After wading through the MGM bankruptcy hiatus, pre-production, principal photography, marketing and release anticipation, the latest James Bond adventure is finally upon us. (If you live outside of the U.S., there’s actually a good chance that this wait ended a week or two ago, but we’ll let that go.) Skyfall hits theaters early in IMAX on November 8 and then in wide theatrical release on November 9. Now you have a chance to finally see the brand new, completely original Bond.
One of the great things about Bond movies is they have a certain level of familiarity. If made well, you can expect some common elements that make it feel like a quintessential Bond film. Sure, we all like originality, but you can trust almost any James Bond film to cover familiar territory. Here’s a James Bond history lesson and how it relates to the upcoming film.
The trailer for Skyfall has been out there for months, and most have watched it at least a couple dozen times online or in front of other films in the theater. By strictly looking at the trailer itself, you can find many ways that Skyfall borrows from earlier Bond plot lines, dating back to the 60s. And that’s okay because many of these elements were what made at least some of these previous films such fun.
Note: While no spoilers to the actual film are discussed below, the information revealed in the trailer is. If you’ve been avoiding even watching the trailer for a spoiler-free experience, go watch Skyfall first, then come back and check out this article.
The Skyfall Trailer
00:25 – Bond’s Death
Alfred Hitchcock thought he was really ballsy killing off the main star of Psycho in the first act, and the writers of the James Bond films have considered themselves even more ballsy for years, sometimes “killing” Bond before the opening titles. In From Russia With Love (1963), a tuxedo-clad Bond is strangled to death by Red Grant (Robert Shaw), though we later discover he was a decoy in a mask. Thunderball (1965) starts with a funeral that features a casket engraved with the initials “JB.” We soon learn the funeral was for a SPECTRE agent who shows up alive only to be chased down by Bond himself before he jet-packs away. Finally, the entire plot of You Only Live Twice (1967) features the assassination of Bond by SPECTRE. Of course, Bond was still alive, using his untimely and untrue death as cover for the mission.
00:29 – M’s Boss
We all know that Bond answers to only one person, and that is M. Even then, he doesn’t always follow the rules. While M appears to be completely in charge of all situations at MI-6, he or she has to answer to someone. Every now and then, we get a glimpse of M’s superior. The Minister of Defence, portrayed by Geoffrey Keen since The Spy Who Loved Me, took over being Bond’s boss after Bernard Lee (who originated the character in Dr. No) died while filming For Your Eyes Only.
00:37 – Bond Visits M at Home
Only six short years ago in Casino Royale, Bond overstepped his bounds with his new boss M (Judi Dench). He breaks into her flat to uncover some information. So a second visit to her home doesn’t seem out of the ordinary.
00:50 – Bond Is Challenged to Return to Duty
Forget learning how to be a ninja in just a weekend, like we saw in You Only Live Twice. Bond has been damaged before, and he’s faced retraining and rectification before he could resume status as a Double-O agent. The most notable instance was from Pierce Brosnan’s swan song, Die Another Day. After being kidnapped and tortured by the North Koreans (and refusing to use his cyanide capsule, another self-preservation instinct that permeates the Bond films), Bond has to return to duty not quite in ship shape.
00:55 – MI-6 Is Attacked
This is one of the most shocking parts of the Skyfall trailer: MI-6 going up in flames after a terrorist attack. You really have to question the intelligence of people working in British Intelligence, considering MI-6 sustained a similar attack in The World Is Not Enough (1999) when rigged explosives in a tycoon’s money was booby-trapped. The last fifteen years have shown MI-6 to be about as secure as CTU from the television series 24.
01:04 – Introduction of Q
The return of Q to the James Bond franchise has been one of the most exciting things about the new film. However, even though Desmond Llewelyn played the role for more than 35 years, a new Quartermaster has been given an introduction three other times. Peter Burton has a minor role in Dr. No to give bond his new weapon. Desmond Llewelyn got his softball intro as Major Boothroyd in From Russia with Love. The introduction of John Cleese as the would-be Q (then named R) in The World Is Not Enough paved the way for him taking over the role in Die Another Day.
01:08 – Bond Gets a New Gun
Over the years, Bond has carried and fired a variety of weapons in the spy game. However, there has been a standard in what he is issued for his sidearm. Back in Dr. No, Bond was ordered to give up his Beretta (Fleming’s original standard issue sidearm for Bond) for a Walther PPK for safety and reliability reasons. This was the standard issue sidearm for Bond for almost 40 years until it was replaced with a Walther P99 in The World Is Not Enough. The Walther PPK returned as his sidearm in Quantum of Solace, but this time they’re just making a bigger deal out of it. Cha-ching goes that Walther product placement check.
01:45 – Villain has an Axe to Grind
The James Bond films are known for having colorful, over-the-top villains. Most of them – like Dr. No, Ernst Stavro Blofeld and Auric Goldfinger – have their sites set on world domination or personal wealth. In many cases, James Bond just gets in their way. Sure, they want to kill Bond, but most of them are in the game for other reasons. However, we have seen villains have a personal vendetta against Bond, whether they see him as an ultimate quarry (like Scaramanga in The Man with the Golden Gun) or they have a dicey past with Bond that drives their mission (like Alec Trevelyan in GoldenEye).
01:55 – Things Get Personal
Along with a villain that has an axe to grind, Skyfall is notable for seeing things get personal for Bond. Most of the films over the years show a brilliant (and sometimes not-so-brilliant) spy just doing a job. Often, the most offense Bond takes is when the bad guy cock-blocks him by killing a really good lay. However, things have gotten personal before with Bond, most notable Daniel Craig’s first outing in Casino Royale when he was still wet behind the ears and eager to fall in love. However, there’s a historical precedence for this trend as well. In On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Blofeld kills Bond’s wife, which motivates 007 to go after him in Diamonds Are Forever and later drop him (or rather a nondescript version of him) down a smokestack in For Your Eyes Only. Finally, in Licence to Kill, Bond takes a leave of absence from his job to seek revenge on the drug dealer who fed part of his friend Felix Leiter to sharks and killed Leiter’s bride.
02:25 – The Title Doesn’t Come from Ian Fleming’s Books
Since the production of Dr. No in 1962, the films were made with titles from the works of Ian Fleming. However, there was a limited title pool to draw from, so eventually Eon Productions ran out of new titles after The Living Daylights. Even then, they were drawing from short story names and elements at that time. Licence to Kill was the first Bond film with an original name, which ended Dalton’s tenure and continued through all of Brosnan’s reign (though The World Is Not Enough does come from Fleming as the Latin inscription of “Orbis Non Sufficit” on Bond’s family crest, as detailed in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service). Since then, only Casino Royale has drawn directly from Fleming’s work, and that only happened because Eon never adapted that film due to Columbia Pictures making the novel into a spoof back in 1967.