Any anniversary is deserving of commemoration, but it is especially the case for a fiftieth. So, when it came to celebrating the golden anniversary of the James Bond film franchise – the world’s longest-running spy series – its two studios needed to deliver with an instalment that simultaneously celebrated the films of old, worked for modern audiences and proved superior to its lacklustre predecessors.
Skyfall begins with a lengthy opening sequence that sees its central protagonist (Daniel Craig) on assignment in Turkey, attempting to recover a stolen hard-drive belonging to his agency, MI6. Whilst pursuing the thief, Agent 007 is accidentally shot by a fellow agent, Eve (Naomie Harris) and presumably killed. With the hard-drive now in the possession of nefarious forces, MI6 is left exposed and the future of its director, “M” (Judi Dench) is brought into question by government advisor George Mallory (Ralph “Voldemort” Fiennes).
Not long after her meeting with Mallory, a dispirited “M” returns to her apartment to be greeted by James Bond, who apparently survived his inadvertent shooting – not that anybody thought otherwise. Suffering physically and scarred emotionally, 007 is hardly fit for duty, but he is the only person “M” trusts, and is therefore tasked with finding the hard-drive’s whereabouts. His mission is one which will be fraught with danger, culminating in a meeting with the villainous Raul Silva (Javier Bardem).
Skyfall is quite possibly the best anniversary gift a franchise could ask for, and far better the 40th birthday celebration of ten years earlier, that being Die Another Day. Where that featured grotesque references to all twenty films in the series (at that point), Skyfall chooses to place more subtle references in its story, allowing the audience to make the connections themselves. An example includes this quip from a reintroduced, and much younger, Q (Ben Whishaw): “Were you expecting an exploding pen?”
What is most admirable about Skyfall is how it utilises modern cinematic tropes without forgoing the franchise’s traditions. All the quintessential Bond elements are there, including a haunting orchestral-pop song to open the film, this time performed wonderfully by Adele; the ruthless-yet-charming villain, with Raul Silva being one of the franchise’s best; and of course, the punchlines, which are no longer corny and instead quite funny. Some of the more contemporary elements include a gritty tone, slower pacing and deeper insight into the characters.
The plot is also good, and on a smaller scale – no longer is 007 a continent-hopping playboy, with most of the events taking place in the United Kingdom, allowing for a more intimate and interesting story. Responsible for crafting the excellent script are Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, which is perplexing, given they are the same screenwriting pair responsible for stuffing-up Bond films as far back as two decades ago. Perhaps the greater acknowledgement belongs to Academy Award-nominee John Logan, who is credited as this feature’s principal writer.
In many respects, Skyfall is evocative of another great Bond film, GoldenEye – which so happens to be this author’s favourite in the series. It too introduced Bond to a new age of moviegoers after a somewhat elongated absence, taking him out of his comfort zone and placing him in a world which had changed dramatically in the meantime. This picture’s “Bond girl”, Berenice Marlohe, even cited GoldenEye’s iconic antagonist, Xenia Onatopp, as an influence for her character.
The lack of a gun-barrel sequence to open the film – a trademark of the franchise since the very beginning – does rob Skyfall of its charm, but this detraction in no way lessens the film’s excellence. In a series which has seen giddy highs and all-too-frequent lows, Skyfall undoubtedly stands out as one of 007’s best instalments, going beyond the audience’s expectations to deliver a film which equals, or perhaps surpasses, the standard set by all other blockbusters.
Skyfall represents many things for cinema’s greatest espionage property – it’s a return to form, a salute to its forebears, a reinvention of an old formula, and a genuinely enjoyable film that can be appreciated on its own merits. Just about every aspect of this film delights, so much so that even the most prominent of Bond’s detractors should be entertained. As far as 50th birthday celebrations go, it can’t get much better than this.