Welcome to Sundays with Bond … James Bond! Over the next five weeks, as we ramp up to the (hopeful) premiere of the 25th James Bond Movie, No Time to Die, I’ll be looking back at Daniel Craig’s illustrious career as British Secret Service agent 007. I’m rewatching all four of his previous films and writing about them here. Please follow along for my stirred (but never shaken) look back at Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace, Skyfall, Spectre, and—in early October—No Time to Die.
Four years passed until the next Daniel Craig 007 adventure hit the big screen: Skyfall debuted in 2012 and it was well worth the wait. It is, in a sense, yet another Bond reboot (in a minor way), reintroducing audiences to some new (old) characters, and ending one character’s long history with the franchise.
MGM, the studio in charge of the Bond franchise, went through some rough times in the 2010s, and the future of 007 was in question for a while, hence the four-year gap in films. In the 2010s, Bond has had a checkered history with studios, while the Broccoli family has continued to control the big screen adventures of the character since the beginning in 1962 with Dr No (or Doctor No in the USA), distributors of the films have changed. The producing studio, MGM, had purchased United Artists, the original home of Bond into the 2000s, but as the Daniel Craig era rolled around, MGM had some troubles. Those troubles would continue to haunt the franchise for a decade, with Spectre coming out in 2015 (three years between films, pretty normal for Bond) and then No Time to Die originally scheduled for 2020 (five years between films). Some of these things were related to distribution (Sony/Columbia had distributed the first four Craig films; Universal is distributing No Time to Die), some to a studio sale (MGM was finally purchased by Amazon in 2021). And some of the problems were related to injuries: Craig broke his leg during the filming of Spectre and his ankle during No Time to Die, plus the latter film was subject to all the problems created by a worldwide pandemic, switching its premiere date three times. All of these problems gave Daniel Craig the record for most years as Bond: Roger Moore did seven stints as 007 over 12 years to Craig’s five over 15 years. (By comparison, Sean Connery played Bond six times over nine years, but the original 007 had his first four movies come out at the rate of one per year from 1962-1965!)
After the less-than-stellar Quantum of Solace, Skyfall benefitted greatly from the addition of Oscar-winning director Sam Mendes (American Beauty). The director had worked with Daniel Craig before on the graphic novel adaptation Road to Redemption (starring Tom Hanks) and it was Craig who suggested Mendes to tackle the 23rd adventure of James Bond, debuting in the 50th anniversary year of the film franchise. Mendes had never done such a large action flick before, but it didn’t hinder him: Skyfall is one of the most action-packed Bond films ever. From the thrilling pre-credits scene in Istanbul where Bond chases a bad guy names Patrice on a motorcycle across the rooftops of the Grand Bazaar, to the train fight where Bond “dies” at the hands of a fellow agent, a young woman we later learn is Moneypenny, Skyfall is jet propelled.
Skyfall is also the most cinematic of Bond movies, with gorgeous filming by cinematographer Roger Deakins, Mendes is responsible for this addition to the Bond crew (they’ve worked together a total of five times now, with an upcoming film, Empire of Light). The sequence where Bond hunts down and kills Patrice in a Shanghai high-rise, silhouetted against blaring signage on buildings across the street, is absolutely breathtaking. The rest of the movie looks amazing, too. The Bond films have always been a sort of travelogue, one of the reasons they became so popular in the 1960s, as they take people to places they’ve never been. Skyfall includes Turkey, Shanghai, Macau, and of course, Bond’s native London. Never have all these places looked so good.
The film also makes the wise decision to bring back some of Bond’s memorable sidekicks, which were missing from Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace. Naomi Harris is the new Moneypenny (we learn her first name is Eve) and she’s very different than her predecessors. Moneypenny is now a field agent, one who seemingly kills Bond in the pre-credits sequence. Bond’s Quartermaster, known simply as “Q”, is also recast and re-envisioned as a computer genius. Ben Whishaw plays the young Q, much to Bond’s chagrin. And Ralph Finnes joins the cast as the new M, Bond’s boss, as Dame Judi Dench goes not-so-gently into that good night. Dench played M since the Pierce Brosnan reboot and was a much more integral character in the films, taking a larger role than her predecessors, including being away from MI6 headquarters on more than one occasion. In total she played M through four Brosnan films and three of Craig’s. She was a consistent, flinty persona who added to the films’ appeal, always with an air of righteous (but never stuffy) indignation over Bond’s adventures. She dies in Bond’s arms in Skyfall, gazing into his face, her last words an appropriate “I did get one thing right.”
This is definitely one Bond film where the casting is perfect, and I’m not sure if that’s due to the usual suspects—the Broccoli family—or the added presence of Sam Mendes as director. All three of the above-mentioned additions are perfect, but for once Bond has an adversary that’s worth the fight: Javier Bardem as Silva, a former MI6 agent gone rogue. Every time I watch Skyfall and see Silva for the first time (he doesn’t appear until one hour and ten minutes into the film, although you feel his presence from the beginning), I think what a perfect Goldfinger Bardem would make, if the Bond producers chose to go back and remake the films … something I hope they never do. But Silva is good enough on his own: Smart, sly, funny, and definitely menacing, all the traits needed for a great Bond villain. He’s probably the best 007 bad guy since Sean Bean in Goldeneye. In addition, Berenice Marlohe is a great Bond girl, sultry, mysterious, and sadly, not seen very much except for the Macau and deserted island sequences. Like most Bond girls, she’s sacrificed early on, mostly to make a point of how ruthless Silva really is.
I was blown away by Skyfall when I rewatched it again last evening. While it’s not my favorite Bond film—that will always be my first, Goldfinger—it is, I think, the best Bond film ever. It has everything: A great cast, a great villain, exciting action sequences, beautiful photography and locations, and a fast-moving, engrossing storyline. It has moments of warm nostalgia (Bond opening the garage door to reveal the Aston Martin DB5, complete with ejector seat and machine guns behind the lights, which probably didn’t come with the car he won in a poker game in Casino Royale) and some new revelations. Bond’s childhood home—Skyfall—is revealed, along with one of his formative influences, Kincade, played by the great Albert Finney in his final role. This role was reportedly first offered to Sean Connery, in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Bond film franchise. (I’m glad it went to Finney … seeing Connery, the first Bond, in a different role in a 007 movie would feel too disjointed, like something familiar was definitely out of place.) My favorite moment is Q meeting Bond in the National Gallery to give him his plane ticket to Shanghai and a new pistol, one that’s coded to his hand’s imprint, along with a tiny radio. Bond mutters “Not exactly Christmas, is it?” to which Q replies, “ Were you expecting an exploding pen? We don’t really go in for that anymore.”
In short, Skyfall is just about THE perfect James Bond movie, something that definitely captured lightning in a bottle for all of us Bond fans. I can only hope No Time to Die is half as good.
Next time: Sam Mendes stays at the Bond table a wee too long with the flawed but enjoyable Spectre.
As part of my work for the Comic-Con Museum, I hosted a Zoom discussion with Mark A. Altman and Ed Gross about their Bond book, Nobody Does It Better: The Complete, Uncensored, Unauthorized History of James Bond. If for some reason the linked video below disappears, go to YouTube.com and search Comic-Con Museum James Bond.