Skyfall, the latest James Bond film opened in the US yesterday. They’re calling this event James Bond’s 50th Anniversary. Actually Bond is a bit older than 50 having made his 1st appearance in Ian Fleming’s novel, Casino Royale, which was first published on April 13, 1953. The 50th anniversary marks the length of Bond’s career in films.
Directed by Sam Mendes, and written by John Logan, Neal Purvis, and Robert Wade, the film opens with an exciting chase sequence involving cars racing and careening through Istanbul, Turkey. Then after the cars are rendered useless, they switch over to motorcycles, where they race across the roof tops, then finally Bond and his adversary go to hand-to-hand combat on the top of a moving train.
Fairly thrilling stuff? Certainly. But the exotic location of the Istanbul rooftops is becoming less of an exotic location and more commonplace and familiar as we’ve been on these very same rooftops in Taken 2 (released less than 5 weeks ago on October 5th, 2012) and The International (2009). This lengthy triple set piece is pre-credits and serves the film well as an introduction. What was the chase about – a hard drive was stolen from another MI6 agent’s laptop, and it contained the names and identities of all of the MI6 super spies – in short, Bond’s brothers-in-arms. But this hard drive is never seen or heard from again, aside from the fact that Bond is tasked to recovering it, and the list of agents becomes something of a MacGuffin. We do hear later on that 5 agents have been ‘outed’ or killed, rendering them useless.
Daniel Craig is on hand as Bond for the third time. Now I happen to like Craig as Bond, but this film runs a distant second to Casino Royale, Craig’s first go-round as Bond, James Bond. Craig himself runs a distant second to Connery’s Bond too, but that’s just a matter of taste.
After the opening we get the credits and the song – Adele sings Skyfall, and it is quite decent as a Bondian theme song, albeit very familiar. Familiar is a key word in this review, as much of the legendary Bond gimmicks are included. I think this film, Skyfall, is less of a new Bond film and more of a compendium of some of the old Bond-isms as well as a farewell to them. As someone else said – The past becomes the present.
For example, we have a new Q – this time Q is a young lad, played by the 32-year-old Ben Whishaw, who looks 22 when Bond first meets him. He’s so strikingly young, that when Bond meets him in a museum, and after they go through the required codes about a specific painting, Q introduces himself:
Q: I’m your new quartermaster.
Bond: You must be joking …
Unfortunately, they’re not. Also unfortunately, they’ve changed up Q’s arsenal. He hands Bond a box containing what the Q Department believes is all of what Bond will need for the mission – a Walther PPK/S 9 millimeter short with a special hand grip coded from Bond’s palm print so that the gun will not fire if held by anyone other than Bond. And two – a small transmitter called – a radio. Gone are the days of cars that go underwater, and other assorted transportation/armament gadgetry that we’ve come to love and expect over the decades. They even make a joke of it:
Bond: That’s it?
Q: What did you expect, an exploding pen?
However, for all of us die-hard Bond fans the Aston Martin DB5, that we first met long ago in Goldfinger, is literally dusted off – it’s been kept in garage under a tarp – and is pressed into service. This is literally a walk-on, or should I say drive on – as all we see is the car leaving London, then arriving in a desolate Scottish Highland. Total screen time – less than 30 seconds.
Okay – what’s next? The new Bond girl, actually there’s two. The first is Eve, and she’s involved with Bond in the opening chase, first as the driver, then as the pursuer, and finally as the shooter.
We’ll meet her again in a casino in Macau, then in a Macau hotel room where Bond trusts her enough to allow her to shave him with a straight edged razor, then again back in London. She’s played by Naomie Harris, who prior to her new role in the Bond franchise, we saw her in a couple of the Pirates of the Caribbean films.
The other Bond Girl is Sévérine, played by the exotic and beautiful Bérénice Marlohe who Bond first sees in an assassination in Shanghai. We’ll later meet her in a Macau casino. As long as I’ve mentioned Shanghai and Macau – I must tell you that you won’t be seeing much of these locations. Both the Shanghai and Macau scenes have the requisite establishing night skyline shots, but the action that occurs could have been done in a studio.
As for Sévérine, she’s in five scenes, but she won’t be back in another Bond film. Also jettisoned is the unique, clever, or memorable name motif for a Bond girl – you know, names like – Pussy Galore, Honey Rider, Vesper Lynd (wink, wink – West Berlin/Vesper Lynd), Domino, Solitaire, Gala Brand, and Tiffany Case. I think these were from the mind of Ian Fleming. In any event, the name ‘Sévérine’ is a departure in creativity and maybe just is a signal about Marlohe being a French actress.
But as always Bond will make a clever remark with such a woman:
Sévérine: What do you know?
Bond: Well it takes a certain type of woman to wear a backless dress with a Beretta 70 strapped to her thigh…
How he knew there was a gun in that location, much less a Beretta 70, is a question without a logical answer, but that’s part of the fun.
And speaking of fun – that usually involves a villain. It wouldn’t be a Bond film without a villain. This time it is Javier Bardem as Silva. He’s a blonde, he’s gay, and instead of world domination either in terms of geo-politics, or finances – this Bond antagonist is simply – revenge minded. I thought this was a big let down. He’s not scary, he’s not particularly fearsome or evil, and I assure you – Bardem doesn’t really bring much in the way of menace to the role. Cleverness and lunacy? Yes – but definitely not menace.
He’s a computer genius, and he can blow up MI6 headquarters, or derail a London Underground train, but he won’t frighten you. Silva will manage to escape from a state-of-the art lockup in London. How? Don’t bother asking or even thinking about it – as we won’t see it or be offered an explanation.
At the heart of the story is why is Silva doing what he does? You see, Silva is simply mad at M, once again, and finally, played by Judi Dench.
In a face-to-face confrontation with Bond, Silva gives you everything you need to know about him, and what he thinks of M, in a pair of sentences which say it all: She sent you after me, knowing you’re not ready, knowing you would likely die. Mommy was very bad.
So M is Mommy, and M is Judi Dench. She’s under fire from her boss played somewhat chillingly by Ralph Fiennes as Gareth Mallory. After all, it was on her watch, that the all important list (not really) was lost. But M still is her usually feisty self:
Gareth Mallory: Eleanor, be sensible. Retire with dignity…
M: – Dignity! To Hell with dignity! I’ll retire when my goddamn job is finally done.
Yes, M is dragged off to the barren Scottish Highlands with Bond for the ultimate shootout with Silva. This too was a major let down – not the action, which was predictable, but the logic behind the thinking. Yes they wanted to lure Silva out to the killing fields, but they distinctly lacked fire power, and had no backup aside from Albert Finney as a craggy old Scotsman, Kincade, the Bond family retainer and caretaker of the estate. All Kincade had for firepower was a shotgun.
Silva had two dozen men, and a helicopter but it wasn’t enough.
Yes, Bond prevails. Did you expect anything else? Seems safe to assume we’ll have another round of Craig/Bond in a few years.
My thinking was that this was just a middling Bond film. As I said at the beginning – it was a compendium of the old Bond trademarks – beginning with a lengthy pre-credit sequence. Then a trademark Bond theme song, M, Q, a new Bond Girl, a new never to be seen again Bond Villain – but this time the villain was a weak link along with the story.
So Skyfall is merely a set-up for the next Bond film – where will have more of the new M (Fiennes as Mallory),the new Q (Whishaw), even a new Moneypenny. Skyfall’s problem isn’t that it was bad – instead it simply wasn’t particularly good, special, or memorable.
The opening scene is literally the film’s high point. Though the film has garnered some very positive reviews – Ebert called it the Best Bond ever – I don’t see it. A weak story that lacked creativity, a so-so Bond villain, and plot holes big enough to allow one to drive that bulldozer that Bond uses in the opening sequence, straight through those holes,
won’t prevent this Bond movie, (the 23rd) from making money, but, aside from a splendid musical score, I can’t give it any kind of recommendation. Three point zero out of five is the rating.