The latest James Bond film ‘Skyfall’ has opened, and is already crushing franchise box office records and exceeding fans’ expectations. Between commenters here on The Bonus View and personal friends, I’ve only come in contact with three people who, like me, disagree with the majority, and find ‘Skyfall’ to be not only a lackluster Bond flick, but a weak spy movie in general. I understand that my opinion goes against the grain, mostly due to the way that I feel about the 007 series as a whole, but I’m not Armond White. I don’t make stupid claims just to gain attention. If you’re a die-hard Bond fan, then it’s more than likely that you’ll disagree with every word I say. Be warned: The following text contains major ‘Skyfall’ spoilers.
As I said in Friday’s review, I love both ‘Casino Royale‘ and ‘Quantum of Solace‘, and really wanted ‘Skyfall’ to follow through with the new rebooted series, which modernized and humanized James Bond, and did away with corny unrealistic fluff such as dumbass gadgets and riding down ski slopes on musical instruments. Unfortunately, I feel that ‘Skyfall’ takes Bond back into the nearly brainless mode that most of the previous 20 films functioned on.
The first sign that something wasn’t right with ‘Skyfall’ happened during the overly-long introductory sequence. After finding a dead agent and his now hard drive-less laptop, Bond chases a random henchman for what feels like 20 minutes. Cranes, trains and automobiles – this action sequence is cool, but way too long, and lacks continuity in every way possible. Bond gets shot twice, but we later only see him with one gunshot wound. He drives a dirt bike off a city bridge onto a train that is suddenly in the middle of wide open plains – no city in sight. Two minutes later, he’s in the mountains.
Due to an on-the-spot call that M makes, Bond is shot and possibly left for dead, but we sure as shit know that isn’t the case. The dumb aspect of this scene is that M is willing to risk killing Bond in order to get the hard drive back, but had she not made the call, both Bond and Henchman #1 would have smashed into the train tunnel. While they both would have died, the hard drive would have been retrieved and I never would have been made to suffer through ‘Skyfall’.
This is the first of many times where ‘Skyfall’ steals an element from another very popular movie. Guess what was on the hard drive that the henchman got away with? A list containing every MI6 agent, his/her whereabouts, pseudonyms and infiltrated organizations. Wait, isn’t that the exact same plot from Brain De Palma’s ‘Mission: Impossible‘? You bet your ass it is, and the plot stealing doesn’t stop there. Ethan Hunt’s NOC list is only the beginning.
After a few minutes of being led to believe that Bond is dead, we of course learn that he isn’t. Bond is content to stay off the radar in his tropical hiding place, tossing back shots of tequila with stupid scorpions on his hands and boning random local chicks (and possibly dudes too) – that is, until he sees something on the news that stirs him up. With the NOC list out there, agents are being killed and someone has infiltrated MI6 headquarters, blowing up M’s office in the process. Who did it? Of course, it’s Javier Bardem’s character, Silva. How did Silva do it? Who knows? Like many other major plot points in ‘Skyfall’, we’re never given an answer. Lazy little ‘Skyfall’ works in a brain-dead manner. Don’t ask the “how” questions because there aren’t any answers to be found.
Shortly thereafter, Bond comes back from the dead and visits M. She takes him to the new MI6 headquarters, and the ‘Casino’ and ‘Quantum’ apologies begin rolling in. Taking us full circle with the original Bond flicks, we get all the goofy stuff that old fans want. The MI6 HQ is now underground and resembles the hideout of old. We meet Q and some gadgets are teased. Jokes are made about not using them as much as MI6 did in the past, but then we proceed to rely on them. Had it not been for the transmitter, Bond would have died on Silva’s island. Had it not been for the Aston Martin machine guns, many more henchmen would have entered Bond Manor during the climax. As much as I didn’t want ‘Skyfall’ to dig into this has-been, gadget-filled territory, I initially didn’t mind because it seemed to be a minimal joke, a throwback. Sadly, it’s really just one of the “apologies.”
Through unmotivated and coincidental actions, at the one-hour mark Bond finally discovers the identity of the villain behind the attack on MI6. For the first time in the film, we meet Silva – a flamboyant former Double-0 agent with mommy issues and a desire to bring down MI6.Wait a second, isn’t this the exact same antagonist type as seen in ‘GoldenEye‘?! Ding-ding-ding! Instead of stealing a villain from ‘Mission: Impossible’, ‘Skyfall’ steals one from its own franchise. Bardem isn’t bad, but his collective 15 minutes of screen time don’t come close to portraying the fleshed-out three dimensional villain he could be. His flamboyance is just a notch down from Jim Carrey’s portrayal of the Riddler. That removing any potential he had of being a menace and kills the serious tone.
Another pointless aspect of Silva comes across as an apology. I’m fine with minimal nods back to the original films (like the subterranean headquarters), which is why I didn’t mind Le Chiffre’s bleeding eye in ‘Casino Royale’ being a throwback to the randomly disfigured villains of old – but Silva’s ridiculous disfiguration is damned absurd. The reveal of Silva’s glass jaw caused me to groan out loud. Making matters worse is the fact that the filmmakers try to tie this disfiguration into a coherent part of the plot. You see, Silva is disfigured because of a job gone bad. Things went sour and M made a call that resulted in his deformity. Because of the opening sequence where Bond is shot and left for dead due to M’s decision, Silva explains that they have a lot in common. Mind you, Bond’s involvement in this whole ordeal stems from coincidences and random acts. Silva never planned to get Bond in this position. It was all chance, but that’s not what we’re led to believe. Bond randomly finds Silva and we’re supposed to think that Silva set it all up.
Bond stumbles into Silva’s lame lair and gets caught, but it turns out that Bond wanted to get caught. Because of the gadgets that Bond now has, M and MI6 are able to intervene, rescue Bond and capture Silva. It was a twist! (Please note my sarcasm.) But then Silva is taken back to the brand new secret underground HQ and it’s revealed that, like Loki in ‘The Avengers‘, Silva wanted to be caught and brought back to their new hideout all along. Double twist! What follows is a scene that I deem the most braindead of the whole movie. Bond chases Silva through subway tunnels, catches up to Old Glass Jaw in a large subterranean room and fires a few shots. Bond can shoot two rungs on the ladder Silva climbs, but not Silva himself. And just when he gets the bad guy in his sights, he freezes and doesn’t take the shot just so that Silva can drop an empty train on him. (P.S. I’ve been in London’s tubes during the day, and no train is ever empty.) Considering that Silva had no idea where the new MI6 HQ was located, how lame is it he somehow knew the exact place that Bond was going to catch him, and would have a bomb rigged so that he could drop a train on Bond? Absolutely absurd.
At this point in the film, halfway through, the plot is completely discarded. Do you remember that NOC list that Bond and MI6 have been tracking down? Well, the characters sure don’t. The story that we’ve been wrapped up in for over an hour is tossed aside. You might assume that the hard drive was retrieved when Silva was captured, but you’d think that this was a plot point worth resolving. After all, at least five agents had their identities revealed and were executed. This is a major part of story, something greater than leaving up to presumptions – but it’s not resolved. Ever. After Silva breaks into MI6, only to escape (without achieving a thing), the MI6 mission shifts from the unresolved NOC list to protecting M from Silva. Bond and M don’t look for the hard drive any longer. Eff every other agent in the field – Mum is in danger! All energy and efforts go towards keeping M safe. Bond and M run from Silva, becoming the prey and not the usual predators.
The NOC list is ditched just so that the franchise can be given yet another new origin. We’re suddenly force fed a splinter of Bond’s back story. A plot point is revealed that other reviewers claim digs deep into Bond’s roots, origins and motivations. I disagree with those statements. ‘Casino Royale’ created a three dimensional character. Through the death of Vesper in the climax, Bond was given a dark motivation that we could all connect with. In ‘Skyfall’, that motivation (what I’m calling “The Vesper Motivation”) is completely dismissed for a newer, shallower one – his parents died. Why is Bond the cruel, heartless and brutal beast that he is? It’s not because of Vesper. It’s because he’s an orphan. Once again, we’re supposed to make the connection that Bond is like Silva – he has parent issues too. Boo-hoo and bullshit. The final act character development is worthless, but not as worthless as the ripped-off anticlimax that follows.
Do you know how every Bond movie has a wild adventurous finale? ‘Skyfall’ doesn’t. The movie wraps up with Bond and M playing ‘Home Alone‘ against the strangest set of henchmen ever. They lock themselves in Bond Manor with Albert Finney (who pops up just for the film’s climax) and re-enact ‘Straw Dogs’. Bad guys climb inside the boarded up house, but fall for boobytrap after boobytrap, failing to ever take out either of the geriatric geezers shuffling around inside. When Bond, M and Finney complete the first wave, then enters Silva in a helicopter shooting sequence that would have been any other villains’ first attack choice. This scene just keeps going on and on and on. They move the fight outdoors, and then they move back indoors, and so forth.
The nearly two-and-a-half hour runtime of ‘Skyfall’ is unwarranted. Most scenes are too long, especially the “Peter and the Chicken” action sequences. It would all be over much earlier had Bond taken the shot one of the many times in the movie that the opportunity was readily in front of him, but he unexplainably and consciously decides not to. For example, why didn’t Bond just shoot Silva in the face during the scene where Silva tried to drop a train on him?
My final gripe with flick is M’s fate. Did anyone not see M’s death coming from the moment we met Ralph Fiennes’ character? If you didn’t catch it then, you must have caught it when her real name was revealed. The movie’s ending was spoiled two hours before we got to it.
I’m not going to buy the new Bond Blu-ray set, but I will buy the individual titles that I like. I already own ‘Casino Royale’ and ‘Quantum of Solace’, but I will never own ‘Skyfall’.