Movie Review: Skyfall
I recently introduced my girlfriend to the James Bond franchise — we started off strong with Goldfinger then moved on to Dr. No, with From Russia with Love and Thunderball on deck. Then maybe on to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, one of my favorites, Live and Let Die, then The Spy Who Loved Me, and maybe some Goldeneye.
What do those films have in common? They’re all pretty damn fun. And I don’t think that fun has carried over to the newest Bond films. For that matter, I still haven’t really “gotten” Daniel Craig as Bond. He seems to have no personality whatsoever, add to that Judi Dench, whose portrayal of M is so cold that it’s almost plastic, and all the charm and fun are just sucked right out of the films.
I had hopes for Skyfall, which starts off with a delightful live-action version of Peter Griffin vs. The Giant Chicken bit, with Bond and his quarry moving from location to location, causing mass destruction all the way and ends on quite a twist as well as a stellar credit sequence and one of the best themes in a long time.
But then we’re brought back to the dour real world. M (Judi Dench) is being investigated by the British government, namely a slippery-seeming cog (Ralph Fiennes) who seems somewhat on her side, somewhat not. Worse yet is the embarrassment of MI6′s network hacking. Bond is sent to track down the hacker, catching up with an operative in Shanghai in another excellent sequence not so much for the action itself, but rather for the lighting (I won’t spoil it, but the cinematographer Roger Deakins has been justly getting immense praise for his work). From there, he heads to Macau and meets Silva (Javier Bardem), a former agent with a vendetta against M and apparent genius at planning out elaborate schemes free of any unintended consequences. A lot like The Dark Knight’s Joker but without the opportunism.
So many elements are in place, but none of them ever seem to pull it together. The locations are terrific and look spectacular; the villain is pretty innovative; the action is okay, but Bond just moves from place to place. The backdrops have so much potential yet the writing, and hence Bond, ignore them, so it may as well be any place or theme or situation. Yeah it’s cool to want to include those elements, to hint at a return to old-school Bond form, but then don’t disassociate Bond from them.
And instead of playing with a game of baccarat or engaging in some clever banter with an imposing and horrendously crippled henchman, the writers keep Craig silent for the most part and then flirt with the psyche of Bond — his drinking, his past, and his nonchalant attitude toward whether a woman lives or dies — and really, who cares? Their exploration is entirely superficial, with mere recognition and a lack of focus, and it just goes to show how unnecessary it is. The coldness is already written into the character, and so it’s up to the actor to give him life and why the “colder” Bonds don’t tend to work.
And perhaps the formula just doesn’t mesh well with the computer age, since every action film since 1995 has had some variant of hacking. Nevertheless, while Bond may have paved the way for modern action movies, its choice to reform itself into a more serious franchise suffers because countless other series have done it many, many times over. Likewise, doing away with the more fantastic elements such as sillier gadgets, exotic henchmen, and so forth removes the levity that made the early Connery and Moore films so good.
It’s not a bad movie, and it’s worth seeing for the look and opening, but I’m still holding out for more fantastic take.
Skyfall is rated PG-13. Directed by Sam Mendes. Written by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, and John Logan. Starring Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Javier Bardem, Ralph Fiennes, Naomi Harris, Berenice Lim Marlohe, and Albert Finney.