There have been a couple of movies this year that had me holding my breath in excitement, waiting to see them. One of them was Prometheus and the other was Skyfall. Though it had taken me some time to warm up to Daniel Craig’s Bond, the excellent clips and trailers prior to its release made me certain this would be one of the best Bond films I’d ever seen. And in some ways, it is a glorious outing, easily the best of Craig’s three. But Skyfall also bears some resemblance to the supremely disappointing Prometheus, in that it is a beautiful film, but the more one thinks about it, the more it tends to fall apart. The solution is to concentrate on the good elements; it is an entertaining ride. That said, I yam what I yam, so I was compelled to point out a few things…
*Just in case it’s not completely clear, this piece contains ALL THE SPOILERS.
Great: The Opening Action Sequence.
The opening quickly drew us into murder, intrigue and a thrilling chase scene, it hit all the right notes. And then it went a step beyond the usual fare; not only was Bond’s life in danger, but he was actually shot by a fellow agent on M’s order, and we weren’t quite sure how he would survive. Whether or not we ever worried he would die, the cinematic moment of Bond falling off the train was breathtaking and spectacular. The scene also set up both Bond’s, and the villain’s emotional backstory.
Great: Judi Dench as M.
Dench is simply sublime. She plays M as a decisive, tough woman who isn’t afraid to make the hard calls—and never—not for one second, does M come off as a bitch. (In the film and television world, that’s utterly miraculous.) We also see M have moments where she is taken aback, or hurt; Dench softens but M doesn’t weaken or fall apart. The subtleties of her expression, her beautiful, naturally-aged face, her stance and the way she carries herself…Dench uses every part of herself when she is onscreen.
Great: The Title Sequence and Adele’s Theme Song.
Adele’s dreamy crooning over Daniel Kleinman’s title sequence combined Bond’s surrealistic drowning with blood flowing like interpretive inkblots, intermixed with images we’ll see later in the film…Chinese dragons, shooting targets, a boat, the island, a building on fire and gravestones. I wanted to rewind the theater screen to watch it again.
Great: Naomie Harris as Eve Moneypenny.
Harris strikes the perfect combination of smart, tough, witty and sexy. At the outset, Eve provides a great Bond partner, fearless and instinctive as she races along—sometimes with him, other times on her own. When she’s given the order to shoot, Harris’ face communicates her internal conversation, yet she doesn’t hesitate to carry it out. Once reunited, the chemistry between Eve and Bond sizzles. That shaving scene…fireworks, indeed.
Bad: The Pointless and Poorly Written Bond Disappears Scene.
Bond is disillusioned, perhaps even angry that M ordered Eve to shoot, disregarding his life, so he goes into hiding for a very short time—or at least, what seemed like a very short time. He’s on some vacation island, where he speaks to no one, sleeps with a girl and drinks a lot, sometimes with a scorpion perched on his hand. How reckless he is! But wait, who’s that on the telly? Why it’s CNN’s Wolf Blitzer and like Batman to the signal, Bond cannot stay angry long. He shows up at M’s place, waiting in the dark, spews a bit of sarcasm and then he’s back on the job.
This scene could have been done so much better, or skipped entirely. (M deals with the formalities of Bond’s obituary and other details, MI-6 jcarries on; pick up with the scene at M’s apartment.)
Great: Ben Whishaw as Q.
That’s one of Skyfall’s best scenes. Why of course Nu-Q would be youthful, a smart, nerdy computer guy with glasses and great hair. Whishaw is a brilliant choice for Quartermaster, his incarnation ripe and Bond’s reaction—a joy to behold. Groovy baby.
My only quibble—not particular to either Whishaw or the character himself: Only a personalized weapon and a radio signal? We need more gadgets.
Great: Shanghai as Location.
Shanghai is a perfect Bond-appropriate (exotic) city, and provided some of the most beautiful scenery—including those gorgeous nighttime shots. As if the combination of a terrifying ride up a glass skyscraper wasn’t enough, the moving neon images and words had a curious effect reflecting through the walls; it constantly seemed as if something was moving and as a viewer, I felt like I kept getting too close to the outside wall. Roger Deakins’ cinematography is consistently stunning.
Really Bad: Casino Scene and Severine.
I must acknowledge that Bond’s entrance to the casino is nothing less than spectacular. The lanterns in the water, dragon’s head, Bond standing in the boat and gliding down the waterway was a gorgeous bit of cinematography. But sadly, we’re onto the bad.
So let me get this straight (*deep breath*): Bond is lured into following bad guy Patrice to the top of a skyscraper, where Patrice shoots a guy in a building across the way; then Bond and Patrice have a kick-ass fight, breaking an outer wall of glass and leaving Patrice dangling from Bond’s hand—but Patrice would rather die than give up his boss, so he does. And all this was so Bond could find a poker chip that leads him to the casino, where he meets one of the worst Bond girls in the history of bad Bond girls, she could tell him about her terrifyingly, horrifying, very evil boss, and Bond could handily dispose of a couple of the most hapless henchmen in the history of hapless henchmen…then, Bond could dash off to the Bond girl’s shower, even though there was not one spark of interest between them (and even though Bond guessed that she was a sex worker, held against her will by her captor/boss—a little insensitive 007)? All of this so Bond could meet Silva and eventually bring him back to MI-6, because Silva really wanted to be captured? Er, okay. Let’s not even discuss the ridiculous, breathy overacting and the Carol Burnett as Norma Desmond eye dramatization by Bérénice Lim Marlohe (Severine), or the silly not-fight down in the Komodo Dragon Pit of Doom. Did Bond even muss his hair? Moving on…
Bad/Good/Great/Bad: The Island.
Bad: The unnecessary use of a deserted island to prove what a fearsome villain Silva is. As explained by Severine, Silva is so very, very mean that he lied to an island of people just to get them to evacuate, so he could have it all to himself. Mwaaahaahaaa. And Silva didn’t even really need the island—just that one computer room, with an elevator for dramatic entrances.
Good: Meeting Javier Bardem’s Raoul Silva; the long shot, hearing his words as he approaches Bond and the moment he finally comes into focus.
Great: Silva’s opening speech to Bond and Bond’s response; who doesn’t love ambiguous sexuality? Snappy repartee? “She sent you after me, knowing you’re not ready, knowing you would likely die. Mommy was very bad.” “Everybody needs a hobby.” “So What’s Yours?” “Resurrection.” “What makes you think this is my first time?” And so on…
Bad Again: Silva takes Bond outside, where Severine is tied to a rock; Silva does a little more of his wild and crazy guy routine, challenges Bond to a shot glass shoot-off (atop Severine’s head, of course), and when Bond misses, Silva cheats and shoots Severine instead. Bond shrugs it off like it’s no biggie, because Severine really was nothing—not a character, not in the least bit interesting and not worthy of even being called a Bond girl. Then Bond does his thing and disposes of all the henchmen, MI-6 shows up because der..radio signal…and poof, Silva is easily captured on the first try, with barely a fuss. Suddenly, he doesn’t seem so scary anymore—but don’t write him off yet, because he totally meant to be captured.
Great: Javier Bardem as Silva.
Bardem took this villain to comic movie heights; he was over the top and we loved it. His alternately hurt and angry, childlike manner—in the wrong hands—could easily have been annoying. Instead Bardem charmed, sidling up to Bond like a slithery snake, then slipping out from under everyone’s nose with a wink and a smile.
The Really Bad: Silva’s Elaborate Plans That Mostly Go Nowhere.
After all that Shanghai and island nonsense, when Silva is brought back to the new MI-6 underground location and imprisoned in an appropriately (to his minute amount of violence) overly dramatic looking Hannibal Lecter glass cell to keep everyone safe from his dripping gums, and we find out Silva is really, really upset with M because he used to work for her and M was responsible for leaving him captured and tortured by the Chinese. So as part of his payback plan, he gets a list of fellow agents and outs them so they can be captured and tortured? But never mind that, because now that Silva’s gotten himself captured, he has other plans that seemingly involve prior knowledge as to where the new MI-6 would be located (and he’d be held), because when Q tries to break into Silva’s laptop, it activates some badass virus that even McAfee can’t murder (too soon?), hacks into the MI-6 systems and BAM! Silva flies his glass cage with Bond in hot pursuit. The chase scene is Good, but marred by the fact that when Bond finally catches up to Silva, Silva pushes a button that sets off an explosion, that drops an underground train Silva thinks will kill Bond. Because Silva RIGGED THE ENTIRE LONDON UNDERGROUND so he could set off explosions at any given moment when someone is chasing him, after he got himself captured, then freed himself, so he could get back at M. And now I’ve lost track of where any of this ever made sense. But never mind all that, Silva is on the loose and Bond has to protect M. Because instead of using anything he’s rigged to explode, Silva is going to next come after M with his gun. Except, after all is said and done, when Silva finally finds M in a vulnerable position, instead of killing M he crumbles like a crazy cracker and asks her to do the dirty work for him. But first…
The Good: A Little Bit of Tension Near the End.
As M stands up for herself at the public inquiry, Bond races to get to her before Silva and his never-ending supply of fresh henchmen. This may be the only time the audience actually thinks M could be in some real danger, but by the end of the scene—with even Ralph Fiennes’ Gareth Mallory defending M—we should all realize there is no terrible danger that comes in the form of Silva. He’s just a whackadoodie. His men do a lot of shooting, but no one can get in a shot at M, and when Bond arrives, Silva demonstrates he’s more interested in escaping than killing M. Still, Bond seems wary, so we think we probably should be as well. 007 takes M to his home turf, a place he thinks he can defend against Silva’s threat. Albert Finney turns in a nice performance as groundskeeper, Kincade, who at first seems pretty handy, and up for the job as M’s tunnel to safety escort, but later proves woefully inept with a flashlight. (“Here Silva, follow this light I’m waving all over the place!”)
The Absolute Worst: Silva’s Endgame.
Again, the Scotland location is gorgeous, the shots of Bond and M arriving in his Aston Martin DB5 (“Go ahead, eject me. See if I care.”) were stunning.
Finally, after Silva and Co. make their grand helicopter entrance, blow the shit out of Skyfall, Bond nearly gets drowned again, and Silva follows Kinkade’s signal to the chapel where the groundskeeper and M are hiding out—finally Silva has his chance to kill M. Because it’s Albert Finney, Silva doesn’t bother to shoot Kinkade…heck, he doesn’t even bother to shoot M. Instead, seeing that M has been injured, Silva has an emotional breakdown, cuddles up to M(ommy) and asks her to do the dirty work of pulling the trigger and killing them both. M rolls her eyes, wondering how this turned into an episode of “Maury,” and then Bond handily walks in and doesn’t even bother to shoot Silva, rather thwacks him with a knife to the back because that’s what cowards deserve.
The Good: Ralph Fiennes as M.
Though we didn’t get much of him this time around, Fiennes is an excellent choice as future M. It’ll be a nice role to wash the Voldemort from our brains.
The Great: Daniel Craig as 007.
It was good to see Craig with a little humor and charm, and yes, a little grey. When first we met Craig’s Bond, he was all dialed-up killing machine, shaken—but not stirring. Skyfall gave us a more humanized version—not just because of age or disillusionment—allowing Craig to play with his deadpan delivery and even crack a smile or two. Mendes gave Craig permission to let out his inner Connery and Moore; in my book, that’s a great thing.
Cindy Davis really did enjoy Skyfall.