Thursday, December 5, 2013

Bond-arama: No. 0010 Skyfall (2012)

Skyfall is essentially a re-tread of Goldeneye which leans heavily on other popular films. It is alternately brilliant and mind-numbingly stupid. And while the public loves it right now, that will fade because this one doesn’t feel much like a Bond film. For now, it sits at No. 0010 of 0023.

Plot Quality: To understand Skyfall, we need to break it into three parts. The first part is an amazing Bond film. It begins with one of the best chase scenes ever in a Bond film as Bond chases a suspect who has stolen a hard drive containing the names of every western agent imbedded with terrorist organizations around the world. The chase opens with Bond trying to decide if he should save the life of a fellow agent or finish the mission; the mission wins. He jumps into a car driven by fellow agent Eve, who struggles to stop the bad guy. Bond casually reaches over, grabs the wheel, and yanks the car into the bad guy, causing the bad guy to crash. It’s a brilliant moment. The bad guy gets out and sprays everyone with bullets until he can get onto a motorcycle and escape. Bond grabs another motorcycle and they engage in a rooftop chase through Istanbul until they end up on top of a train, where Bond and the suspect engage in hand-to-hand combat. That’s when Eve shoots Bond by mistake. This is an amazing chase. I can’t talk highly enough about it.
With Bond apparently dead, M gets grilled about losing the list. As she returns to the office, the office explodes in a terrorist attack. Someone hacked into MI-6's computer to cause this. Bond returns and is sent after the man who stole the list. He will be in Shanghai. Before Bond goes, we meet the new Q, who is an arrogant 20-something computer nerd. In Shanghai, Bond follows the killer to a high-rise building where he performs an assassination. Bond watches him perform the assassination and then tries to capture the man to question him, but kills him instead. Bond follows the only lead he has left, which is the woman who helped stage the assassination. She leads Bond to the villain, Raoul Silva, a former British agent in Hong Kong. Silva is a deranged killer who kills the woman and seems to want to enlist Bond to join him, but Bond captures him instead. The cinematography in China is perhaps the best of any film I’ve ever seen, not just a Bond film.
Up to this point, the film has been an excellent Bond film with one small complaint. Throughout this portion of the film, there is a steady theme of “you’re too old.” Seeing as how this is Bond’s first mission after the Casino Royale/Quantum of Solace reboot, this feels really misplaced. Ultimately though, Bond ends up proving himself more necessary than ever and the film proves the doubters wrong, so this isn’t a huge sticking point.

Now we come to the second part of the film. This lasts about twenty minutes and it’s mind-numbingly stupid. Essentially, these twenty minutes are The Dark Knight without the capes. First, they copy Silence of the Lambs by putting Silva into a glass cage. Silva reveals that he was M’s best agent in Hong Kong but M surrendered him to the Chinese after he hacked their computers. They tortured him and he tried to kill himself with a cyanide capsule that didn’t kill him, but instead ate away the bones in his jaw (like Harvey Dent in Dark Knight). He is crazy and wants to get even with M. Silva is essentially Heath Ledger’s Joker without the face paint.
Then Silva escapes... and things get really stupid. He escapes because Q connected Silva’s computer to theirs and Silva’s hacking program opened the doors. Somehow, Silva manages to kill armed guards who would have had plenty of time to shoot him from across the room when the doors started opening. Then his henchmen appear with impossible precision at various rendezvous points to give him things he needs (like a cop uniform). Batman Bond chases him exactly where he needs to be at the precise time so Silva can explode the roof of the sewer above them and cause a subway train to crash down on Bond. Silva and his crew then go try to kill M as she testifies before a committee. Bond stops him, but Silva escapes.

This. Is. Nonsense. There is no way Silva could have known the things he needed to know to pull this off, no way he could have predicted the behavior that took place. How did he know MI-6 would move here after he blew up M’s office? How did he know M would be testifying today? How did he know Bond would follow him to this subway stop and through the precise door and down the tunnel at that precise speed and then shoot at him but only as a warning shot? How did he even know that MI-6 would plug his computer into theirs? The only reason we can accept them doing this is that Q is an arrogant nerd who thinks he can handle anything. But he’s new. Silva would have no way to know that he would be Q right now or that he wouldn’t have followed obvious safety protocols and decrypted Silva’s computer on a standalone station.
Thankfully, the third film begins pretty quickly. The third film is Harry Potter. With Silvamort proving invincible, young Bond decides to take M-bledore to the manor in which he lived before his family was killed up in rural Scotland. Here we will discuss Bond’s childhood, meet a loveable old caretaker, race through a secret maze inside a spooky old mansion, see the graves of Bond’s parents, and dispense knowledge to Bond about the meaning of friendship. Silvamort and his Deatheaters will attack with overwhelming force, but good will prevail and Silvamort will meet his end in a dank marsh after complaining to M-bledore, “You made me.” Arg. This was actually an entertaining bit of filmmaking and would have been an excellent addition to the Taken franchise, but it feels nothing like Bond.

So what you have here is a film that starts as a great Bond film, suddenly goes full-retard, and ends as a completely different movie.

Bond Quality: Craig is solid again as a cold-blooded, efficient killing machine Bond. There are cracks this time, however, and those make this his worst performance of his three films. For one thing, there is a strong vibe of Bond being too old or too tired to continue. Fortunately, this fades as the film progresses. But then we are shown careless Bond.

One of the things that made Craig so great in the first two films was how ruthlessly efficient he was. He never wasted a step, a bullet or a punch. Here, he burns through his bullets repeatedly and then actually throws away his gun... repeatedly. He almost never hits anything he aims at. The punches he throws seem ineffective. We also get stupid Bond. He never has a plan. He races to Scotland to set up a confrontation with Silva on turf that is familiar to Bond, but never stops to get any weapons. Instead, he just assumes there’s still a gun case he hasn’t seen in 20+ years, a gun case that won’t hold real firepower. These are the kinds of things Craig did not do in the first two films and that makes Bond seem far less than he has been. Still, even playing stupid-off-target Bond, Craig remains better than all but Connery in the role.
The Bond Girl: Was there a Bond girl in this one? Technically, it was probably Judy Dench as M... but we’ll look past that. The Bond girl here is either Naomie Harris as Eve or Bérénice Marlohe as Sévérine. But neither is in the film all that long. Eve shoots Bond by mistake early on in the film and has a non-plot-related surprise at the ending. Sévérine is Silva’s mistress and leads Bond to Silva. The total airtime for both is about 10 minutes. The scene where Bond meets Sévérine is pretty sexy and they have great chemistry, but she’s really just a prop.

Villain Quality: The villain is Javier Bardem as Raoul Silva, a former British agent gone rogue after M surrendered him to the Chinese in exchange for a number of other agents China held. A large number of people have said that Silva is one of the best villains ever in a Bond film. They’re smoking crack.
Silva is basically a copy of Heath Ledger’s Joker with the added suggestion of homosexuality. He copies the Joker both in terms of mentality and even plot by using explosions as distractions and letting himself get captured as part of his plan. This is a problem, however. The Joker worked because he was so random. He was dedicated to chaos without a specific target. That meant anything he did made sense and it made him so dangerous because he wasn’t predictable. Silva, on the other hand, is obsessed with hurting M. The difference is significant because it means that his actions need to make sense in that regard, and they don’t. Why wait all these years to get her? Why not get her in some far less Rube Goldberg way? “I shall wait until she has a list the release of which will embarrass her, then I’ll steal the list and let them capture me so I can escape, so I can go shoot her before Parliament.” Uh, why not cut out all the impossible steps and just go shoot her?

Silva also brings back things that Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace specifically removed from the series. Silva has an island lair. He has armies of killer henchmen. He has no subtlety whatsoever as a villain. He’s insane. He’s also unrealistically powerful. Unlike Green or Le Chiffre, Silva brags about how easy it is to destroy anything he wants. He is clownish Blofeld in a world that is supposed to be realistic. That makes him a poor villain.

Summing this up, the first part of the movie is probably the best Craig has done, and that’s high praise. The second part is crap and belongs down with Die Another Day. The third is a good film, but not a Bond film and doesn’t belong on the list. The public loves this film, having made it the most profitable by far, but I think that the favorable view of this film will slide as the “event feel” passes. Over time, I suspect this will slide below Quantum of Solace and possibly even Goldeneye. For now though, it sits at No. 0010 of 0023.

23 comments:

Kit said...

re Daniel Craig. When I was reading Casino Royale I found it very easy to imagine Craig in the role. He fits the character that well.

AndrewPrice said...

Kit, He does. He fits it very well. And they are playing it right too. He comes across as very serious and as a man of few words. He's not playing around.

John Jameson said...

Nice analysis. Just to add: part 3 is not merely Harry Potter, but Harry Potter meets the A-Team.

AndrewPrice said...

Thanks John. Very true. They even have a little A-Team like montage where they assemble their weapons.

In all honesty, I have to say both that I was surprised how much it felt like Harry Potter to me watching it, and how completely different the ending of the film was from the beginning. They are so different that they don't even feel like they belong in the same movie.

John Jameson said...

I think that is why I hated the movie so much. The first part was so promising, with all the right Bond ingredients, done really well in the style of the reboot. Then the rest just threw it all away in imitative rubbish while pleading to the audience, "this is still a Bond movie, 'cos Q is an idiot, and it has a rogue agent, two Ms, and Eve is Moneypenny."

AndrewPrice said...

John, I can't say that I hated it, but it was a real letdown, after starting so amazingly well, for it suddenly to become so derivative, and then to morph into an entirely different movie. It feels like they still own me the second half of the movie.

I think what bothered me more was once I stepped away from the film and I started seeing all the things they stole for this film -- Silence of the Lambs, Dark Knight, any number of heist films, the Bourne films, Harry Potter, Apocalypse Now, etc. Once you hit the second part of the film, it's all stolen. That's frustrating.

ScottDS said...

Part 3 is actually Home Alone, which occurred to me in the theater. (Usually these things take time to sink in!)

Great-looking movie, but the script needed a good revision or two. And I'm glad you agree: why reboot the franchise only to play the "We're too old" card three movies in. Silva was merely okay... but his introductory speech (done in one shot) was great.

Kit said...

My main problem was actually how the Bond Girl was so casually discarded.

That being said, it is still the most gorgeously shot Bond movie ever made. Which could be from having

tryanmax said...

Overlook M as the Bond-girl? C'mon! Dame Judi is still sexy at 77. ;-)

I agree the beginning of Skyfall is excellent, and I rather like the ending, (even if it is "Jimmy Bonder and the Mansion of Sorrows"). The middle section, I agree, is crap. I could see how Silva might know MI-6's backup HQ, and an argument could be made that the rest of his plan hinges on pushing MI-6 to go there. But then the rest of the plan is nonsense regardless. It's almost like the writers said "Silva needs a big escape!" (which, clearly at that point in the film, he does) and then immediately started looking for ideas on TV.

I can grant Silva his island lair; it seems fitting for him and at least it's not a hollowed-out volcano!

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, Home Alone, LOL!

Yeah, I agree. The whole "I'm too old" and "you're obsolete" stuff didn't fit. That came from Goldeneye as well. That movie has a similar vibe with M telling Bond he's a dinosaur and there's no room for his ways anymore. He's also introspective for quite a while about whether or not being Bond is worth it. Those parts annoyed me in Goldeneye and they annoyed me here too. The good thing here though was that Bond basically shoved it back in Q's face in the whole "you don't learn that sitting on your couch" stuff.

AndrewPrice said...

Kit, It was an absolutely gorgeous film. And yeah, she does get thrown away pretty harshly, especially since his job is normally to rescue these women. Of course, it's also amazingly callous that he just watched the assassination without trying to help.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, I can grant Silva his island lair too, except that that is exactly the type of thing they shoved away in the last two movies. Also, I think it again relies on him being impossibly good with computers. Faking a gas leak is not enough to get a city abandoned forever. The authorities will investigate, they will shut down the plant and return the people, and they will wonder who the hell is using all this electricity on the abandoned island. So for him to have this island, we need to believe that somehow he's found a way around all of that. I guess he could bribe the authorities, but then we're right back to The Man With The Golden Gun.

The middle part felt completely fake to me. No part of it made sense, not the incompetence of his guards, not the way his henchmen were able to suddenly appear, why they didn't stick with him, why Bond responded the ways he did, why Silva even tried this in the first place. "I needed to look into your eyes." Bull. Then kidnap her like everybody else would have done and kill her in your basement. It felt to me like they wanted to make a heist film.

I don't dislike the third film, it just wasn't a Bond film. The feel, the type of action, the lack of a "spy" motive. None of it fit Bond. It really was Harry Potter.

Tennessee Jed said...

Ah yes ... Skyfall. I certainly agree with the opening chase sequence, and the fact the cinematography is simply ...... stunning. None of those are going away. Never did like Dame Judy Dench as M. She is a wonderful actress, don't get me wrong, but I don't want M as a female. Just my own viewer's preference. So, this has a lot of good things going for it. I do agree about Javier Bardem. This seems to be based on two things: 1) oh yeah, he was the baddest of them all in "No Country" so he has to be an all time badass villain. Well, no he wasn't and isn't. And with the peroxide blonde brush backed hair, soft voice, and ever so trendy and precious "vague whiff of homosexuality" who is he trying to be, Chris Walken?? I do like the return of the Aston Martin, at least in theory, and the Scottish castle and scenery. Plus, Bond is a franchise that, at least concerning the films, has never pushed the whole plot thing to hard. Cool chase scenes, hot babes and gadgets, and breath taking scenery has always been the heart of these things. In other words, I can't beat this film up too much. It seems to be placed about right in the overall scheme.

Tennessee Jed said...

Oh, and I forgot to add, the casino scene in Macau was pretty cool, even if it did have just a whiff of Uma Thurman vs. Lucy Liu. Come on, you gotta love the Kimodo dragon, right.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, I hadn't thought about that, but you're right that there was a hint of Kill Bill in the Casino visuals.

On M, I never disliked Dench, but I think Feinnes will be much better. I do like how they built the relationship with him. The Moneypenny stuff didn't work quite as well, but it still worked enough that I really liked the very ending.

Agreed on Bardem. He's not and he wasn't.

All told, I enjoyed the film and I think it stands well compared to most of the others in the series. It's the least Bond-like to me, but it is a good film. Hence, it gets ranked here. I do think it will fall below Quantum of Solace over time, but we'll see. Ultimately, this is one that I can't see ranked any higher and I can't see ranked much lower, so I too feel it's in the right place. :)

Backthrow said...

I've only seen SKYFALL once, so far, and I generally liked it (good song/titles sequence, too), but with the stuff about 007 being physically "too old", and using his believed death to hide away from the world in a deliberate drunken haze, it really did feel like Craig's third entry should've been his sixth or seventh. Besides reflecting on the elements I liked, that's what struck me the most right after the end credits roll.

Silva was a decent villain, though not top-tier.. more upper-middle. His "lair" didn't bother me in the least; he was basically a squatter in a condemned area (a real-life place, though apparently they had to recreate it via CGI for the movie, since I guess there were safety/access issues preventing them from using the real location), with a computer connection and some loyal goons present, but not much of an army of them (I'm not counting all the strategically-placed moles in this instance)... a bit far-fetched, but not as over-the-top as in many other Bond films.

The convenience of everything Silva planned (years ago!) being where he needed them to be and going exactly as planned was pretty lazy, but that's more-or-less par for the course for most of the series in particular, and a lot of action movies and thrillers in general, so it didn't bother me as much as it might've. When a Bond villain has a plausible, believable scheme, that's pretty much gravy, at this point.

Another thing that should irk me, but didn't, was the Q reboot. Replacing a veteran/cranky Desmond Llewellyn type with some twentysomething brainiac should've had me climbing the walls, but I thing the actor did a good job in keeping him low-key and professional. He was arrogant, to an extent, and had a major fail, but they didn't trowel on the usual generation gap crap... there was some mutual respect between Q and Bond that kept this from being awful --unlike John Cleese's turn as 'R', which looked good on paper, but in action, turned into a comedy skit clumsily inserted into a Bond film.

The last third of the film was pretty good, I thought, though a little contrived with Albert Finney still hanging around there. "Harry Potter 007" or "Home Alone 007" are good laugh lines, but what were they supposed to do, somehow make the Scottish highlands/moors not look craggy and bleak, just because the Potter films took place in the bleak and craggy north? I think what they were aiming for, both in setting and action (in the house, anyway), was a (Sam Peckinpah's) STRAW DOGS climax, which was the inspiration for everything from FIRST BLOOD to HOME ALONE.

All in all, #10 is a pretty good spot for SKYFALL. Despite its flaws, it's better than a majority of the other films in the series (though audiences and critics have overpraised it, probably due to the excellent cinematography, the song/titles, and the way it ends up, with M, Moneypenny & Q in place), edges out QOS as a stand-alone film, but isn't nearly the powerhouse that Craig's CASINO ROYALE was, still his one to beat. Maybe I'll feel differently (one way or the other) after seeing SKYFALL again. The next film should be interesting, with Dench gone, and the filmmakers won't have the burden of the franchise's 50th anniversary to carry.

AndrewPrice said...

Backthrow, It's not Harry Potter because it takes place in Scotland (in fact, I didn't think Harry Potter took place in Scotland). It's Harry Potter because he goes to this secluded old home where he used to live, where his parents are buried so he can reminisce about growing up, he meets the lovable old Hagid, they go trooping through a spook old house and then a secret passage to an old church, where they fight a guy who is playing out the Voldemort character's life story.

As for his small army, he loses about 5 guys to Bond in China (plus three in the casino), 5 guys attacking Parliament, and 20-30 attacking Bond in Scotland. That's a good size army.

The next film will be interesting because now they have all the pieces in place that they want. They have their own Bond with backstory, their own drink, their own Q, their own M, their own Moneypenny, their own Felix, and their own SPECTRE in Quantum. So we'll see what they choose in the way of a villain next time.

Backthrow said...

Ehhh, I think you're reading too much into the Harry Potter parallels, Andrew. Besides, all STAR WARS: A NEW HOPE is, is Kurosawa's THE HIDDEN FORTRESS and Michael Anderson's THE DAM BUSTERS, grafted onto the ends of a Flash Gordon serial, with a bit of kung fu 'Master-Student' hokum mixed-in, for flavor. ;-)

I'll give you the SILENCE OF THE LAMBS rip-off (captured villain in glass cell, which is all part of his plan), though; that's been way-y-y overdone lately in high-profile action films... SKYFALL, DARK KNIGHT, THE AVENGERS...

And yeah, Silva had all those guys in the U.K. and China, but I thought I had made it plain that I was specifically talking about when he and Bond were at his base of operations on the island, not in the other locales... not all that many guys present there (as I recall). Sure, one assumes all these other henchmen report there at one time or another, but I didn't get the feeling you had, of the old Blofeld (or Sanchez) style base/headquarters, teeming with minions, disguised as something else. Seemed like a lot smaller operation than that to me (just using an abandoned/condemned space)... and that a lot of the thugs were subcontracted from whatever part of the world he needs his dirty jobs done.

Wait, why am I even arguing about this stuff, LOL? I liked SKYFALL, but I didn't love it. Damn you, Price!!!

Oh, and here's the next film's villain.

AndrewPrice said...

Let's hope not! In this corner... James Bond.

Koshcat said...

I liked this movie better that QOS but I can't tell you why. Perhaps it is more fresh in my mind. The first and third act were fine and I was ok with a different ending in a Bond film. You are right about the 2nd act. I was so ready for Feinnes to be the insider bad guy. It was all there: someone stole the list (rip off of MI-1), trying to push the her-M out, able to access the MI-6. It had to be Voldemort! Wait, why is Sugar (Chigurh) here?

I thought the bombing was planned to disrupt the subway and Bond just happened to show up. Regardless, if there was a bombing near government buildings, wouldn't they go into automatic security shutdown? And why bother killing M when you can just destroy everything she cares for (career and personelle)? It would have been better if he was going after Bond to hurt her...

AndrewPrice said...

Koshcat, I like this one enough to rank it 10th, but I personally like QOS a good deal better. QOS feels more like a Bond film to me.

Like you, I was totally ready for Feinnes to be the bad guy. He had all the markings of it. And I give them a lot of credit not going that way because it was ultimately very surprising

You're right about the bombing shutting down the government.

Glenn said...

Andrew, excellent analysis and comments from everyone. I too felt Skyfall didn't feel much like a Bond film, which wasn't necessarily a bad thing. However, breaking it down into three parts does show that it is an excellent Bond film ... at least, one third of it. My take is that the script was written mainly to transition Judy Dench out of the role of M, thus it required her to be removed in a dramatic way. On that level, they succeeded because it's not very often any series film or TV show gets to dispose of a main character, so best to play it up as much as possible.

I just thought that the last third didn't make a lot of sense. Why would Bond take M to an isolated location without any back up, knowing the bad guy would have lots of fire power to take them out? However, it did make for an exciting showdown, damn the logic. Plus it was great to see Albert Finney again, he's always been one of my favorite actors.

Placing Skyfall at number ten kinda makes sense since there are so many great Bond films yet to come. I may in the long run place it higher due to all the positives mentioned by everyone. I guess it depends on how well they follow up in the next film. It will be interesting to see which film you place at number one, whether a Daniel Craig or Sean Connery outing. I'm a bit torn, myself, only because this return to more realistic Bond films from the cartoon character he had become are so well done, plus Craig carries himself well as Bond, much better than I expected when he was chosen to revive the series.

AndrewPrice said...

Glenn, Thanks!

I think you're right that they focus of the film was on finding a way to transition Dench out of the role of M, and to finish introducing all the reboot pieces (Bond, drink, car, Felix, M, Q, gun, Quantum). Now we have everything in place, so now we can do new stories. That makes the next one important because I think it will tell us where they plan to take the series. Will it be more like Casino Royale or more like Skyfall Part 2?

I think that Skyfall is in the right place for the moment. I have a hard time seeing it as a better Bond film than the films above it. Yet, it's better than what's below too. But we'll have to see how we feel about it in ten years. Opinions can change fast. Look at On Her Majesty's Secret Service. Twenty years ago, that would have been the bottom of the list probably, but time has let it rise significantly by comparison to what came later. I still think this one will fall below QoS over time.

Agreed on Craig. He is much better than I expect and has easily become my second favorite Bond behind Connery.

Post a Comment