Bond. James Bond. What else is there to say about the world's favorite debonair super spy?
Tons more, actually.
If you've been following Bond since Daniel Craig's 007 debut in Casino Royale, you've seen quite a bit of character development. Over the course of three films, Bond has gone from up-and-coming young superstar spy to a man past his prime. It happened in the blink of an eye, just like the fame of an Instagram celebrity.
In Skyfall, Bond is dealing with two sources of internal conflict—getting old and feeling expendable, like the olives in his martini glass. The two issues are closely intertwined.
Let's talk about feeling expendable first. After the film's thrilling introductory chase scene, Bond is shot. Not by the bad guy, but by his fellow agent, Eve. And not exactly on accident. Eve is ordered to shoot, even though she fears she might hit Bond.
M: Take the shot. [pause] I said take the shot.
EVE: I can't! I may hit Bond.
M: Take the bloody shot!
Bond falls off a high bridge and is presumed dead. RIP 007.
Well, okay, of course he survives; otherwise, we wouldn't have a movie.
But after putting aside any hard feelings he has toward M, his old age starts to comes into play in a real way for him. Bond must recuperate from his injuries, a process that takes much longer as an older man than it did a young whippersnapper. He has to work twice as hard to get back into the same shape—and to fit into those impeccably tailored suits.
And although Bond survives, he doesn't thrive. He fails to pass his physical and other evaluations, and he's only admitted back into service because M lies about his results. He's a martini made with well liquor, even though M continues to tell people he's a top-shelf brand.
Bond may seem like a cold-blooded person, an agent of death with a heart of steel. But underneath the tuxedo, the pecs, and the pure stream of vodka coursing through his veins, Bond is actually—dare we say it—a romantic.
That romantic nature is hinted at in the musical sequence, which is filled with imagery of Bond shot through the heart. And then we get lyrics from Adele like "Feel the earth move and then / Hear my heart burst again" and "You'll never have my heart." Then, during Bond's word-association game during his psych evaluation, Bond matches "sunlight" with "swim" and "moonlight" with "dance." Could he be writing poetry in his downtime?
We also see this exchange, however:
What could Bond mean by this?
Well, emotions are a liability in the spy game. In the film's opening sequence, we see Bond upset at having to leave his colleague Ronson behind. At the end, we see him cry—yes, Bond cries—over M's death. He cared about her as more than just a boss, which is why he goes to such great lengths to protect her, and why he's so wracked with emotion when she is killed.
Bond's history of heartbreak goes back, way back, before the plot of Skyfall begins, and before the plot of any Bond movie. According to his psych evaluation, Bond has experienced a "pathological rejection of authority based on unresolved childhood trauma."
Again, we only get hints of this trauma. It's exposed when M and Bond have the following conversation in the Scottish countryside.
M: How old were you when they died?
BOND: You know the answer to that. You know the whole story.
M: Orphans always make the best recruits.
Bond has deep psychological and emotional issues that he has covered up by appearing fantastically cool, calm, and collected over the years. But that can't last forever, and at the end of Skyfall, Bond finds he must return home to confront his past in his own way. That's not an easy thing to do, and Bond is not particularly looking forward to it. Here's how he puts it:
BOND: Storm's coming.
We talk about the finale more in our "What's Up With the Ending?" section, but we'll let you know here that when Bond returns to his childhood house, it's an explosive homecoming. Confronting old feelings is often a combustible event.
M takes her job as the head of MI6 very seriously. Maybe too seriously. But if you were the first woman in charge of the agency, you'd take your job seriously, too.
In the fifty-year history of the Bond franchise, in fact, M had been played by men until 1995, when Judi Dench took over in GoldenEye. She might be one of the most ruthless Ms of them all, but she has to be, because Craig's Bond is also one of the most ruthless 007s. It's a ruthless world. (Where has Ruth gone, by the way and will we ever find her?)
From the beginning, M sets the tone of Skyfall when she orders Eve to shoot with Bond in her sights, a decision that ends with Bond's death. Or so she thinks. M mourns Bond, but then she gets back to the business of keeping MI6 together. She may be sad about Bond's supposed death, but she can't let her emotions get in the way of serving her country.
Like Bond, M feels attacked for being old and out of date. After the Bond debacle, she finds herself being forced into retirement by Mallory, Chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee, who thinks that it's time for the agency to move past her. She resists. Then, when Bond returns, even he suggests she cash in her chips.
M: You know the rules of the game. You've been playing it long enough. We both have.
BOND: Maybe too long.
M: Speak for yourself.
As you can see from her response, M will never back down. She fights as hard as she can to stay in her position, but why? Is it sheer stubbornness, or is it because she knows she is the best person to head the country's national security? Her response to Silva's accusations that she abandoned him without remorse definitely put a check in the "stubborn" category:
M: Regret is unprofessional.
But M also knows what she's talking about. The double-0 program is a shadowy organization, but it must be shadowy, because these people are dealing with shadowy enemies. And they need a shadowy leader, like M. Seriously, we can never tell what that woman is thinking.
Whatever motivates her, Bond has a suggestion for her:
BOND: You should try it some time. Get away from it all. It really lends perspective.
What does M need a new perspective on? Could it be possible that M is so focused on preserving her own career that she misses the bigger picture? We have to wonder if M's fate would have been different if she had taken a break, and not just because we'd love to be on a beach somewhere sipping martinis with Judi Dench.
M may be strictly professional, but she is a woman, and her agents are predominantly men. And the two main agents in Skyfall—Bond and Silva—have some mommy issues.
An orphan, Bond finds a mother figure in M, which is why her betrayal hurts more than it might have if the order to shoot had come from any other boss. But the affection goes both ways. Bond isn't longing for the love of a cold mother; he's coming to terms with the fact that even though M loves him, she loves the country more.
Bond is a little bit petty about this slight, offering this bon mot up to the evaluator when he knows M is in earshot:
But although Bond's feelings are hurt, he is able to put them aside and reconcile with M in order to get the job done.
Mallory, on the other hand, sees M's love for Bond as a detraction from her job. As he tells her, "You're sentimental about him."
And he has a point. M is putting Bond in harm's way by making him think he is stronger than he is. We see this when he attempts to hang onto the elevator and almost falls off, for example. Bond's physical test results say he's in peak condition, but that's only because M lied about them. In fact, Bond could stand to do a few more push-ups.
As for Silva, he is longing for the love of a cold, distant mother. We don't know Silva's entire background. He mentions a grandmother, but not a mother. Perhaps he saw in M the same surrogate Bond does. Silva actually calls M "mother," but in the way a teenager might when he does something just to anger his mom.
M continues to be cold. She isn't the type to offer warm fuzzies when her kids act out. Just look at her response to him here:
SILVA: You're smaller than I remember!
M: Whereas I barely remember you at all.
M's as cold as chewing an entire pack of spearmint gum. Not only is she chilly toward Silva, but she also then says she will have his name scrubbed from the memorial wall of fallen agents. She denies Silva what he wants: recognition. And when he doesn't receive it, he wants to kill her. That's beyond Oedipus, guys.
Silva's computer virus repeatedly tells M to "Think on [Her] Sins." And think on her sins she does. At Skyfall, Bond's family estate, M has time for reflection. Ever the stoic, she doesn't reflect out loud, instead doing it silently whilst—yes, we totally said "whilst," because M would, too—viewing the Scottish countryside.
M doesn't reveal the conclusion of her reflections until the very end, in the moment before her death—but we're saving that for our "What's Up With the Ending?" section. Tl;dr: M realizes that she was right about how great Bond is. Bond grieves M's death as he would grieve for his own parent—maybe even with more tears.
Like Judi Dench herself, M was a grand dame.
In the classic viral video "Shoes," Kelly storms out of her house after declaring to her parents, "I'm going to get what I want." Skyfall is the story of someone just like Kelly—determined to get his way at any cost.
Okay, Silva isn't nearly as greedy and crazy as Kelly, even though they do have similar hairstyles, but he is driven by selfishness, according to Severine:
SEVERINE: He wanted the island, so he took it.
BOND: Does he always get what he wants?
SEVERINE: More than you know.
We don't know why Silva is so greedy, but we do know what he wants: to kill M. He feels betrayed by her sacrifice of him. He takes that personally, even though she did it—in her opinion—for the good of the country. Silva just can't let it go: he wants M dead, and he goes to insane lengths to get to her dead, stealing a top secret list of government identities, exposing agents, crashing an entire subway train into James Bond—the list goes on and on (and on).
Silva explains his Moonraker-like focus here:
SILVA: They left the island so quickly, they couldn't decide what to take, what to leave, what was important. And seeing this every day reminds me to focus on the essentials. There's nothing...nothing superfluous in my life. When a thing is redundant, it is eliminated.
He sounds like a hippie living off the land and off the grid—which he is, in a way. But instead of focusing on peace, Silva is focused on causing chaos.
We worked our way through Silva's twisted feelings about M in her character profile, so here let's talk about his twisted feelings toward Bond.
Silva feels an odd kinship with Bond, revealed here in this long speech about rats and coconuts:
SILVA: Hello, James. Welcome. Do you like the island? My grandmother had an island. Nothing to boast of. You could walk around it in an hour. But still, it was, it was a paradise for us. One summer, we went for a visit and discovered the place had been infested with rats. They'd come on a fishing boat and gorged themselves on coconut. So how do you get rats off an island? Hmm? My grandmother showed me. We buried an oil drum and hinged the lid, then we wired coconut to the lid as bait. And the rats would come for the coconut and plink plink plink plink plink plink they would fall into the drum. And after a month, you have trapped all the rats. But what do you do then? Throw the drum into the ocean? Burn it? No. You just leave it. And they begin to get hungry. And one by one [gnawing noise] they start eating each other until there are only two left. The two survivors. And then what? Do you kill them? No. You take them and release them into the trees. But now they don't eat coconut anymore. Now they only eat rat. You have changed their nature. The two survivors, this is what she made us.
That is Silva's introduction speech, done in one lingering two-minute take, and it defines his character. How's that for a lov-er-ly bunch of coconuts?
Let's break it down. Silva sees himself and Bond as brothers competing for their mother's love. M's love. Silva is jealous of Bond because Bond is closer to M, but at the same time, he wants to use Bond to destroy M. He also wants to turn Bond against her, but Bond will never do that; he knows that to turn against M would be to turn against his country. Silva, on the other hand, only pledges allegiance to the United States of Silva.
It would be kind of Oedipal if Silva didn't seem so attracted to Bond. Just listen to this exchange (which isn't complete without the image of Silva unbuttoning Bond's shirt):
SILVA: See what she's done to you.
BOND: Well, she never tied me to a chair.
SILVA: Her loss. [caresses Bond's chest]
BOND: Are you sure this is about M?
SILVA: It's about her. And you, and me. You see, we are the last two rats. We can either eat each other...Mmm. Or eat everyone else. How you're trying to remember your training now. What's the regulation to cover this? Well, first time for everything. Yes?
BOND: What makes you think this is my first time?
SILVA: Oh, Mr. Bond! All that physical stuff, so dull, so dull. Chasing spies...so old-fashioned! Your knees must be killing you.
Silva could be doing this to get a rise out of Bond, pretending to seduce a man known as a womanizer in order to rile him up and get him to let his guard down. But Bond, stone cold and cool, isn't ruffled. Silva continues acting out to shake Bond, for example when he quips, "Let's see who ends up on top."
Now there's a line rife with sexual innuendo.
And at the end, Silva enters the battle of Skyfall in a helicopter blaring rock tunes. He's cocky, brazen, and flamboyant, but we have no idea why he is this way. Maybe as a child he was told he had too many shoes?
But here is where Silva finally learns that for all his bluster, it really is James Bond who ends up on top. Womp womp. Evil just doesn't pay in the Bond universe.
Eve is bad luck for Bond before she becomes good luck, shooting him on the train and almost killing him at the beginning of the movie. But that apparent death is the impetus for Bond's resurrection, so Eve is totally a blessing in disguise.
Being a Bond girl of sorts, Eve doesn't have much of a backstory. We do know that she can pull her own weight. We see her driving through the crowded streets of Istanbul and coolly accompanying Bond to a seedy Macau gambling den. Plus, she's probably better with a rifle than our initial introduction to her would lead us to believe. At least that's what she says:
BOND: Well, you gave it your best shot.
EVE: That was hardly my best shot.
BOND: I'm not sure I could survive your best.
Eve also matches wits with Bond, flirting constantly and perpetuating the will-they-or-won't-they tension Bond and Moneypenny have been known for since the inception of the characters.
But Eve doesn't let Bond know her name until the very end, when she reveals that her last name is Moneypenny. By that point, she has given up fieldwork, feeling she is more suited to assisting Bond in the office instead. What's that about? Is that an accurate assessment of her own skills, or has she taken herself back to the 1960s, to the origin of the Moneypenny character? We'll have to watch Spectre to see if she keeps that promise to stick close to the filing cabinet, or if she'll once again have Bond in her rifle sights.
Q is for Quartermaster, the man in charge of giving Bond all his high-tech gadgets. In the past, Bond has been given an exploding pen, an invisible car, a gun that blows up sharks, and a boat in the shape of an iceberg.
In this one, he gets a radio and a gun.
Q sees Bond's job as an old-fashioned one, driven by brute force, not brains. It's an arrogant position for him to take, but it's one that isn't exactly untrue. Q gives Bond a gun to get himself into trouble and a radio to get himself out of it. He keeps the high-tech stuff—security systems and tools to hack into others' security systems—to himself.
Bond used to be an army of one, saving the world single-handedly. But as he gets older and the world gets more complicated, he must reluctantly accept the teamwork of those younger than him.
Severine is this film's femme fatale. Say that five times fast.
Any average man—and quite a few average women—would have their tongues twisted in Severine's presence. But not Bond. Even though Severine is sleek, sexy, and sophisticated, that is the way James Bond likes his cars and his women.
What sets Severine apart from the typical Bond girl role is her anti-hero stance. She's a girl belonging to the bad guy—not as if that ever stopped Bond from making a move. But when he talks to her over a martini (shaken, not stirred, of course), Bond learns that her story is more complicated. She's not just the bad guy's dame.
BOND: You put on a good show. But ever since we sat down, you haven't stopped looking at your bodyguards. Now, three of them is a bit excessive. They're controlling you. They're not protecting you. The tattoo on your wrist is Macau sex trade. You belonged to one of the houses. What were you? 12? 13? I'm guessing he was your way out. Perhaps you thought you were in love. But that was a long time ago.
Severine is a victim of Silva, not a comrade. Brought into this mess against her will by a man, she sees Bond as another man willing to get her out of it:
BOND: I can help you.
SEVERINE: I don't think so.
BOND: Let me try.
BOND: Bring me to him.
SEVERINE: Can you kill him?
SEVERINE: Will you?
BOND: Someone usually dies.
Tragically, the someone who dies ends up being Severine, murdered in cold blood by Silva to prove a point to Bond. Bond wasn't able to save her, after all.
Mallory is the Chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee, which means he's a bureaucrat telling everyone what to do, even though he has no idea how the business works. Everyone loves bureaucrats.
Initially, Mallory is seen almost as a secondary villain. M sees Mallory as someone against her, and Bond thinks he may even be using Eve to spy on him. However, Mallory is revealed to be on their side as the film progresses. He stands up for M at her hearing, literally throws himself between her and a bullet, and helps Q set up a fake trail for Silva.
Hmm, maybe not all bureaucrats are bad, after all.
After M's death, Bond finds that he now reports to Mallory. But he doesn't call him Mallory. Instead, he says,
MALLORY: Are you ready to get back to work?
BOND: With pleasure, M. With pleasure.
Aha. How convenient that the dude's name starts with M…
Kincaid is the groundskeeper at Skyfall estate, the only person still there after the death of Bond's parents long ago. He's little more than an informational character, explaining to us what is going on at Skyfall manor.
KINCAID: They've sold the place when they thought you were dead. It seems they were wrong. […] There's just your father's old hunting rifle. We couldn't let that go.
He also gives M a bit of insight into Bond's childhood.
KINCAID: The night I told him his parents had died, he hid in here for two days. When he did come out...he wasn't a boy anymore.
Kincaid also helps rig Skyfall with explosives, just like a 90-year-old Kevin McAllister.
The old coot might even have eyes for M, if he can see through his cataracts, but sadly he doesn't get a chance to ask the old dame out on a date. After M dies, Kincaid lowers his hat in respect, but we don't see him again. Maybe he's still in the chapel, in mourning. With Skyfall blown to bits, where else can he go??
Like Kincaid, Tanner is another informational character. He is M's right-hand man, the Moneypenny to her Bond, although if there's any sexual tension between the two of them, we don't see it on screen.
Tanner's job is to tell Bond all the information when he returns to MI6. Tanner is always even-keeled and levelheaded, even when droning on during Bond's physical evaluation.
Patrice's name might as well be Red Herring. He is the man Bond pursues at the beginning. Why is Bond after him? Because he stole a list of secret government identities. Tanner gives Bond the details on Patrice when Bond resumes the chase after a brief vacation (i.e., after apparently being dead):
TANNER: He's a ghost. No known residence or country of origin.
Bond ends up dropping this dude off a skyscraper in Shanghai. Oops. What a way to go. If a ghost falls off a building, and no one is around to see it, did he fall at all?
Wolf Blitzer is in this movie as himself. We would just like to point out that Wolf Blitzer would make a pretty good name for a Bond villain. Or for a Bond girl.
Now that would be a weird plot twist.