Memphis Movie Review - Skyfall

The latest James Bond movie, Skyfall, came out some time ago. I only just saw it. It's 2 hours and 23 minutes, but it doesn't feel like it while you're watching it. Unlike some of the previous Bond movies, this one has a story it has to tell, and the story is more important than explosions, exotic cars, boat chases, endless beautiful women, shootouts that involve leaping off cranes, etc. I'm not saying these things aren't included in the movie. I'm just saying there isn't as much of it as usual. This film is probably more like the 1960s James Bond films than any others have been. The story matters.

So, to the story. Someone has stolen a harddrive from MI6 which contains the profiles of all undercover NATO secret agents, their missions, real names, etc. James Bond tries to stop the theft, and in the process ends up having a fist fight on top of a speeding train. Another MI6 agent, a woman who doesn't give her name, is in constant contact with M back at headquarters. M orders her to "take the shot" even though there is a risk of hitting James Bond. She takes the shot and ends up shooting James. He falls off the train, off a bridge, and into deep water down below.

This is how the movie begins. James Bond is dead and M ordered it.

The drive containing the classified information is gone. After it disappears 3 agents are exposed on YouTube, along with a message to M telling her to think on her sins. The agents are immediately killed. After that, M's office is blown up, along with half the floor its located on. In a meeting with her superiors, M is informed that she's going to be "retired" in a few months following the death of Bond, at her order, and the death of the 3 agents.

After the MI6 offices are bombed, Bond returns. He had been enjoying life with a beautiful woman living on the beach and drinking heavily. When he returns M asks why he would ever give that up. He's getting old for an agent, after all, and he was living a good life. Everyone is baffled. "Why would you come back to this?"

Bond gets busy on the case of tracking down who is behind all of the attacks on MI6. He ends up allowing himself to be captured in order to meet the villain face-to-face. It turns out that the villain is an ex-MI6 agent who knows the business inside and out and has a personal grudge against M. She gave him to his enemies in exchange for several other captured agents. He was tortured for weeks until he tried to commit suicide by biting the cyanice-filled tooth he was fitted with for just such an occasion. But it doesn't work. It guts him and leaves him horribly damaged, but it does not kill him. All these years later he has escaped his captivity and simply wants revenge on M and MI6 for having coldly sent him to hell.

Spoiler Alert: I'm going to tell you how it ends so if you don't want to know, skip the next paragraph.

The film takes us to the home James Bond's parents owned before their death, a place called Skyfall. It's an ancient stone mansion in Scotland. Bond takes M and holes up there to wait for the villian to come for her. There is a huge shootout and battle scene. M is shot, but not killed. Bond manages to kill all the flunkies working for the villian, but the villian himself stays back for a time, letting them go in and see what exactly is up with the house. Then the villain comes in flying a military helicopter and just machine guns the place until he's satisfied that he's made a proper entrance. Then he lands and goes in to get M. Bond and M escape out a tunnel that leads them across the horrible landscape to a chapel built in honor of Bond's parents. The villian follows them there. By the time they all reach the chapel they are all in sad shape, torn up and barely functioning. M is bleeding badly. The villian has her and has his chance to kill her. Instead he puts the gun in her hands and puts his head against hers. He forces her to raise the gun to the side of her head and says "do it, kill us both with one shot." This is a man whose only reason for living was to kill M. Beyond that he has no reason to go on. Bond stabs him in the back with a knife and kills him. After that, M collapses to the floor. She's been wounded for too long. She dies. After M's funeral, Bond returns to MI6 to meet the new M. He enters and finds the agent who shot him there. He asks her what she's going and she says she's not going out in the field anymore. She's working for the new M now. He says "I don't believe we've ever been formally introduced. I'm James Bond. She says "I'm Moneypenny." Bond quips that they'll probably be seeing a lot of each other and she agrees they probably will. Then he enters M's new office to find the new M, played by Ralph Fiennes, sitting behind the familiar old desk in the familiar old office that we used to see in the Sean Connery Bond films.

Here's what I think of the movie. Judi Dench is 77 years old. In an interview she said she felt that she was slowing down to the point that it was affecting her performance as M, the rapid-fire give-and-take conversations between M and Bond were vital to the role and she didn't think she was up for it anymore. Supposedly she's done 7 Bond films as M already, according to Wikipedia. To save my life I can't think of 7 of them that she's done, but whatever. Daniel Craig has only done 3, but I guess I didn't watch the last ones prior to Craig so who knows? Anyway, at 77 she clearly feels she's not up to doing a lot more Bond films as M, and certainly can't guarantee that she'll be able to do another 3 or 4 of them at the rate they're being made. Considering that Mr. Broccoli, the owner of the franchise, has died and his wife has taken over, and she and Judi Dench appear to be close friends, I don't think anyone asked Judi to retire. I think she chose to step aside. So, in this film she does.

With the retirement of M, it's as if they are restarting the entire series. We are introduced to Q, a very young scientific type who comments on how old Bond is. We learn that the agent who shot Bond is actually Miss Moneypenny, who steps out of the active agent role after having shot James and takes the job of assistant to the new M. And we meet the new M, a man who perfectly replaces the man who played M in years past. They even rebuilt M's old office, complete with stuffed leather door, and Moneypenny's desk. It's exactly like it was when Sean Connery played the role. That was kind of neat.

So the film was good. It had a story and the story was important, not just to this film, but to all the future Bond films as well, in that it lays the groundwork for characters that we know will be sticking around for years and the actors and actresses playing those roles are all young enough to be in the roles time and again. I just hope Daniel Craig will stick around, too.

I liked this film. I give it 4 stars out of 5.

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