What made SKYFALL so insanely great?

Yes, the cinematography was beautiful. Just watch the trailer, which is packed with great shot after great shot.

But that’s not why.

Also: cinematography is just a fancy word for “hiring the right dude to actually work the camera and stage amazing shots, because the director is really the Big Boss of the film and not the guy behind the camera, though papers of news will confuse you about this by talking about the man behind the camera when they talk about directors.”

Also-also: the dialogue and writing was much, much better than your typical Bond film. But that’s not what made SKYFALL so excellent that it may be the first Bond film in the history of modern civilization to get nominated for Oscars.

So what truly made SKYFALL so good?


Story is the reason that Michael Bay can waste $250 million apiece on movie after movie about robots that change into cars or whatever, movies that only 12-year-old boys really enjoy watching.

Story is the reason THE KING’S SPEECH — made for about $20 million — crushes any Michael Bay explosion-fest known to man.

As a big fan of cheesy action movies, I appreciate ones that embrace their cheesiness. They make it more fun. When you start taking a movie about robots from outer space too seriously, it shows on the screen and stops being fun.

SKYFALL rocks so hard because it takes something else seriously: story.

Just for comparison, I watched a typical 007 movie from the Roger Moore era: THE SPY WHO LOVED ME.

Here’s the trailer for that piece of cinematic trash:

SKYFALL and this Roger Moore thing have the same ingredients: (a) suave spy for the British Secret Service who (b) can’t walk down the street without tripping over 27 beautiful women, half of whom are (c) trying to kill him because they work for (e) some insane villain with pet sharks and a secret lair inside a volcano. There will be (f) glorious gadgets and (g) amazing chase scenes and (h) witty one-liners.

That formula means nothing if you — the audience and the director and the actors — don’t care about the characters.

Bond has typically been made of cardboard. Oh, he’s got the tuxedo and the charm and the gadgets. He gets the girls. But what makes him tick? Does he ever suffer and sacrifice and change?

Roger Moore never really suffered or sacrificed or changed.

Daniel the Craig definitely suffered and sacrificed in CASINO ROYALE. And he bumped that way, way up in SKYFALL.

Sidenote: A big reason that A QUANTUM OF SOLACE stank up the joint was the Hollywood writer’s strike meant the writing and story was thrown together by the director and Craig, on set. Not a recipe for success. 

The more brilliant move by Sam Mendes and his writers was to give serious character arcs not just to Bond, but to the traditional supporting cast at MI-6, the characters who are usually just pieces of scenery.

In the old Bond movies, M was just a boss behind the desk and Moneypenny was a pretty secretary that flirted with Bond as he hung up his coat and went in for his next assignment.

In SKYFALL, Moneypenny is an amazing driver who shoots somebody you don’t expect. She’s actually important to the plot.

Even a minor character played by Ralph Fiennes goes from bureaucrat and enemy to courageous ally. He gets a story arc.

And this time, M is absolutely crucial to the plot.

Crucial to Bond, who suffers quite a lot because of a decision she made: “Take the bloody shot.” Crucial to the villain, Silva, who suffered just as much, if not more, because of M.

Finally, M is crucial to the film’s story itself. You could argue that it’s her film.

Sam Mendes gives us a movie that’s not just chase scenes and gadgets and Bond girls — he makes us care about the characters. He takes us on a journey with them, with each of them forever changed.

And that’s the power of story.

15 thoughts on “What made SKYFALL so insanely great?

  1. I have absolutely no idea where so many people are getting the idea that this is anything other than a truly awful film. Not only is this not the best Bond film, it’s quite possibly the worst. People talk about the wonderful storyline… What storyline. It’s like it’s been written in 15 mins on someone’s lunch break. The dialogue is shameful and the VFX are easily the worst I have seen in a major feature for years. If bond was a horse, after this performance they would shoot it.


  2. I’m with Dave, Skyfall for me was Skyflunk. The wonderful villain was squandered, the climax happened at the beginning of the film, and finding out what Skyfall was turned out to be the biggest disappointment of the movie. It kind of infuriates me because I was dying to see this movie and I wanted it to be phenomenal. There were no stakes. The Bond girls were meh. Moneypenny was more like a bro than a love interest. The other love interest lasted about 5 seconds, so we were technically left with M as the love interest in a weird Oedipal way. And the rest of the movie, which as Dave put so wonderfully, turned into Home Alone 2.

    But I’d like to hear from you specifically what about the story you thought was brilliant? Do you prefer Skyfall over Casino Royale? What do you think the risks or stakes were for the story? Just curious. I’m baffled why so many people think this is the most brilliant Bond movie ever when to me it really felt flat and disappointing.


    1. Better than CASINO ROYALE and even the Sean Connery ones, which are better in memory than actually rewatched.

      But there is no accounting for taste.


      1. Yikes. Yeah, we definitely have to disagree. Better than Casino Royale? You’re mad I tell you! Mad! 😉 Well, I’m sure the producers at least are pleased you like their movie so much. 😀


  3. This was my favorite so far–because of the story and wonderful handling of characters–and yet at least a third of the comments I read about it say it’s the worst Bond film ever, or at best not all that good. Everyone watches the same film through a unique perceptual and experiential filter. And (pet peeve mini-rant follows:) I intend “unique” here to mean one of a kind, not simply “really unusual.” /rant.


  4. You’ve nailed it. The hook is always story and 3-D characters. I don’t need special effects – hated Transformers, yeah, it’s for 12 year old boys – and maybe this is why The Avengers bored me to tears. It was a movie built around one-liners and cardboard characters. And recycled CGEs. I adore Sean Connery. He’s the quintessential Bond for me, but Daniel Craig is the ‘real’ deal.


  5. Very true about M’s arc. Loved that Mendes made the film about story and character, rather than simply random set pieces (and I’m including the usual parade of women and/or villains in that). Even the villain gets a full story, in this one! Motivation, hey!

    However, the villain’s name is Raoul *Silva*, not Silver…though we made that same mistake because of the accents, too, when we first watched the movie.


  6. We just saw it over the weekend and all agreed that it wasn’t very Bond-like despite the familiar elements, but that we really liked it. Story and character arc were definitely a big part of it.


  7. Skyfall was ok, but it had a LOT of average going on. Based on the initial reviews, etc, I was expecting the best Bond film ever. What I got instead was an above average Bond film with a paint by numbers plot. Loved Bardem, and the middle section of the film was fantastic. As far as the plot/story goes, whoever decided to bring the action to a grinding halt to switch location to Skyfall and turn the remainder of the film into Home Alone 2 needs a good talking to. For me, it ruined what could have been the best film yet. It became all too predictable. We knew what would happen with Fiennes’ character, we knew what would happen with M (she was done, one way or the other.) The late introduction of a beloved family caretaker was odd, that late in the film. As we had no attachment to him, any attempt to ground the Bond character, or add to him via family history was clumsy at best.

    Skyfall is a 7/10 at best, in my opinion.


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