Saturday, December 1, 2012


Skyfall (2012) Starring: Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Javier Bardem, Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris, Bérénce Marlohe, Albert Finney. Directed by Sam Mendes. Screenplay by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and John Logan.  Produced by Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli. Run Time: 143 minutes. U.K./U.S.  Color, Action, Espionage

One of the downsides of reviewing movies that are already in the theater is that they have usually already been reviewed. By the time of this review, Skyfall, the 25th Bond film (the 23rd by Eon Productions) had been in theaters in the U.S. since November 9th, nearly a month. So much has already been written about this film that I doubt mine will shed any new light or change anyone’s mind about going to see it. If you’re a Bond fan, you’ve probably already have seen the film and if you are, you should.

For the rest of us, the decision to go see the movie is a little more complicated. Good reviews are one thing and so is the fact that the series has been around for fifty years, since the release of Dr.No. What most filmgoers want is to see a good movie more than anything else. Just look at the previews when you go to a movie; chances are you’ll turn your nose up at many of the movies coming out. They either don’t appeal to you or else don’t look like a movie you’d want to see.

To compare Dr. No to Skyfall is a little like comparing apples to oranges. While they’re both fruit and good to eat, they are very different experiences. But while Dr. No was a low budget gamble to see the viability of Ian Fleming’s creation on the big screen, Skyfall is a big budget extravaganza. Daniel Craig may be no Sean Connery, but he is easily the third best Bond in the series.

By now, the general outline of the Bond storyline has been well worked out. All Bond films take place across the globe in places both familiar, the UK and exotic, in Skyfall Turkey and China. There is usually an evil genius as Bond’s nemesis, in this case it’s Javier Bardem as Raoul Silva, a former MI6 agent who has gone off the reservation and is out for revenge on M (Judi Dench). And there are usually at least two women that Bond shags. In Skyfall, it’s Severine (Bérénce Marlohe) and an unnamed woman Bond has sex with when he is supposed to be dead. There are some allusions to an intimate relationship with Eve Moneypenny (Naomie Harris), though there is never any proof the relationship is consummated. (We’re even lead to believe that by the end of the film he doesn’t know her name, but more on script problems later.)

But one of the other things that Bond films have in common is a sometimes suspension of disbelief. At some point in any Bond film, you just have to decide to accept what is going on and try not to think about it too hard. In Skyfall, this is required almost from the beginning. Bond and Moneypenny are chasing a mercenary named Patrice (Ola Rapace) through the streets of Istanbul. Patrice has stolen a harddrive that contains the names of all of the NATO spies currently implanted in Islamic terrorist groups. The chase goes from cars to motorcycles and ends up on the top of a speeding train. This train apparently cannot stop for any reason, even the uncoupling of cars and the destruction of a passenger is enough reason to pull over and check things out. Bond and Patrice end up on top of the speeding train, ducking down through tunnels, etc. fighting to take control of the harddrive, which Patrice is for some reason wearing around his neck.

Moneypenny, who has been shadowing the train by car, pulls over and takes up a position as sniper. M and Bill Tanner (Rory Kinnear), MI6’s Chief of Staff, are listening in and monitoring through satellite uplinks. Moneypenny has a shot, but it’s not clear. M tells her to take it anyway. No surprise the one hit is not Patrice, but Bond. Consequently, Moneypenny lets Patrice get away; it must have been a one-shot only rifle. We watch Bond fall to his apparent death down a tall gorge. But Bond isn’t dead. He’s just taking some time off and ends up vacationing on an unnamed tropical island. How did he get from the bottom of a lake in Turkey to a tropical island? Don’t ask, because the movie doesn’t say. You just have to accept it.

Bond does come back to MI6 when agents start to die in the field. He knows that he is needed. The question you might ask yourself after watching the movie is, is he any good at his job? Bond’s duty is to protect M from Raoul Silva, a former rogue agent whom M had given to the Chinese to save the lives of six other agents. In his search for Silva, he must first find Patrice. The CIA, which is also tracking him, tells MI6 that Patrice will show up in Shanghai and Bond is sent there to wait for him. He follows Patrice from the airport to his assignment, which is the assassination of an unnamed art collector. Bond doesn’t stop the assassination from happening, but he does discover Severine, a mysterious woman he will encounter when he goes to a casino in Macau to cash in the 4 million Euro chip Patrice was supposedly being paid with. 

Over drinks, Bond learns that Severine is a former sex slave, who was saved by someone that Bond wants to meet. Honestly, I’m not sure how he knew she would be connected with Patrice’s employer, but you just have to go with it. He promises to help her. Bond has to overpower three assassins who try to kill him before he leaves the casino and joins her on a boat headed out to an island where Silva rules. On the way, Bond joins Severine in the shower, but before they arrive on the island, they are both taken into custody. Silva must know about their tryst, because he challenges Bond to a contest to shoot a shot glass of scotch off Severine’s head. While Bond misses, Silva simply shoots and kills her, winning the contest, but is quickly apprehended when MI6 helicopters arrive.

So Severine wasn’t really saved, but we go forward. Next, Silva manages to escape capture with his ingenious plan to hack into MI6’s computers by having MI6 break the encrypted code he uses. What? Yeah, go with it. M and MI6 are of course already under government scrutiny, with Gareth Mallory (Ralph Fiennes) assigned by the Prime Minister to transition M to retirement. It is while she is speaking before a government hearing that Silva attacks. But while his mission is foiled, he escapes. And this Silva is a master of time and space, because everything he does is timed to the second. You can imagine the rehearsals and dry runs Silva and his cronies must have gone through to get their timing down. Oh, but wait, they couldn’t have, since he was living on an island off of China. Again, go with it.

Silva is after M and Bond kidnaps her in order to protect her. With the help of Q (Ben Whishaw), a young computer genius, Bond plants a trail that Silva can discover all the way back to his boyhood home of Skyfall. This is the first Bond film I’ve seen (I have not seen them all) that included much of his backstory. Apparently he was orphaned at a young age, but that’s about all we learn. Bond is helped by Kincade (Albert Finney), the gameskeeper who’s been at the Skyfall estate since Bond was a boy and stayed on after it was sold when Bond was presumed dead. Who had power of attorney to sell his personal property? Don’t ask, just go with it. So Bond, M and Kincade prepare for Silva’s assault. They have only a few weapons, but a lot of ingenuity. Needless to say, they manage to kill off the first wave, but there are more to come. Silva himself arrives via helicopter and this second wave chases Bond, M and Kincade from the house. But not before Bond manages to blow up the house, kill all but Silva and two cronies and down the helicopter.

Now you may ask: if Silva can find Bond and MI6 knows where he’s going, will MI6 arrive at some point? However, Bond is left on his own; no agents ever arrive. Kincade and M escape to the family chapel on the estate, but Silva notices Kincade’s flashlight and takes chase. Bond fights and kills the two cronies and catches up to Silva just before he can kill M. While Silva dies so does M, who had been wounded in the shootout and dies in Bond’s arms. Wasn’t Bond supposed to keep her alive?

Back in London, MI6 is now run by a new M, Mallory, and he sends Bond back out into the field. Apparently, failure is rewarded.

So as you can see, there are a few plot holes in the film. The topper is the next to last scene wherein Bond asks Moneypenny her name. Really? He was assigned to work with her in Istanbul and he never knew her name? Talk about secret organizations. Agents don’t even know who each other is, even if their assigned to work with them? That seems a little hard to believe, but so do the other plot holes in the film: How does Bond get from Turkey to the tropics and back to London without any money or ID? How did Silva plan his operation down to the second? How could Silva have planned on Q breaking his code so quickly allowing him to escape capture in time to try to kill M while she’s being questioned by a government committee? And like the Joker from The Dark Knight, how does he get accomplices willing to lay down their lives for a paycheck? And how does anyone outguess someone else so well for so long? Hell, why didn’t the train stop or why did losing part of the car not derail it?

Is this the best Bond film ever made? A lot of the reviews have at least opined on this. But picking the best Bond film is a little like picking the best Beatles album. It’s hard to imagine one group could go from Please Please Me to Sgt. Pepper in four years, but each album along the way is really good and unique and can be seen as representing a different period of the Beatles’ career. And the albums after Pepper are really good, too. Is Revolver better than Pepper and is Abbey Road better than Revolver? It’s really up to your own opinion. Such can be said about Bond films. Can the best Bond film not have the best Bond in it? Does it need to have the best villain?

Each film in the long series represents not only a different take on the Bond character, but a different era in world political history. Bond was a Cold War creation, but in order to continue Bond has to renew itself, which it has and present stories that make him and MI6 still relevant. Skyfall is a continued effort to keep the franchise fresh. It is not based on any previous published Ian Fleming work. But while Skyfall is about new, there are still some holdovers that any Bond film has to have, the theme, the martini, etc. What got the biggest reaction when I saw it was the return of Bond’s Aston Martin. But I don’t think we’ll be seeing it again in any subsequent sequels.

Skyfall is definitely the best looking of the films that I can recall. But there is more to Bond than looks. This is a good actioner, but it is not a thinking man’s film. Sit back and enjoy the ride, but try not to think about the holes in the road along the way.

An interesting note, while Daniel Craig was cast as 007 in Casino Royale (2006) as a young man they could reboot the franchise around, he is already talking about getting old. Bond will return; Eon’s 24th and 25th in the franchise are no doubt already in the planning stages, but one has to wonder if Craig will be around after that. And who the next Bond will be? The series will no doubt go on for the foreseeable future. There are some things you can count on in life and the promise of the next Bond film is one of those constants.

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