Five years ago, Skyfall made its way into U.S. theaters. It remains the most financially successful James Bond movie of all time and, in the eyes of many, it’s the best entry of the Daniel Craig era (though, Casino Royale might have something to say about that). While we wait for Craig to make his last turn as 007 in James Bond 25, let’s take a look back at Skyfall and what makes the movie so special in the long, storied history of Bond on the big screen.
Let’s rewind the clock a little bit and try and put ourselves in the shoes we were wearing in 2012. The last James Bond movie fans had seen was the much-maligned Quantum of Solace in 2008. Coming off the truly fantastic Casino Royale, which is quite possibly the best debut movie for a Bond actor in the history of the franchise, the movie was, to say the least, an unfortunate misstep. Granted, Quantum of Solace was plagued with issues and suffered as a result of the writer’s strike that was going on during production, but that doesn’t excuse a less-than-favorable movie in the eyes of the casual moviegoer.
In any case, four years had passed and audiences were ready for a new James Bond movie. Moreso, it felt like they were ready to love a James Bond movie again. The bar was set pretty low, so even a passable movie would have helped reignite audience’s faith in the Bond franchise. But Skyfall, instead, surprised us with one of the best movies in the long history of the famed MI6 spy. By taking some cues from movies like The Dark Knight (as the series regularly tries to infuse some of what’s “hip” into its latest entry) and by giving us a broken and lost, but determined Bond, mixed with the best of the old and some new, Skyfall isn’t just good, it’s downright special.
It’s hard to capture lightning in a bottle in the way that Skyfall managed to. For one, Daniel Craig was eager to make up for Quantum of Solace, so he did everything he could personally to make this movie a crowd-pleasing one. Despite what any critics of this movie may try and argue, it’s unquestionably a success on that level. The movie also got some new blood in the director’s chair, in the form of Sam Mendes, who recruited one of the best cinematographers in the business, Roger Deakins, to shoot it. Say anything you want about Skyfall, the movie is unquestionably gorgeous. Deakins is probably the best in the business and this is one of his finest moments.
There are so many things in Skyfall that rank among the finest in the series. The cold open, which concludes with Bond being shot off a train and plunging to what appears to be his death, is beyond thrilling. That leads into Adele’s theme song, which also ranks among the best produced for the Bond movies over the years. MI6 hq going up in flames, the Skyfall mansion assault, Daniel Craig adjusting his cufflinks after ripping the back off of a train and making a death defying leap onto a moving carriage. What’s more emblematic of 007 than that very moment?
There’s also the matter of casting. Dame Judi Dench gives the best performance of her 17-year tenure as M, which concludes with her tragic but utterly meaningful death. She also, in a big way, serves as the Bond girl for this movie, which is pretty unique within the framework of a 007 movie. Ben Whishaw and Naomie Harris breathed a modern breathe of fresh air into the roles of Q and Moneypenny, respectively. Javier Bardem brings the perfect Bond villain to the table as Silva. Creepy, flamboyant, not overused and a perfect counterpoint to Bond, he chews up the screen and the movie is better off for it. Ralph Fiennes serves as an excellent counterpart to Dench’s M and, though her role was relatively small, Bérénice Marlohe makes for a very classic-feeling secondary Bond girl. It’s all here.
Sam Mendes also clearly had the understanding that, for James Bond to continue to be viable for modern audiences, it needs to evolve. However, it can’t abandon what people love about it. So, we get a remarkably modern action movie that features gorgeous set piece after gorgeous set piece, mixed with a few Bond gadgets, great locations, the Aston Marton DB5 and, let’s not forget, some great 007 action in a casino. It’s the old and the new working in perfect harmony.
If one were to put Skyfall on a chopping block, they’re sure to find some logic flaws. Especially when looking at Silva’s overall plan, which relies heavily on matters that seem impossible to predict. But Bond has never been about perfection. It’s been about fun and thrills. It’s been about transporting the audience to places they could never go. Seeing things they could never see. So, despite those flaws, it’s hard to argue against the final product as a truly excellent James bond movie. Case in point, it remains the only movie in the history of the franchise to bring in more than $1 billion at the box office. Plus, the movie has a 93 percent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
But Rotten Tomatoes scores aren’t everything. I, for one, have a special place in my heart for Skyfall. I’ve always really liked Bond. I was introduced to it, like many people around my age, via the Goldeneye game for the N64. From there, the movies followed. I liked the movies. I liked James Bond. But it wasn’t until I saw Skyfall for the first time that everything clicked into place. Skyfall is the movie that melded the old with the new in my mind and made James Bond one of the main pillars of my fandom. I have a feeling I’m not alone in that respect.
Five years is just enough time to gain some real perspective on a movie. Revisiting this movie on its fifth anniversary produced nothing but smiles, cheers, tears and pure joy. The kind of joy brought on by the best entries in the series. The kind of joy Goldfinger and The Spy Who Loved Me (both of which also happen to be the third movies for their respective stars) bring. We’ll have to wait and see what 007 has in store for us in James Bond 25, but if it even comes close to Skyfall, we can count ourselves lucky.