Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Movie – Skyfall (2012)

Skyfall is the third of the Daniel Craig Jason Bourne movies.  Wait.  That should have read James Bond, not Jason Bourne.  (Since the reboot it’s become almost impossible to distinguish between them.)  This Bond outing was much praised by critics, and as a big fan of the real Bond movies I was looking forward to it.  I found it to be an entertaining film, although still of the “shut your brain off and eat popcorn” variety.  They do finally toss a bone or two to the fans who know that Bond existed before Daniel Craig started playing him, so that was good.

This is the first Bond film in 31 years to receive an Oscar nomination, and it didn’t just receive one; it got five – more than any other Bond film.  (1981’s For Your Eyes Only was the last to receive one.)  Of the five nominations – Original Song, Original Score, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, and Cinematography – the best chance it has of winning is for Adele’s title song.  The nomination for Original Score puzzles me since the only part of the entire score that added anything to the film is when they used the traditional Bond theme during a key moment in the film.

Unlike the last Bond film, this one is standalone.  You could watch it never having seen any other Bond movie before.  The film opens with Bond (Daniel Craig) trying to retrieve a stolen harddrive.  It contains the names of every British agent embedded with terrorist organizations.  Unlike Mission Impossible, though, the bad guys didn’t need to break into an ultra-secure computer room; MI-6 just let an agent take the file to Turkey on his laptop.  Assisting Bond on this mission is Eve (Naomie Harris).  Bond ends up on top of a train fighting a bad guy.  Eve can’t get a clear shot, but M (Judi Dench) orders her to shoot anyway.  Eve hits Bond, who presumably falls to his death…except it’s the opening credits so I don’t think even a five year old would believe he was really dead.

M’s reputation is damaged by the loss of these names, and it is further tarnished by a cyber attack on MI-6 headquarters.  A new boss, Gareth Mallory (Ralph Fiennes), tells her it’s time to retire.  She refuses until she can find out who is behind all of this.  Bond sees the attack on the news and comes back from the dead to work for M.  She sends him to Shanghai where, after a series of events, the bad guy finally appears…70 minutes into the movie.  Javier Bardem plays Silva, the man in question.  His entrance is the best non-action part of the movie.  I won’t spoil why he has it in for M.

I mentioned above that this film finally tosses a few bones to the longtime Bond fans.  We get the re-introduction of Bond’s quartermaster, aka Q (Ben Whishaw).  Much is made of his pimply-faced youth, but the actor playing him is actually 32 years old.  When people heard Q was going to be in the movie, director Sam Mendes says that everyone he knew kept excitedly asking him whether gadgets were going to be used in the movie, too.  In an interview on the Blu-ray, Mendes says that gadgets were fun in the earlier movies because they were something you couldn’t own.  He says that nowadays the pinnacle of all gadgets is the cell phone, and that since everyone owns one, there’s no point in having gadgets in a Bond film anymore.  To drive this home, in the film Bond is seriously underwhelmed when all Q provides him with is a gun and a tracker.  Q disdainfully responds, “What did you expect?  An exploding pen?”  It’s a big, old middle finger from Mendes to the longtime Bond fans (and the film Goldeneye).

Hold on, though.  It’s different when it’s something Mendes is fond of.  Another nice touch for the fans is the appearance of the classic Aston Martin from Goldfinger.  Guess why it’s in the film – because Mendes loved it as a kid and even had a toy version of it with an ejector seat.  And it’s not just the car itself that appears; it has all the gadgets in it that Mendes loved as a kid, including the ejector seat and machine guns.

At the top I referred to Skyfall as a “shut your brain off and eat popcorn” movie.  That’s not saying that it’s bad.  It’s saying that it is a fun movie if you don’t think about it too much.  Silva’s evil plan requires so many improbable things to happen, in the right sequence and at the right time, for it to go correctly that the villain from Arlington Road (1999) would be envious.  And almost all of Silva’s actions are irrelevant to his ultimate goal of humiliating and killing M.  At one point I had the phrase “sharks with frickin’ lasers” pop into my head.  Another WTF moment is when computer genius Q hooks the laptop of the bad guy computer hacker into the MI-6 network.  Gee, I wonder if something bad might be on the laptop.

The best part of the film, for me, is that we got to learn quite a bit about Bond’s past.  I believe one other film had mentioned that his parents were dead, but that was it.  In regards to the movies, Skyfall greatly expands the Bond backstory.  By the way, the title of the film is related to this backstory.  We meet an elderly Scottish gamekeeper (an almost unrecognizable Albert Finney) who knew Bond as a child.  You can just tell that this role was written with Sean Connery in mind.  Somewhere along the way someone was smart enough to figure out that if Connery was in the film everyone would be watching him and not Craig.

If you’re an action guy or gal there are a number of scenes that will keep your blood pumping.  Motorcycle chases are among the classic Bond elements and this film uses it to its advantage.  There are also a couple of train sequences that are highly improbable, but fun to watch.

If you’re a Bond fan, you’re going to see this film no matter what.  If you’re only a fan of the rebooted Bond, then this gives you all the superhuman Bond action that you’ve come to expect.  If you’re a fan of Bond back when he was Bond and not Bourne, then I’m afraid he’s still much more of a brawler and much less of a thinker.  In all these cases, I recommend you give this film a try.

Chip’s Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

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  1. This film is definitely among my 10 favorite Bond films ever. It had a lot of old-school elements that I loved but also some new ideas in the mix. After all, it's the 50th anniversary of Bond. You have to go a bit old-school with it. I had a lot of fun watching it and I marked the fuck out when I saw the old Aston-Martin! I was bouncing in seat when I saw that and go OOHH!!! I wasn't the only one. Here's to 50 more years for 007.

    1. It definitely the best of the three Craig films. I haven't really thought where I'd put it among all the Bond films, since the Craig ones have always remained separate in my mind - the "real Bond" movies and the "new Bond" movies.

  2. Good review Chip. I liked Casino Royale more though but this almost lived up to the hype. A decent flick and one of the better Bond movies, but not my favorite of all-time I have to say.

    1. CR was a decent starter film for those who had never seen a Bond movie before. In fact, I'd recommend that those people who have only seen Craig as Bond not watch any of the prior films.

  3. I wasn’t too crazy about Skyfall. I loved the way Casino Royale (which is the only later Bond film to rival the Connery era ones imo) dared to reboot the franchise by basically telling the story of how Bond became Bond, going back-to-basics and getting rid of all the tired clichés. The over the top villains and gadgets, and even stuff like the ‘Bond, James Bond’ and ‘shaken, not stirred’ lines that were awesome the first time Sean Connery uttered them, but then got repeated ad nauseam throughout the Roger Moore films. There’s a little gem of a scene in Casino Royale where the bartender asks Bond if he wants his martini shaken or stirred and he answers, “Do I look like I give a damn?!” That pretty much sums it up for me. I know that some people like the fun Bond who’ll ski off a cliff with a Union Jack parachute, but I prefer the darker, menacing Bond without the fluff. Skyfall was dark alright, but not in that menacing way, if that makes any sense... it was dark in a sort of scared way, like the writers knew that the old cold war type Bond stories were history, yet weren’t quite comfortable with the new reinvented Bond of Casino Royale and nostalgic for the good old days when M stood for Man, not Mum.

    1. I'm afraid I can't agree on the "new Bond" films. While they are certainly entertaining, they are not James Bond. There are certain iconic things you don't change. Bond being a man who outthinks his opponents instead of outslugging them is one of those things.

      In regards to the martini, there was a scene in Skyfall where Bond is watching a man shaking a martini blender then pouring Bond a drink. Bond replies, "perfect", so he now does care how one is made, but the filmmakers still don't actually give the longtime fans the classic "shaken, not stirred" line.

  4. I thought this film was well directed. The cinematography should win an Oscar too. I love the sequence in the museum with Q and we see all those different angles of the two talking. And that ceramic bulldog was a nice touch. If I'm not mistaken, it did not appear on M's desk in any previous films.

  5. "The cinematography should win an Oscar too."

    Deakins is a perennial nominee (nine so far), but he's never managed to win. I thought he'd win for True Grit, but he didn't. This year I think Life of Pi will get the cinematography Oscar.

    "And that ceramic bulldog was a nice touch. If I'm not mistaken, it did not appear on M's desk in any previous films."

    You know, I was wondering about that. I didn't remember it, but I've only seen the other Craig Bond films once.