The film starts with an all action opening sequence as Bond chases an enemy agent through Istanbul – down narrow streets, across the rooftops, and on top of a train. And it ends with Bond toppling from a bridge and the quiet words, “Agent down.”
The opening credits show a series of graveyard scenes, a spooky house, 007 targets bleeding, dragons, mirrors and blood but notably few women, mostly it’s just Bond. The theme tune, sung by Adele, is a classic and is the only Bond theme song to win an Oscar. It’s mournful, but it sits comfortably amongst the top Bond theme tunes.
Skyfall blends its locations – both the exotic and the banal. We have Istanbul (a Bond favourite city), Shanghai, a casino in Macau, the highlands of Scotland and that amazing abandoned island city where Bond meets the villain (Hashima Island near Nagasaki in Japan). But we also have the banal – London Underground at rush hour. I was excited to notice the building used for Shanghai is actually across the road from where I work in London. So it’s not actually Shanghai, it’s Liverpool Street, and at some point you can see the railway arches of the station reflected in the glass front of the building as Bond goes in. (OK, I’ll admit not everyone will be excited to know that, but it was a highlight for me.)
Bond was officially dead, living somewhere in Turkey making money by people betting on him while he drinks shots with a scorpion on his hand. (I like to think this is a nod to Die Another Day when Bond was tortured by the North Koreans using scorpion venom, so perhaps he has some increased immunity to their sting from that experience.) But an explosion at MI6 headquarters brings him back to life and back to London, and he has to undergo a series of tests to be judged fit for duty. But this isn’t Shrublands, and there are no attractive medical staff for him to seduce his way back into active duty. Instead he’s put through a series of physical and psychological tests. “Murder,” his psychologist says to him in a word association test. “Employment,” he replies. He’s putting up a brave front but underneath he’s in bad shape and he knows it. His hand shakes when he holds a gun.
And even the villain of the piece knows it: “Medical evaluation: fail. Physical evaluation: fail. Psychological evaluation: alcohol and substance addiction indicated. Ooh! Pathological rejection of authority based on unresolved childhood trauma.”
In this film we get the impression that Bond is not just physically aging, but is also a man out of time. Does the modern world still need state-sponsored assassins? It’s hinted more than once that this is not an occupation people grow old in. “It’s a young man’s game,” Bond is told by the head of the Intelligence and Security Committee. And the new Q is a young man: Ben Whishaw. A nerdy IT expert, he meets Bond at the National Gallery to hand him his supplies for his mission. “I’ll hazard I can do more damage on my laptop sitting in my pyjamas before my first cup of Earl Grey than you can do in a year in the field.” Bond seems surprised as his mission supplies. “A gun and a radio. It’s not exactly Christmas is it?” Q’s reply shows how much we’ve moved on from the peak gadgetry in other films. “Were you expecting an exploding pen? We don’t really go in for that sort of thing anymore.”
Interestingly, there are few women in this film. There is Severine, girlfriend / employee of the villain, Mr Silva, who Bond uses to get to the villain and who he then watches die, as he has done so many times before. There is Moneypenny, not a secretary anymore but a field agent. It’s her bullet that topples Bond from the train in the opening scenes. And there is M. M is the woman at the heart of the film. Not your standard Bond woman, but she is the one being targeted and she is the one Bond is protecting.
Yes, the villain, Mr Silva, is targeting M, his former handler from when he was an agent in Hong Kong. He is carrying resentment from having been handed over to the Chinese, where he was tortured. His villainous plot is simply to kill M and get revenge. I know it must have been tough, Mr Silva, but really – you’re an international criminal mastermind now, get some therapy and move on! (Perhaps MI6 should review its policy of recruiting orphans who are likely to come with all kinds of attachment issues.)
Instead he pursues Bond and M to Bond’s old family home in the Highlands, the eponymous Skyfall, in the company of a troupe of mercenaries who take on Bond, M, and Kincade, Skyfall’s gamekeeper.
The attack on Skyfall reminds me of a horrible dream I used to have about a monster that could see through all the windows of the house at once, and the only place I could be safe was somewhere where I couldn’t see any windows and therefore the monster couldn’t see me.
Due to the ending of the film, something between an opera and King Lear, there is no epilogue to be presented here.