Skip to main content

How Skyfall Refined The Daniel Craig Era Of James Bond

Looking back on the Daniel Craig era of James Bond movies, the road to No Time To Die becomes a bit clearer with each installment. Already, we’ve discussed how Casino Royale introduced the modern 007, as well as the fact that Quantum of Solace defined the current generation’s incarnation. Now it’s time to revisit a fan favorite, as Sam Mendes’ Skyfall is definitely the James Bond film that refined the Craig era’s tone and style. 

We can debate the claim that the third Bond movie in any given actor’s run is the best another time. Right now we’re going to pay attention, and deconstruct the events of Skyfall, as they pertain to both the past and the future of Daniel Craig’s James Bond. While it's likely you've seen Skyfall, in the event that you haven't, major spoilers ahead!

Daniel Craig stands near his Aston Martin DB5 in the countryside in Skyfall.

(Image credit: Danjaq, LLC and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc.)

The Classic Touch, Or Skyfall's Walk Back To Tradition

After the connected narrative of Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace rebuilt the James Bond legacy from square one, it was time to get back into the swing of things. Skyfall definitely continued the march of progress for Daniel Craig’s era as the character, but even at the beginning, things felt like they were walking closer to the traditional mold. The very first moment of 007 stepping into frame, and Thomas Newman’s use of a section from the James Bond Theme’s classic hornline, made that readily apparent.

Then, of course, there was the return of the Aston Martin DB5 yet again, and the restoration of “the family” of MI6 compatriots like Q (Ben Whishaw) and Moneypenny (Naomie Harris). But even those traditions found a little bit of subversion, thanks to aspects like Q being the younger man in the equation for a change. And, of course, Eve Moneypenny’s origin story as an MI6 agent who eventually shifts to a desk job gave Skyfall another curve to navigate. 

Daniel Craig looking visibly upset during his evaluation in Skyfall.

(Image credit: Danjaq, LLC and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc.)

The Bond Family Legacy, Or What Skyfall Really Means To James Bond

While tradition does start to creep in with Skyfall’s narrative, there’s also a very important backstory that’s integrated into the modern run of 007. Pulled from the pages of the Ian Fleming novels itself, the Bond family legacy starts to become a very important thread. And to weave that special tapestry, we get to revisit James Bond’s tragic origin story, starting with the death of his parents. 

Bond’s status as an orphan was called right out in Casino Royale, when Vesper Lynd (Eva Green) sized him up in their first meeting. However, we learn that this particular development is thanks to a fatal climbing accident that killed James’ parents. Triggered by the word Skyfall in his psychological examination, we eventually learn that’s the name of his family’s estate in Scotland, which he’s left to the able hands of the caretaker, Kincade (Albert Finney.)

Daniel Craig wounded and floating underwater in Skyfall.

(Image credit: Danjaq, LLC and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc.)

Rest In Peace, James Bond

As if all of this trauma wasn’t enough, James Bond was actually written off as dead at the beginning of Skyfall. While we the audience knew he wasn’t really dead, the pre-credits sequence saw 007 shot in the line of duty, by Eve Moneypenny no less. Playing dead, and enjoying his favorite vices, Bond doesn’t come back into the intelligence picture after a mysterious attack almost kills M (Dame Judi Dench.) 

This attack coincides with the theft of a hard drive that outs many undercover agents in the field, which coincidentally was Skyfall’s opening mission, where we saw James Bond presumably die. With the 00 program, and M herself, becoming the subject of a full government inquiry, James Bond is reinstated into duty; despite failing all of his evaluations. Bond is trusted to clean up quite possibly the largest mess in MI6 history, as he squares off against a crafty foe.

Javier Bardem stands smiling in front of a captive Daniel Craig in Skyfall.

(Image credit: Danjaq, LLC and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc.)

Raoul Silva, James Bond's Deadliest Mirror Image?

Skyfall has a villain that some consider to be the best villain of the Daniel Craig era, if not the entire James Bond franchise. Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem) is what some would consider the deadliest version of the mirror image trope, even in the 007 legacy. An ex-MI6 operative, Silva (whose real name is Tiago Rodriguez) is the mastermind behind the hard drive theft, and the attempt on M’s life. 

Silva’s axe to grind is the fact that M allowed Chinese authorities to capture him, after he went rogue and hacked into the files of some government officials. Presumed dead, Raoul Silva adopts his current alias, and plans to kill the woman he once trusted like a mother. As if that isn’t enough of a connection to James Bond’s relationship with M, their final battle takes place at the manor that gives Skyfall its ominous name. 

Naomie Harris and Ben Whishaw side by side in Skyfall.

(Image credit: Danjaq, LLC and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc.)

Moneypenny And Q: Rebuilding The MI6 Family

Family isn’t only defined by blood in the James Bond series. In the documentary Being James Bond: The Daniel Craig Story, franchise producer Michael G. Wilson stated that bringing back characters like Moneypenny and Q was about “building the family again.” Providing James Bond with a wider network of support, alongside the trusted figures of M and her right hand man Tanner (Rory Kinnear,) Skyfall took another step towards becoming a bit more traditional.

With Q back in the picture, gadgets and snarky conversations in the office could come back into the James Bond repertoire. Though it would be an eventual process for the former, the latter would be present through the first meeting between the young Quartermaster and his 00 colleague. Meanwhile, the flirtation between 007 and Moneypenny came as close as it ever has to looking like they actually hooked up. Though Naomie Harris confirmed that wasn’t the case, which allowed her character to evolve into an actual friend and ally to James Bond in the field.

Ralph Fiennes sits back while delivering bad news in Skyfall.

(Image credit: Danjaq, LLC and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc.)

Gareth Mallory, A Hint At The Struggle To Come

Initially painted as an adversarial figure, Gareth Mallory (Ralph Fiennes) is introduced by giving M her marching orders. Basically sentencing her to mandatory retirement, after losing the list of undercover operatives and their identities, M is under intense scrutiny. Slowly but surely, and after recalling his SAS training during Silva’s attack on M’s hearing, Skyfall sees Mallory eventually become an ally to James Bond’s efforts to foil Silva.

The bureaucrat gives way to the soldier, which keeps Bond and M in play as they try to bait Silva into attacking them on their own terms. After a great tragedy in Skyfall, Gareth Mallory finds himself promoted to the position of M, ready to get to work on day one. But the plotline of investigating, and potentially replacing, the 00 program doesn’t merely go away. Spectre picks that story up in its course of events further down the line, and with even greater implications.

Daniel Craig cries over Dame Judi Dench's body in Skyfall.

(Image credit: Danjaq, LLC and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc.)

James Bond And M: Loyalty To The Bitter End

Trust and loss are two major themes in the James Bond era that Daniel Craig is the face of. With Skyfall, Bond suffered his greatest loss yet, through the death of M. After a ragged pursuit through the grounds of Skyfall, and some rather ingenious traps set throughout the manor itself, Raoul Silva captures M, and proposes that she “free both of [them] with the same bullet.” Tragedy seems to be averted when Bond lands a knife in Silva’s back, but the damage is already done. For the second time in his life, it’s as if James Bond has lost his mother.

Wounded previously during Skyfall’s big showdown, M weakens and falls into James Bond’s arms. After one last round of wit between them, the woman we come to know as Olivia Mansfield passes on. A funeral is held, James Bond is bequeathed her Royal Doulton porcelain bulldog named Jack, and her legacy as the head of MI6 makes way for the future. Though in a posthumous request, included with her belongings bestowed upon her would-be adopted son, one final mission will uncover an entire world of danger hidden in the shadows.

Daniel Craig looks out at London on the roof in Skyfall.

(Image credit: Danjaq, LLC and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc.)

How Skyfall Refined The Daniel Craig Era Of James Bond

While the Daniel Craig era of James Bond movies became known as a trailblazer for several reasons, Skyfall introduced a model that allowed classic touches to meet with modernity. Digging deeper into Bond’s psyche, and giving him more personal stakes to fight for throughout a standard 007 mission, the film doubled down on themes Casino Royale had introduced six years prior. More importantly, Skyfall gave the Craig era a window to explore the characters backstory even more in Spectre, leading to a controversial decision and the return of an old foe.

When we return to once again examine the impact of the Daniel Craig era of James Bond films, we’ll be looking at how Spectre twisted this run of films. As the second Sam Mendes movie crosses the gun barrel, those fateful choices made in the 2015 entry will be reckoned with. If you’re in the UK, you can currently enjoy No Time To Die in theatrical release, while the US market waits until next Wednesday, October 6th. But if you have time to kill, refresh yourself with researching the James Bond movies in order, as well as taking a look at what other 2021 movies are in store on the horizon. 

Mike Reyes

CinemaBlend's James Bond (expert). Also versed in Large Scale Aggressors, time travel, and Guillermo del Toro. He fights for The User.