, and despite the overly complex story that doesn’t really hang together, it is such a damn finely produced adventure that you can revisit it again and again. And it looks damned good too.
Bond is now a seasoned professional. Much like the Bond we first saw in Dr No. There is great pleasure in seeing this – and the franchise celebrated the biggest box office ever, and Adele won the Oscar for the theme.
What – or who – could bring this new, complete Bond down?
A version of this article was first published on reelanarchy.
|Produced by: EON Productions|
Presented By: Michael G Wilson and Barbara Broccoli
Director: Sam Mendes
Screenplay: Neal Purvis & Robert Wade and John Logan
Composer: Thomas Newman
“Skyfall” by Adele and Paul Epworth, performed by Adele
Production Design: Dennis Gassner
Cinematography: Roger Deakins
Editor: Stuart Baird, Kate Baird
London Premiere October 2012
Bérénice Lim Marlowe