(SPOILER ALERT: This review mentions specific scenes and themes from the movie, including the ending. If you want to be completely surprised, see the movie first, then read the review.)
Nearly every James Bond movie (Dr. No, the first, was the sole exception) starts with a pre-credit mini-adventure: a life-or-death struggle filmed against some exotic background. The purpose is to get the audience in the proper mood. The pre-credit scene is always fun, but rarely vital to the plot. In Skyfall, however, the 23rd Bond film, the pre-credit scene is vital. It establishes the story’s premise: maternal betrayal.
A villain has stolen a computer hard drive containing vital information. James Bond (Daniel Craig) chases him through the streets and rooftops of Istanbul, finally catching up with him atop a speeding train. Eve (Naomie Harris), a British female agent, follows the chase from a speeding vehicle, hoping for clear shot at the enemy. Both Eve and Bond are in radio contact with their boss M (Judi Densch), who is monitoring and supervising the chase from MI6 headquarters in London. In a few seconds, the train will enter a tunnel, and Eve’s last chance at a shot will end. But Bond and his opponent are grappling closely on the train and Eve cannot get a clear shot. Nevertheless, and fully aware of the risks, M orders Eve to “take the shot.” Reluctantly, she does. And James Bond goes hurtling off the train, falling, falling, to the river below, apparently to his death.
Well, of course, he doesn’t die. This is just the pre-credit scene and there are two hours of action to go. But the rest of the story plays out against the backdrop of betrayal. Bond knows that M is willing to see him die, if there’s even a chance that his death will advance the mission.