Skyfall (2012)

Sam Mendes | 2hr 23min

In an early neon-tinted action scene of Skyfall set inside a Shanghai city skyscraper, James Bond fights a henchman in hand-to-hand combat, as bright images of a giant jellyfish and coloured lights shine from screens and bounce off windows. Later, the dim, yellow illumination of lamps hanging in low-slung rows across a casino displays mise-en-scène brilliance, balancing out the structured nature of the organisation with suggestions of shady, covert dealings. Visually, Skyfall is on a whole other level to every James Bond film that came before, and though Roger Deakins must certainly get credit for the impeccable cinematography on show, there is no denying that Sam Mendes is an accomplished stylist detail-oriented craftsman in his own right. Together, both are bringing everything they’ve got this action franchise, crafting atmospheric locations within which 007 is simply a passer-by, ready to take on whatever environmental challenges each new set piece throws at him.

No Bond movie has ever looked like this before – neon-lit skyscrapers provide the atmospheric setting for this remarkable fight scene.
Even more perfect lighting set ups as we arrive at the casino in Macau.

But although he traverses a number of foreign settings, Skyfall also contains the most personal narrative we have seen for Daniel Craig’s version of Bond yet, forcing him down a painful path to his childhood home. As he drives through the grey, foggy Scottish highlands, Skyfall Lodge rises up from the barren landscape like a monstrous castle. It makes total sense that this is where Bond grew up as an orphan boy. It is depressingly lonely and cold, and even with as wealthy a background as him, this place would be enough to turn any impressionable young mind into a reserved, withholding adult. As it burns down, Bond isn’t sad to see it go. It fills the night sky with a warm, fiery glow, silhouetting 007 as he leaves it behind. Even in its destruction, it is still far more inviting than it ever was while it was standing.

A piece of gothic architecture that holds as much personal significance for Bond as one might expect from a structure this daunting.

Paired with this intimate narrative is an equally personal antagonist, reflecting all of Bond’s own doubts and insecurities right back at him. Javier Bardem plays Raoul Silva as an older, more cynical version of Bond, his narcissism and vanity established early so the reveal of the utter ruin that lies inside him is later delivered with even greater weight. As an ex-MI6 agent he once made a decision to sacrifice his life to protect M, and in the botched attempt accidentally burned his insides and horrifically scarred his face, paralleling Bond’s own near-death at the hands of M in the opening scene. She is just one careless decision away from turning Bond against her completely, like she did to Silva.
 
Though his arc isn’t directly tied to Bond’s, Silva acts very much like a Moriarty figure in mirroring his resourcefulness and talent, always remaining ten steps ahead while committing crimes in the broad light of day. He is a far more broken man than Bond though, putting aside the dreams of wealth that so many other villains possess so that he can exact personal vengeance. “Free both of us. Free both of us with the same bullet,” he pleads to M, begging for a murder-suicide that would erase them both from the world at once. This isn’t a villain searching for power – this is a trauma victim looking to end his suffering. In other movies of this franchise, there are times where it seems like the well of complex characterisation for Bond has run dry, and that he is nothing more than a vehicle for thrilling set pieces. But in the creation of one his greatest foes in Silva and gorgeous displays of atmosphere, Skyfall proves to be a thoughtful, emotionally compelling exploration of Bond’s deeply-entrenched self-doubt.

Cinematographer Roger Deakins leaves his mark on Skyfall in almost every scene, but most of all in this superb climactic set piece lit by the burning Skyfall manor.

Skyfall is currently available to rent or buy on iTunes, YouTube, and Google Play.

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