When it comes to James Bond, I’m fairly ambivalent. I find a handful of the Sean Connery movies enjoyable enough — Goldfinger might be my favorite, or at least the one that sticks out the most in my mind — and I actually like Casino Royale quite a bit. But I’ve never felt any need to go back and watch every James Bond movie. Sorta, you’ve see one, you’ve seen them all, you know? Also, I never really liked the Pierce Brosnan films very much, probably because I don’t particularly like Pierce Brosnan — I don’t know; it’s irrational — and despite being a fan of Daniel Craig, I never bothered to see Quantum of Solace and felt vindicated when everyone said it wasn’t worth watching. (I can’t get past that title; I just can’t.)
However, I had some interest in Skyfall, and more to the point, my sister really wanted to see it, so last week we finally got around to watching it.
It’s definitely a fun movie . . . but I do have some problems with it.
It’s James Bond (Daniel Craig) to the rescue again — only this time, it’s really MI6 that’s in danger when secrets from M’s super shadowy past come back to haunt her.
1. I feel a teensy bit silly, criticizing the plot of a James Bond film, but it is a little on the thin side. I mean, it’s not horrible — it’s very entertaining, and it certainly makes do — but I feel like there were some dangling plot threads that could have been made into a much bigger and more interesting story, instead of what actually became the main plot. I don’t entirely dislike the third act — in fact, some of it’s pretty awesome — but I wish that it had connected better to the first act in the story. Because the more I think about it, the more I feel like there were two stories being told in Skyfall, and one of them never really got the conclusion it deserved.
2. Similarly, no one’s ever, ever, accused a Bond movie of being subtle, but . . . look, it’s good to know the themes of your story, really, it is. And, writers, you’ve got a whole young versus old, newfangled versus old-fashioned thing to your movie. That’s cool. I get it. But you’ve gotta ease up on it, just a little, cause if you tell me one more time that the old ways are best or something of that nature, I’m going to track you down and beat you senseless with a bloody cuckoo clock.
(Especially if you’re trying to sell that bullshit with straight razor. Cause, look, I don’t care how suave of a motherfucker James Bond is — a spy gives a straight razor to another spy and asks for a shave, well, that first spy deserves a slit throat. James Bond should be dead right now. That’s all I’m saying.)
3. Also, there’s this trend right now with villains, and while I can’t say too much about it without spoilers — it’s kind of a dumb trend. Now, I can mostly overlook it here because I’ve overlooked it with other movies that I’ve really enjoyed, but . . . I’m starting to get very tired of it popping up everywhere.
4. On the plus side, Javier Bardem is kind of awesome sauce.
I’m wondering if his acting ability goes up or down by how truly atrocious his hair is for any give role. All right, that’s probably not actually the case, but yeesh. Bleached eyebrows are not a good look on anybody.
But never mind of that — Bardem rocks here as Silva, our quite psychotic and amusingly flirty antagonist. He has this whole speech about rats that’s kind of perfect for a Bond villain, and any time he’s on screen talking to either Daniel Craig or Judi Dench . . . it’s just perfection. He manages to be creepy, crazy, amusing, and even a little bit sympathetic, all at the same time. I loved it.
5. Actually, overall the acting was excellent.
Daniel Craig is so damn good — his Bond is definitely more nuanced and emotional than a lot of the previous iterations, but he’s still Bond. He’s great here — definitely my favorite 007 of all time. Sorry, Sean Connery.
I love this woman. Okay, I don’t know this woman — she could be a horrible person — but I still love her just a little bit regardless. Dench is such a compelling M — she’s so sharp and competent and awesome — that I kind of just want to hug her. I can only hope to have so much talent and fire when I am 78 years old.
Selena in 28 Days Later is one of my favorite movie heroines ever, so I am always excited to see Naomie Harris pop up in something. She’s enjoyable in this — funny, strong, some definite sass — but I do have a fairly big problem with her storyline that I’ll talk about — probably at some length — in the Spoiler Section.
Whishaw had to have been under some pressure, playing the new and considerably younger Q, but I like his addition to the cast quite a bit. He’s very eloquently snarky — just like the English should be — and I look forward to seeing him in more movies, especially ones where we get a better chance to see his range.
6. All of the action sequences are a lot of fun. There were any number of scenes that I enjoyed, but I think the most awesome fight scene was definitely the shadow fight.
This looked pretty awesome.
7. And as a matter of fact, the whole movie was surprisingly kind of gorgeous.
Roger Deakins earned an Oscar nod for cinematography, and man, he deserved the hell out of it. I just checked out his IMDb page, and Jesus. The Shawshank Redemption, No Country for Old Men, The Village, O Brother Where Art Thou, Fargo, The Secret Garden. List just keeps on going. I ever make a movie someday, I want Deakins to be my DP, no question.
8. The credits are also gorgeous, in a surrealistic, what-the-fuckery sort of way.
If James Bond were speculative fic . . . shit, I kind of want to see that now. Also, Adele has clearly come up with one of the most awesome, iconic Bond songs of all time, and if she somehow does not win the Oscar, I will lead a siege upon the Academy with all my toy guns and teddy bears.
Also, if you ever wanted to see someone do a montage of all the Bond opening credits? Here you go.
9. A few quotes for you . . .
Bond: “Everyone needs a hobby.”
Silva: “So, what’s yours?”
Bond: “The latest thing from Q branch — called a radio.”
Q: “What did you expect, an exploding pen?”
Bond: “She never tied me to a chair.”
Silva: “Her loss.”
M: “My late husband was a great lover of poetry, and I suppose some of it sunk in, despite my best intentions.”
M: “Regret is unprofessional.”
10. Finally, before spoilers, I can’t believe I’ve never used this tag before, but I have a new one today: there’s a STORM COMING!
Honestly, writers. Isn’t there a class that teaches you about cliches?
Let’s begin at the beginning, so I can explain why I think the Moneypenny twist is some serious bullshit.
A Bad Guy Lackey steals a list of names — basically every MI6 undercover informant ever. Bond and Eve (Naomie Harris) chase after the Lackey. Bond ends up fighting him on top of a train, and Eve sets up on a nearby hill with her handy sniper rifle. But Eve doesn’t have a good shot, and she informs M that there’s a chance she’ll hit Bond instead, what with the Lackey holding Bond in front of him like he is. M orders her to take the shot anyway. Eve does and hits Bond in the shoulder. Bond falls a million feet through the air to some body of water below and is presumed dead — because, you know, he would be — and the Lackey gets away with the list.
Of course, Bond isn’t dead, but he pretends to be for a while, miserably idling away somewhere and growing Angst Stubble. When he eventually comes back and meets up with Eve, he tells her that not everyone’s meant to be a field agent. I figured this was some light teasing for having nearly killed him, which is only to be expected — what I didn’t figure on was Eve deciding at the end of the film that she really isn’t meant to be a field agent and deciding to stay behind in the office, revealing her true identity to the audience, Miss Moneypenny.
And this . . . I think this is ridiculous. Throughout the film, Eve hasn’t done anything to prove that she isn’t competent in the field. Yes, she missed the shot. But it was a difficult shot to make — it’s not like she missed a guy standing five feet in front of her. She acknowledged that she wasn’t sure she could make it, and she followed through with orders regardless. If she had been cocky and missed, I’d get it. If she’d refused to take the shot at all, I’d get it. If the movie showed her guilt ruining her performance in the field, I’d get it . . . but I don’t get her seeming to love field work the whole movie and then suddenly deciding to go for a desk job. I really don’t mind that Naomie Harris is Miss Moneypenny, but I just despise the way they get there.
The solution I came up with the other day might actually solve my other big problem with the movie: the two, uneven stories. See, Silva is seriously pissed at M for reasons we’ll get to later, so he decides to make her life horrible for a while before he tries to kill her. He does this (making her life horrible, that is) by blowing up MI6 headquarters, killing a handful of agents, and then using the stolen list to reveal the names of a few undercover agents who are, of course, also promptly killed.
We’re going to skip past the villain’s incessant need to torment the hero before killing them — actually, we’re not, because you know, I’m tired of this too: villains, learn to get something done for once! If you just blew up MI6 when M was still inside of it . . . well, fine, we wouldn’t have much of a movie, and yes, we call them James Bond villains for a reasons, but for fuck’s sake. It would be so much easier if you would stop trying to torture your enemies and just freaking kill them.
But that’s not really the problem. The problem is the list — it’s set up to be this BIG thing, I mean, it’s what James Bond supposedly dies for in the beginning — and then once Silva releases a few names, you know, it’s over with. The movie switches track to focus on Silva coming after M directly, and you never really hear about the list again. It’s a balance problem for me.
So, I was thinking . . . maybe we could have continued releasing the names of undercover agents throughout the movie until we released one of a non-NPC character — Eve. This would be preferably happen while she was on some big undercover mission, so there would be some thrilling action while Bond gets her to safety — but more importantly, Eve would take the desk job because she’s been outed and can’t work as a field agent anymore. And then she would rock as Miss Moneypenny cause she’s ruthlessly competent and makes a desk job work to her advantage.
That? That I like. That I would have been okay with.
Well, back to the actual movie — Bond comes back from the supposed dead after the MI6 attack and works to get reinstated. Unfortunately, he’s still a bit sore from being shot off the top of a train, so he’s failing all his tests: physical, psychology, gun-readiness, etc.
And while I have to give them props for not treating a shoulder wound like it’s nothing — the shoulder is a problem for Bond for most of the movie until, inexplicably, it just isn’t — I’m still laughing hysterically at the idea that he could have lived through that fall in the first place. (I’m going to make this list someday: What Do You Mean No One Could Survive That Fall? Skyfall, Sherlock Holmes 2, Charlie’s Angels, and of course, The Fugitive. All on it.)
Anyhow, despite the fact that Bond fails miserably on all of his evaluations, M tells him that he passed and approves him for active duty anyway. He goes on a couple of missions in order to track down Silva — where we meet and quickly dispose of the other Bond Girl (Bérénice Marlohe) — and after some absolutely lovely carpet-chewing, Silva is taken into custody.
Which is what he planned all along. MUAHAHAHAHA!
Seriously, I’ll give Skyfall a pass here, but I’m getting awfully tired of this plot development. It’s been done a few times in the last few years — The Dark Knight, The Avengers — and it’s, frankly, always just a little bit on the silly side. For some reason, it seems especially silly here — maybe because the rest of the movie veers solely into the “save M from being killed” storyline, and we all know that Silva could have killed M in the first twenty minutes. Anyway, as Bond’s feeling all good about himself for capturing Silva, I’m just like, “Yawn. Wake me when he busts out, okay?”
Actually, before he busts out, Silva has an awesome chat to chat with M, where we learn that he used to be an MI6 agent before M gave him up and left him to die in some prison. When Silva tried using his cyanide capsule, it didn’t do the job properly, and we see the result of that here.
We also learn that Silva’s real name is Thiago Rodrigues, which doesn’t mean anything at all except for the fact that I like the name Thiago, so I thought I’d throw it out there. But for clarity’s sake, we’ll continue calling him Silva in this review.
So Silva busts out and goes after M, who’s busy reading poetry and defending her agency’s relevance in this new modern era. She’s rescued in the nick of time by Ralph Fiennes, who I realize I haven’t talked about at all and will continue to mostly ignore — not because he’s bad but because his character has very little to do. Action ensues for a while. Eventually, the coast is clear, but Silva gets away, so Bond does what every employee, I’m sure, would be willing to do for his boss: he takes her back to his childhood home in Scotland — which he hasn’t been back to in a bazillion years, on account of his tragic childhood — and makes a last stand there against Silva.
Some notes on the final battle:
1. “Orphans make the best recruits.” Awesome line. Also, the reveal that Skyfall is Bond’s childhood home is rather nice.
2. Of course, then we blow up
Wayne Manor Skyfall and the Batmobile the Aston Martin because that’s how you know things got dark: the hero’s shit gets blown all to hell. Also, you know how when a supervillain kills off a superhero’s girlfriend, the superhero gets all enraged and suddenly means business, all, “Now I will kill him!” Well, the way that Bond looks at his ruined car — I kind of think the Aston Martin is James Bond’s woman in a refrigerator.
3. M is fatally wounded, but doesn’t die until after Bond kills Silva. (By throwing a knife at his back, since knives are the old way — seriously, writers, SHUT UP.) And I knew it wasn’t going to happen, of course, but I really wish that M had been the one to kill Silva — I feel like that would have given the film a nice bit of balance. I don’t mind that M dies, exactly — unfortunately, I found out about it before I saw the movie, dammit — and it is sad, but . . . I don’t know. There’s something about that last act that keeps niggling at me. I think it’s because the whole point of going back to Skyfall is to save M, only Bond fails to do so, which would be okay if something else important happened, but nothing else really does. Yes, yes, Silva dies, and that’s good and all, but . . . I don’t know. Agents weren’t rescued. The world wasn’t in danger. I just feel like there’s something’s missing from that ending, and it bothers me a little.
The denouement: Eve tells Bond her last name (ugh), Ralph Fiennes becomes the new M, and Bond goes back to work.
I have my issues with the script — more than a few, when I think about it — but it’s still a well-crafted, hugely entertaining movie that I could easily watch again.
The old ways are best. Also, in case of incarceration and endless torture, have a backup suicide plan, cause cyanide really fucks up your face if you live through it.