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The Ending Of Skyfall Explained

It's easy to dismiss James Bond movies as formulaic spy thrillers that put more emphasis on style (and product placement) than substance. To be fair, there are certain things that happen in every Bond movie: a car chase; highly skilled villains who make embarrassing mistakes at inopportune moments; dead women.

But 2012's "Skyfall" was a highpoint in the Daniel Craig era of the franchise, and a correction to the disappointing "Quantum of Solace." It's the highest-grossing James Bond film in history, both in the U.S. and worldwide, and for good reason. It has all of the ingredients we expect from a Bond movie — see above — yet somehow it still feels like a return to the character's best moments, rather than a stale repeat. 

This all comes to a climax in a finale that ties up loose ends and reboots the character for the next round of Bond. From a poignant farewell to one of the series' favorites, to a Bond ready to return to service, this is where the ending of "Skyfall" leaves the characters and franchise.

Skyfall is a fitting farewell to one of the franchise's favorite characters

Ever since Judi Dench gave Pierce Brosnan's Bond a good metaphorical dressing down in 1995's "GoldenEye" ("I think you're a sexist, misogynist dinosaur: a relic of the Cold War"), her character of M has been a firm favorite with audiences and the spy alike.

The entirety of "Skyfall" builds up to M leaving the series, and the ending delivers in style. In the beginning, M makes a judgement call that results in Bond getting shot. She is "gently encouraged" to consider retirement, something she is absolutely resistant to. In the middle, we find out more about her past before heading up MI6, which tarnishes our perspective of her as a leader. While heading the agency's operations in Hong Kong, M traded MI6 agent Raoul Silva to the Chinese government, in exchange for six other prisoners and a guarantee of a smooth transfer of power from Britain to China. The idea that M isn't perfect suddenly makes her leaving MI6 seem more tolerable.

In the end of "Skyfall," despite Bond's best efforts, M dies in his arms. Although it's a sad moment, it's become clear that one of the themes of the movie is M's uncertain future at MI6. The character doesn't seem like the retiring type, and there's more than a whiff of ageism in the suggestion that she should give up this position of power and go potter around in a garden. Having her die in a firefight conveniently opens up the franchise for fresh blood, while also giving a beloved character an ending that fits her commitment to her job and her indomitable will.

Bond is feeling refreshed

Having a franchise as long-running as Bond can backfire. While you're pretty much guaranteed that at least several million people will buy a ticket to see the next installment (global pandemic aside), fans expect every new iteration to feel as exciting, inventive, and thrilling as the very best Bond movie. (If you have every James Bond movie ranked worst to best, you know which one that is.)

The Bond outing that preceded "Skyfall," "Quantum of Solace," was roundly trounced by critics and audiences alike. Something about billionaires hoarding water didn't fall right with viewers — you'll have to review the entire James Bond timeline and get back to us. When "Skyfall" added respected director Sam Mendes, the always-compelling Javier Bardem, Oscar-winner Ralph Fiennes, and impressive then-up-and-comer Naomie Harris, it looked like the franchise might be getting back on track.

The end of "Skyfall" confirmed that this was, in many ways, both a return to form and something different. A shootout set in Bond's old childhood home moved us closer to the spy's personal life than arguably ever before, while also delivering the good old-fashioned action sequence Bond fans expect. (Yes, it also opened up the plot hole in Daniel Craig's 007 that fans can't get over, but it looked cool.)

The ending of "Skyfall" also sees Bond leave behind the disillusion he's reached with his 00 job that started with meeting and then losing Vesper (Eva Green). He confirms to the new M (Fiennes) that he's ready to return to Her Majesty's secret service. Sure enough, in follow-up "Spectre," he's back to his maverick ways. The ending of "Skyfall" tied up certain elements of the old Bond (RIP M and Vesper) while also setting up a new era.