Let's talk about movies... This week is about the latest and greatest playing in theaters. There used to be a certain pageantry about going to the theater; an excitement about what was playing, visiting concessions and seeing the previews. Now instead of being first in line on opening day, I usually wait a few weeks, then slink in at an awkward time to avoid crowds. I bring my own snacks (once even sneaking in an entire pizza) so I won't have to get a small loan in order to afford concessions. I arrive early to get the best seats and hope for an empty theater because odds are good someone will talk/answer a phone/text during the film, causing me to experience a hulk-like rage for ruining my viewing experience. I'll venture out like a groundhog at the end of winter for the big ticket items that need to be seen on the big screen. This week's movie was one of them.
This week on deck: Skyfall
How it came to my attention: As a lifelong Bond fan I was looking forward to the latest installment in the Bond series and had plans to attend opening day.
Going into it: It's a Bond film. I knew there would be a bad guy, a sexy girl in trouble, and lots and lots of gunshots.
Coming out of it: I felt let down by what had been hyped (perhaps overly so) as the greatest Bond film in the series to date.
The Review/Recommendation: Don't watch it. I know, it's sacrilege in the House of Bond to malign the once and future king of spies... But I just wasn't buying what Skyfall was selling. The best part of the movie was the title sequence with Adele's song. It was confusing from the start. We watched Casino Royale rock the world of Bond and reinvent the spy, bringing him into modern times while keeping that swagger and panache that made the character iconic. It was a revelation of a film. Skyfall was a confused mashup of the old and the new. It attempted to resurrect the Bond of old whilst maintaining a foot in the new world as the gap of time widened further. The pacing felt off as action was followed by dragging exposition, and staring out of windows, then more halting action and finally an abrupt end. Casino Royale taught us, and Bond, that he needed to be an emotionally constipated bastard in order to survive a spies' life, and it was a lesson he learned the hard way. Skyfall decided to open that door up again... And the last thing I want to watch is James Bond doing anything other than shooting, screwing, or spying. There was some good in the film but it was outweighed by all the other frustrations. Skyfall felt like a filler piece, the villain wasn't remotely terrifying, the acting felt off, and the ending was unsatisfying. And. There. Was. No. Bond. Girl. Sure, one was technically featured for about a minute but lacked chemistry with Bond and failed to engender anything resembling interest in her character. Wait for it to come out on DVD if you must see it, but you'd probably get more out of re-watching Casino Royale. Or any other Bond film.
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The Recap (will most certainly contain spoilers): We cold open on Bond in a dark hallway with an exaggerated artsy-noir shot of his eyes. It's a spy film, it's a spy film, it's a spy film, I repeat to myself in order to swat away the eye-roll welling up in my soul. MI6 agents James Bond (played by the delectable Daniel Craig) and Eve (played by Naomi Harris) are on an inscrutable mission in Turkey and peeps are dying left and right. J. Bond stops to save a fellow agent and is ordered to let that poor bastard die in favor of pursuing a thief who has stolen what I gather to be some important information. Gone are the days in which royal jewels were stolen or princesses kidnapped. Now in the virtual age real people die in the cause of 0s and 1s. Information is the new black and everyone is wearing it.
We learn that Bond is after a hard drive stolen from MI6 that has the secret identities of almost every NATO agent embedded undercover in terrorist organizations. They're chasing a mercenary named Patrice (played by Ola Rapace) through a bazaar and over rooftops as M (played by Judi Dench) and Agent Tanner (played by Rory Kinnear) backseat spy the whole time. Bond flings himself onto a moving train in the heat of pursuit and engages in a firefight with Patrice then climbs into a construction backhoe and looks like he's trying to whack-a-mole that sumbitch off the train but he catches a bullet in his shoulder and Patrice shoots out the coupling between the railcars. Bond sinks the backhoe's teeth into the adjacent railcar and hops into the cabin just as the other car tears away. All in all it's pretty badass. Dude's got swagger. As the fight progresses Bond and Patrice end up on top of the train again wrestling for the hard drive as Eve sniper-tracks their progress and is forced to shoot Bond in an attempt to kill Patrice. M ordered the hit and the seeming betrayal/doubt in the redoubtable Bond is shocking.
Bond falls from the train and is lost to a rushing river and we segway into the opening title sequence with Adele's original song Skyfall. It's amazing. One of the best songs and opening Bond sequences of all time. Bond has not resurfaced and is considered K.I.A (killed in action). We cut to M writing his obituary; think she'll put in "I ordered the shot that killed him"? Perhaps not. She's neck-deep in alligators anyhow, so I doubt she'd have time for guilt. Apparently cocking up a giant leak of information is not good for anyone's career, most especially one in espionage and M is called to task in the teacher's office (Chairmain of the Intelligence and Security Committee, Gareth Mallory-played by Ralph Fiennes). On her way back to MI6, the agency is hacked and her office is blown up along with a good chunk of MI6.
Bond somehow gets the news in his hole-in-the-wall digs. Surprise! He's alive. Though I doubt anyone was truly taken aback considering he's a franchise staple. He reappears in M's home, sitting alone in the dark. Not creepy at all. She doesn't blink at his appearance and I can't tell if it's due to internal fortitude or a lifetime of spying. They trade witty barbs and he returns to the fold a little battered and the worse for wear (both mentally and physically). He sucks his way back to active duty and in the process ghetto-yanks some bullet fragments out his shoulder and helps identify the mercenary, Patrice, and tracks him to Shanghai. Bonds meets the Q of legend and the modern version is a young techno-punk who tosses insults back and forth with Bond that are just this side of professional. Q gives Bond a smart gun that will only fire in his hand and a tiny GPS tracker. They make a joke about expecting exploding pens and I'm on board. Where is the lair of old? The unexpected devices and stellar technology designed to help Bond win the day? This is bullshit. You can't give me Q and twist him past the point of recognition. Skyfall promises the Bond of yore and thumbs its nose at the very institution it's expected to deliver. Unbelievable. Some blowback happens from the now-decrypted hard drive and it gets several NATO agents dead.
J.B. lands in Shanghai, kills some time, tracks Patrice from the airport to a high rise where he follows him and eventually witnesses a hit on an unknown target. Bond and Patrice get sweaty for a minute and trade some fairly impressive fighting moves before Patrice takes a little trip then a big fall. The mercenary dies before telling Bond who bought the NATO list but Bond discovers a casino chip in Patrice's sniper case that he tracks to Macau. There he meets the co-called Bond Girl of the film, Severine (played by Berenice Marlohe). She plays the part of the cold seductress but crumbles at the first mention of her employer. She's literally so terrified that she almost pisses herself when talking about him. This is quite the buildup. She tells him of her boat that is leaving in an hour and that if Bond can make it out alive he's welcome to join her as long as he promises to kill her boss.
Bond kicks some ass and then goes and gets some ass. They sail to an impressively fortified island that reminds me a little of Waterworld. They get taken hostage, trussed up and delivered like Thanksgiving turkeys to the Big Bad, Raoul Silva (played by Javier Bardem). Silva wears maniacal mastermind like an ill-fitting coat. There's something slightly off about him that I can't quite put my finger on. He makes a passing nod at trying to turn Bond against MI6, and M, but it's a C+ effort at best. As lairs go it's hardly intimidating being surrounded by computer servers. There's a blip of life on the EKG when Silva caresses Bonds face and chest during questioning, followed by stroking his thighs. A bi-sexual villain? What a breath of fresh air! But alack; that's as far as the "interrogation" goes. Silva turns out to be a cranky ex-MI6 agent that M disavowed when he was captured and left to die in the hands of the Chinese. Scorned ex-employee? Don't tax yourselves here, writers.
Bond and Silva pop outside to have a quick word with Severine before she gets capped. Skyfall runs two and a half hours long. I can practically measure on one hand the number of minutes the Bond Girl gets of screen time. It's not enough for me to even feel a twinge at her passing; so, failure on that front. Bond captures Silva and takes him back to the new MI6 to be questioned. Q hacks Silva's laptop inadvertantly triggering a bypass of MI6 security protocols and faciitating Silva's escape into the Underground tunnel system dressed as a police officer. He goes to attack M at yet another scolding for her old school spy ways. Lot's of references to fighting in shadows. I'm sorry, but am I really listening to people argue whether or not Bond should continue being Bond? I've heard nothing but people whining about how old he is, how out of date he is and how he's a veritable dinosaur of espionage. Funny how I just noticed the bags under Bond's eyes. But I digress; M knows she's in danger and gives what I believe to be her swan song (some weird quote her late husband once said). I fully expect M to die here; but no! Bond shows up in the nick of time and gets his mojo back while saving the day and psuedo-kidnapping M to safety. For a criminal, ex-spy, mastermind that's been leading MI6 around by the nose this entire time, that attack on M was incredibly heavy-handed and felt a lot like a neglected puppy yapping for attention rather than a vicious bulldog going for the jugular. Methinks the former teacher's pet is a little cranky about being put in detention and all he really wants is attention. And maybe a hug. And, on second thought, maybe some new teeth.
Bond and M ditch the company car for something a bit more obscure. I know! How about a random, old-school, original Bond car, complete with ejector seat and headlight machine guns? Totes Incogs (that's tweeny bopper for "totally incognito"). Where did Bond get this car? Is he aware that if he owns it then it's probably not under the radar? Do we really need nostalgia for nostalgia's sake? I feel like Skyfall has shoved a lot of things like this at us purely because they could, and for no logical reason. The dynamic duo drive to Bond's childhood home, Skyfall Lodge, to hide out and dangle M like a shiny lure for Silva to follow. Q does some techno magic sanctioned by Mallory (who's now on board with Team Old School) and lays a trail of clues for Nancy Drew to follow out to the Lodge.
Bond and M encounter the Lodge's gamekeeper, Kincade (played by Albert Finney) and batten down the hatches... Literally. They've got three and a half guns between them and we enter the Twilight Zone of Home Alone. They cobble together some improvised incediary devices and traps (I'm sorry, are we on a crossover episode of Burn Notice that I'm unaware of?) and wait. Now is the time for some more pensive staring out of the window, courtesy of M. Insert some awkward talk about Bond's tragic loss of his parents as a child (saw this coming from earlier, psych eval anyone?) and pretty heavy foreshadowing when Kincaide shows M the Priest's Hole aka secret tunnel out of the house in case of emergency.
Silva's henchmen arrive and the trio ward off the first wave of attackers, though M gets shot in the process (she hides the wound... Yeah, that'll end well). Silva arrives by helicopter and I think he's going to shoot a freaking missile at the house and torch the place. It's what I'd do if I were an evil genius. But no, Bond and Silva play Arsonists-Ring-Around-The-Rosy for a bit while Kincaide and M escape via the Priest's Hole and head to the Chapel. Bond blows up a couple propane tanks with some leftover dynamite (which I'm sure once he brushed the cobwebs off would totally be stable and work, no problem). The shockwave sends the helicopter into a tailspin where it crashes, killing a bunch of Silva's henchmen. Silva sees a light bobbing off in the distance now that the glow from Bond's boyhood home has backlit the area. It's the Scottish Moors, I'd chalk that up to a Will-O-The-Wisp but no such luck here; Silva pursues.
Bond wakes up, brushes some dirt off his shoulder... Again literally, and sprints toward the Chapel. He ninja-kills some leftover goons along the way, thus proving our girl Stella totally Got Her Groove Back. He runs into Silva after he makes the super sound decision to walk across a frozen lake. I'm not even sure it was a shortcut. The last little mercenary jumping on the bed attacks Bond and they fall through the ice, mimicking the opening title sequence. Bond dispatches Nameless Evil-Doer #27 and we flash to the interior of the Chapel where Silva has cornered a surprisingly meek M (I'm assuming bloodloss has stolen her chutzpah). Silva goes full-on whack-job and holds a gun in M's hand, begging her to kill them both with the same bullet. Silva has gone round the bend; starting from slightly-menacing-yet-sane, to obsessively-logical-yet-creepy, to waaaaaay out in the left field of bugnuts-crazy.
Bond again arrives just in time and straight-up puts Silva down like a rabid dog. M then collapses and bleeds out in Bond's arms as I think I see him tear up if not outright cry. Seriously? They wasted M's death. If she was going to die, it should have been after her bitchin' spy-speech (as a martyr for the cause) thus causing Bond to avenge her in true baddass spy-style. Instead, we get a dumbstruck Kincaide looking on as Bond rocks his surrogate Mommy in sorrow. Lame. M's post in MI6 is taken by Mallory (the new "M") while Bond formally meets Mallory's new secretary Eve, Eve Moneypenny (she makes a crack about "close shaves", calling to mind their earlier sexcapades, and I roll my eyes). Bond walks into "M"s office where "M" tosses a secret folder on the table and says they've got a lot of work to do and that Bond is the man they need to do it. Are. You. Serious? They spent the entire movie harping on how over-the-hill and washed-up Bond was and suddenly he's the Golden Child? A full 180 degree turn? Even considering movie magic, I'm calling bullshit. They took the degradation of Bond too far for me to believe it could bounce back that much on any level of believability. Bond says he's ready. Credits Roll.