Skyfall: An Archaeological Perspective.
James finds a dying agent in a room somewhere in Turkey – a hard-drive containing the names of lots of secret service agents has been taken. James tries to stem the flow of blood from the dying agent – he cares. It’s good. But the assassin is escaping, and he has to have a chase soon, because somehow he has to get shot off the top of a moving train. To hasten this, another agent – a young woman who turns out to be Moneypenny – draws up in a Landrover and urges him to get in. They follow the assassin’s car until he spots them, then we’re off and away on a chase involving crashing cars, motorbikes going across rooftops, and a train. It’s probably very exciting, and was almost certainly quite dangerous for the stunt drivers, but we’ll never know, because the fast close up editing means that you don’t really get to see much.
So anyway. James and the assassin have a bit of a scuffle on the train, which involves a big digger, and James gets shot by the assassin, and then shot again by Moneypenny, who was aiming for the assassin. James falls a long, long way and lands in a river. Cut to title sequence and the Adele song, which opens with the lyrics “This is the end”. I feel a little cheated, thinking that was an incredibly short film, and then a couple of hours later, after having witnessed the actual end, the feeling returns tenfold.
It’s not the end of course, it’s the beginning. This is a recurring theme. They are resurrecting something. Out with the old, in with the new, and out with the old. And back in with the new. I think. Anyway, M is being driven back to MI6 headquarters, just in time to see it being blown up. We later learn that someone had hacked into their computer system, started a gas leak, and then ignited it somehow. I know. Really. Whoever opened that email attachment must be feeling like a right tit.
Anyway. It turns out that Bond isn’t dead – he’s used his perceived death as an opportunity to retire to a tropical beach, where he can shag dusky maidens and drink round the clock. Fortunately this tedium is interrupted by a newscast about the MI6 building being blown up, and James, possibly sighing with relief, is off to rainy London to see if there’s anything he can do. I’d been rather enjoying the tropical beach. It was raining when we went into the cinema. It rains all the time he’s in England, which is a lot of the rest of the film, other than when he’s in Scotland, where it’s freezing. Still, we’re briefly off to China soon, so it warms up for a short while. But before then. . .
Bond reintroduces himself to M by breaking into her house and drinking her booze. She lets herself into her house, enters her dark sitting room, and sees a man’s silhouette against the window. She immediately recognises Bond. It’s the ears isn’t it? Or maybe he wears a very distinctive perfume. Anyway, he wants back in, and M says yes, but you have to pass a medical.
We’re introduced to the new emergency MI6 headquarters. It’s under London, apparently connected to Churchill’s War Rooms. Many of the tunnels are 19th century, and haven’t all been explored yet. Does anyone else have a problem with that? How secure does that sound? Just me then? Ok.
James goes through his medical, only breaking off to dig some shrapnel out of his shoulder wound with a pen knife and give it to the labs to analyse. He has his shirt off a number of times, and there’s only the one bullet wound. He got shot twice on the train – did Moneypenny manage to hit him in the same spot as the assassin? No, because later, when he runs into her, and she starts riffing with him about what a great shot she is, he complains about three cracked ribs. So unless James keeps some spare ribs in his shoulder, where the assassin hit him, there’s a missing bullet wound. Oh well.
So he passes all his tests (but not really – M’s lying just to get him back in the field, and so we can get on with the film) and is introduced to Gareth Mallory, played by Ralph Fiennes, who’s the chairman of the Secret Service Steering Committee or something. Mallory makes it plain that he’s not happy about Bond being back. We’re also told that the lab has finished analysing the shrapnel from the assassin’s bullet. It’s depleted uranium. Only three people use that kind of bullet, and they happen to have photos of all of them, and their travel plans for the next few days. Depleted uranium? Isn’t that terribly radioactive? MI6 don’t have scanners on the door? Never mind.
James is off to China the next day, to try and intercept the assassin and see if there’s anything that can be done about the missing hard drive (remember that?). The first five agent’s names have been uploaded to Youtube, and repercussions are occurring. James has to act fast, because apparently ringing Google is out of the question. But before he flies out, he meets Q in an art gallery, to pick up his new gun. Much safer than MI6 apparently. An art gallery. Never mind. Q shows him a pistol – a modified Walther PPK – and a small radio transmitter. James quips about exploding pens, Q laughs. He explains that the grip of the PPK is bio-metrically sensitive – that only James can fire it. He says it’s less of a random killing machine, and more of a personal statement. James holds it – the LEDs at the back light up to let him know that the gun knows it’s him.
Bond’s reaction: Smirk.
How Bond should have reacted: “So when I grip it, the LEDs at the back light up my face, and if I shoot someone with it, it provides incontrovertible evidence that it could only have been me that pulled the trigger? Tell you what, go back to making exploding pens, and make sure our scriptwriter gets a box full.”
So, off to China. Bond spots the assassin at the airport and follows him to a high rise glass building. The assassin walks into the building, and kills all the security guards before getting into a lift, which Bond manages to grab onto and hang off until it stops a million stories up. He then watches as the assassin cuts a hole in the plate glass window, assembles a rifle, and assassinates someone in the building opposite. Apparently twatting the assassin from behind while he was concentrating on something else and had his hands full wasn’t and option. James decides this is the time to act, they have a punch-up, and the baddie gets thrown out of the window to his death. James checks his assassin’s kit, and discovers a gaming chip with the name of a casino on it. There’s handy.
He goes to the casino, cashes the chip and collects four million euros. While he’s there he has a drink with the woman who apparently hired him (for her boss though – she’s not a baddie). While they’re shooting the breeze, James notices that the woman, Severine, has a tattoo marking her as a sex slave on the inside of her wrist – apparently she didn’t think of wearing a watch, or hiding it under a plaster. James hazards a guess at her life story – sold into sex slavery when she was twelve years old, horrible life of abuse, offered a way out as a serial smoker/hirer of hitmen. And oh yes, did she want him to kill her boss by the way? It turns out that she thinks this is a splendid idea, and tells him that she leaves for a his private island on a yacht which will be departing in an hour. It’d be super if he could make it. “Great” says James, pausing to kill three men – one with a komodo dragon “see you there”.
Cut to shower scene onboard yacht. Severine’s having a good soak, but she’s a bit sad because it doesn’t look like James is going to make it after all. But he does! He’s sneaked onboard, dodging the heavily armed crew, got naked and let himself into the shower, coming up behind her. She doesn’t freak out – she’s been jumped on by men since she was twelve, so is probably used to this kind of thing. What she probably wanted, after a lifetime of abuse, was a nice cup of tea and a chat, perhaps ending in a friendly cuddle. But this is 007 after all. Reality doesn’t feature much. He was never going to sneak in, for instance, only to discover her sitting on the jakes, halfway through a particularly recalcitrant sudoku.
Anyway. They are nearly at the island, and Severine is at the front of the yacht. James wanders up, all the crew get their machine guns out. He’s not bothered, so we shouldn’t be either. After landing, he’s escorted through an industrial wasteland – Severine informs Bond that her boss wanted the island for himself, so he engineered a story about a chemical leak and the entire population left. Not one of them, apparently, thought to check back in a week or so to see if there had actually been a chemical leak. They were all as curious as the crew of Prometheus, it would seem.
Bond is tied into a chair, and is menaced by a blond Javier Bardem. I miss a lot of what he’s saying to Bond – he wants to kill M, that much is plain, but I’m horribly distracted by the blond hair. Why? It’s Javier Bardem. We know he isn’t blond. Why have they done that? Is it a wig? I can’t concentrate. And then he tells a story about another island, one he knew when he was a kid, which was infested by rats – they loved the coconuts apparently. His aunt, in an effort to clear the infestation, buried an empty oil drum in the ground and put some coconuts in as bait. Once the rats that fell into it and ate all the coconuts, they started eating each other, until there were two left. Then his aunt released them into the wild, and they ate all the other rats. Clearly this was a parable for their own situation – you see, M had abandoned him in much the same way as she had abandoned James. They were to two rat eating rats.
No, I didn’t really get it either. Rats don’t do that do they? I think they’d run off, eat some other food, and spend the rest of their days trying to avoid eye contact. ANYWAY. Various things happen, Severine is killed by Bardem, and James reveals that the British are on their way, because he had a radio transmitter in his pocket all the time. Yes. That’s right. They didn’t check his pockets for spy stuff. I mean really. But while we’re on the subject, why didn’t James just glue the transmitter onto the yacht to see where it was going? Or, here’s a thought, got MI6 to track the yacht via satellite? It doesn’t matter, because Bardem gives up so easily that you just know it was what he wanted all along.
So they take Bardem to the insecure MI6 base under London, and put him in a clear glass tank. He does a batshit routine, during which he reveals that years ago when M abandoned him, he held out under torture for days, before biting on a fake molar containing cyanide. He says it was really horrible, but it didn’t kill him. It did mess him up however. He reaches into his mouth and removes a prosthetic – most of his teeth are false, and also a large part of his cheek bone is missing. When he pulls out the prosthetic, his face goes all stretchy, we marvel at the CGI. We don’t actually, it isn’t terribly well done. There are still a couple of rotten teeth in there – front ones – which the surgeons apparently couldn’t be bothered to remove during the extensive reconstructive surgery. Possibly they were too busy dicking around, peroxiding his hair for a laugh. Bond and M look at each other, a little freaked out. Possibly at the fact that no-one checked Bardem for huge amounts of plastic and metal secreted in his face or, for that matter, cyanide pills hidden in false teeth.
But it doesn’t matter, because that astounding security lapse is about to be overshadowed by a much bigger one. Q, being a computer genius, has plugged Bardem’s laptop into the MI6 system, and then is all surprised when it fills it with Trojans and starts running the show. Bond and M run up to see what all the fuss is about, and by the time they get back downstairs again Bardem has somehow got out of the fishtank and killed all the guards. The fiend – he’d planned the whole thing!
So M goes to an inquiry about MI6 security standards (about bloody time) and James chases Bardem all over London. Bardem dresses up as a policeman to ease his passage through the London Underground system and at one point almost kills James with a train. James had got him fair and square trying to escape up a ladder. He only has to shoot him, but doesn’t Bardem lets off a bomb which blows up above James, and a tube train comes through the hole the bomb has made. He planned that? Really? How did that go? “If Bond traps me on that ladder that I’ll probably use, I’ll get him to stop shooting at me by saying something creepy (yeah – I’m good at that), then I’ll blow a wall out and see if I can hit him with the 5:15 to Basingstoke. It’ll probably be on time. This is bound to work.”
Then he goes to the inquiry where M is being grilled, and starts shooting from the doorway of the court. Plenty of people fire back, but no-one hits him. Mallory (Fiennes) is there, and we discover that he’s a bit handy when the shit hits the fan. Then James turns up, gets M out of trouble, and drives her off in her special official MI6 car.
And this is where it starts to get silly. James drives Q to a garage and tells her that the trouble with official cars is that they always have trackers. He opens the garage doors to reveal the silver Aston Martin everybody’s been making such a fuss about. Yes, we get it – this whole film is about things being resurrected – why didn’t they just call it ‘Oldfinger’ and have done with it?
M’s response: “It’s not exactly inconspicuous”
What M should have said: ‘For Christ’s sakes James, you bell-end, we’ll stick out a fucking mile. I’m going to Avis for a Ford fucking Focus. Please don’t follow me. Actually scrub that. You go where-ever you’re going in that knackered silver. . . well, it’s not exactly a penis extension is it? It’s too small. It’s more the motoring equivalent of a Prince Albert. Ok, you do whatever you need to do, Bond, and I’m just going to go home. You’re the only one who’s broken in there, and even if he does come for me, then at least I can get backup really quickly if he tries any insane stuff, like coming at me with twenty four machine-gun wielding mercenaries and a helicopter gunship. Though having said that, I doubt even this movie is going to get that ridiculous.”
But they get in and drive off anyway. M complains about it being uncomfortable, and James starts dicking around with the ejector seat button.
M’s response: “You’re not going to eject me James.”
What M should have said: “Hang on – this silver Aston Martin with the ejector seat was first featured in Goldfinger. That came out in 1964. You’d have been. . . well you weren’t born until 1968. So not only would you not have been alive, but you’d also have been Sean Connery.”
But get this. James gets in touch with Q and tells him to lay a false trail to somewhere up in Scotland. But it’s not really a false trail, because they’re actually going there. Which begs the question, why ditch the car with the tracker? The nice big warm one that wasn’t likely to break down? Also, while we’re on the subject, instead of picking up a vintage car, why didn’t he grab some weaponry, or indeed light groceries? They’re going into the wilderness, they’ll need some bogroll at the very least. Mallory/Fiennes walks in on Q laying the false trail and demands to know what’s going on (understandable). When he finds out he tells them to carry on.
Q says: “What if the Prime Minister finds out?”
Mallory/Fiennes responds with: “Well then, we’re all buggered.”
What Mallory/Fiennes should have responded with: “It’s the secret fucking service. Keep it a fucking secret. Also, why are we doing this? Can’t we have some guys in the area too? You know, just in case anything unexpected happens? Because that’s been happening a lot lately. Just saying. And I’m saying it because we know where they’re going. So give us a 30 minute headstart before laying the trail, so we can be there waiting for them. Because that WILL surprise them. You know, the fact that we haven’t done something spectacularly stupid, in order to allow him to get away with astonishingly unlikely acts of carnage. Actually, you know what? Fuck it. Just carry on. I’ll try not to tell anyone accidentally. That way M might get killed by, I don’t know, having a bit of a scorched arse cheek or something unlikely, and then I can get her job. And you can stop calling me by my real name, and start calling me M, to somehow shroud my identity. Even though it is the first letter of Mallory, which is my surname. Not Malfoy. That’s James Bardem. No it isn’t. I’m so confused.”
Q: “Join the club.”
So now we’re near the end (if any of you are still with me, well done, I’m impressed). The Aston Martin pulls up next to a suspiciously fake looking ruined wall somewhere in the wilds of Scotland. I wonder why they used a fake one – there are lots of old walls in Scotland – and then the camera pulls back to expose a second fake ruined wall – it’s a gateway – and on the second fake ruined wall, in fake carving, is the word ‘Skyfall’. Aaahhh – it’s a place. Right. So they drive down the long drive to a deserted manse. It looks good, but is also plainly not a real house. In these days of HD they really need to watch that sort of thing because it can only lead the viewer towards two conclusions –
- The location spotter couldn’t find a real house that ticked all the boxes.
- It’s going to get blown up.
So James and M go inside. In the kitchen, they meet a grizzled old Scot pointing a shotgun at them. He’s introduced as Kincaid, the Bond family gamekeeper. James says hello, and tells him that he needs to leave, as some people are coming to try and kill them. He dismisses this out of hand. He doesn’t ask why, or who. From his reaction we can assume that he either gets this a lot, or that he knew James was in the not-terribly-secret service. James asks if the house still has a gun room, and Kincaid informs him that the house has been sold (because everyone thought he was dead) and also the gun collection. Well, nearly all of it – he couldn’t let James’ father’s hunting rifle go. Which is a bit weird. If the house has been bought by someone else, why was he lurking around the place? And also, why did he leave a valuable weapon in it? Whatever. It’s nearly over. So they find some shotgun cartridges, a very old stick of dynamite, and go all A-Team, rigging the house with explosive booby traps. Kincaid slaps a hunting knife onto the table at one point and says “Sometimes it comes down to the old fashioned ways” or something similar. And because this has been the theme for the whole film, we know that whatever happens between now and the end, Bardem is going to get stabbed to death with it.
While James is rigging a different part of the house, Kincaid shows M a priest hole that she could escape down if it all goes tits up. He tells here that when James’ parents died as a wee child, he disappeared down there for two whole days, and when he came back out, he was a child no longer. It’s all a bit Dark Knight, or possibly even Harry Potter. He offers M a thin blanket, and tells her the nights get very cold up here. She doesn’t ask him where he lives. Does he live here? Where’s his car? Why was he hanging about in someone else’s house? How come there’s electricity but no heating? Do the loos flush? Got any bogroll? Is that actually a Scottish accent?
So ok, as night is falling, a couple of vehicles drop twelve mercenaries with machine guns at the top of the drive. They spread out, avoiding the frozen lake (that’ll be handy later) and walk up to the front door. To get there, they had to walk right past the Aston Martin, which contains Bond, who opens fire on them, using the twin machine guns in the radiator grille. Apparently one of the features of the Aston Martin is that on cold nights, even with a big man inside it, the windows don’t fog up. So some of them die, some of them get inside the house and are killed off by M and Kincaid/Alfred/Hagrid. We knew they would be – there were twelve of them, none of them were Bardem, so obviously there’s going to be a second wave.
And here it comes. Bardem comes sweeping in over the waves in a helicopter gunship blaring music á la Apocalypse Now. They set down, another twelve mercenaries climb out, there’s a big punch up, the helicopter flies around the house opening fire with a heavy machine gun. Bardem wanders about chucking grenades through various windows, while M and Kincaid/Alfred/Hagrid hide in the priest hole, which is actually a tunnel which emerges between the main house and a nearby church. James destroys the house, most of the mercenaries and all of the helicopter by blowing up two Calor gas canisters with a bit of old dynamite, before legging it down the priest hole/tunnel. This explosion serves two purposes – one is to severe all James’ links to the past, and the other is to make sure the landscape is illuminated for the last showdown.
M and Kincaid have got as far as the church, and flash a torch through the window just in case no one saw them escaping. Bardem and a surviving mercenary charge off after them, but James is close behind. He takes a gamble, and tries a short cut across the frozen lake. Bardem spots him, and the last mercenary walks across the ice, right up to James to detain him. Bardem gives him a dressing down about all this running around, pointing out how pointless it all is. I’m feeling sympathetic towards him for the first time. James grabs the mercenary and spins them both round in a circle, shooting a hole in the ice, through which they both fall. And they keep falling. They sink through the depths, lit only by the raging fire in the house. Bond manages to get his leg around the other man’s neck and strangles him to death. I’m not saying this is impossible, but this is underwater – can you strangle someone who’s holding their breath underwater? Aren’t you just essentially forcing them to hold their breath? Aren’t they trying to do that anyway?
It doesn’t matter. The corpse falls even deeper, and James tries to find the hole in the ice. He can’t, so he dives down and down, finds the falling mercenary, and grabs a flare from his belt. Nobody had used flares, so how he knew he would have one on him is anyone’s guess. He fires the flare towards the surface of the frozen lake. He doesn’t say it, but we’re all thinking ‘expecto patronum!’. And then we’re thinking ‘wouldn’t that actually just blind whoever was looking at it?’
So. Really the last bit. Kincaid and M are in the church, and it transpires that M has been injured – a scorched arse cheek as far as we can tell – and is in a bad way. Bardem comes in, gives a creepy talk, tries to kill M, but is stabbed in the back by Bond, who arrives just in time. M dies in his arms.
Cut to MI6 offices. There is a new M, which is Mallory, of course, and Moneypenny has decided to become his secretary. The old Bond is back. Mad villains, private island hide-always and stupid ass storylines are now the way ahead.
And to top it all, I lied about an archaeological perspective.