Lisa and I saw Skyfall on Thanksgiving. I found it a mixed bag, though entertaining enough: Great character work (for the most part), good action sequences, occasionally muddy plotting, and a number of storytelling choices I just didn’t agree with. Lisa says it felt more like a Bourne movie than a Bond movie, which is fine if you make it work, but they didn’t, quite. Part of the problem, she thought, is that the filmmakers insist on keeping certain Bond tropes—notably, the womanizing—even when they don’t really fit.
* Great opening. Bond crawling off to mope because he’s miffed at M is classic.
* The Bond/M relationship is one of the best things about the Craig Bond films so far, so I was sorry to see her go. Lisa suggests, and I agree, that the ending would have been stronger if they’d let M kill Silva. Even better if they’d figured out a way to reprise the opening and have M risk killing Bond in order to get the bad guy.
* I’m apparently in the minority in having really liked Quantum of Solace. One of the things I was looking forward to in Skyfall was seeing where they’d go next with the Quantum organization, so I was disappointed when they decided to just drop it. Hopefully that’s temporary, and we’ll get a chance to see an updated take on Ernst Stavro Blofeld in the next movie.
* Ben Whishaw’s Q is awesome. No surprise there.
* I liked Javier Bardem’s Flaming Big Bad, although part of that is just me being impressed by a great actor taking a role that could have been a horribly offensive stereotype and somehow making it work. And though the character was fine, the Rube Goldberg plotting got a little strained. I’m cool with villainous schemes that don’t make sense, but the trick is keeping things moving so that the audience doesn’t have time to care about the plot holes. There was a point when Bond and Silva were running around the subway tunnels when my disbelief de-suspended and I found myself asking, “If he wanted to come to London and mess with M, why didn’t he just buy a plane ticket? Why all this needless complication with getting himself captured? And how the hell could he know that train would be coming right when he needed to drop something on Bond’s head?”
* Related to the above, the whole public inquiry scene fell flat for me. The problem is that Judy Dench is defending an absurdity: the idea that James Bond-style spy antics represent a rational national intelligence strategy. They don’t, of course, any more than Silva’s schemes make sense. Having Dench argue that they do is like bringing on a doctor to explain how you really can survive falling hundreds of feet from a train trestle after being shot with a sniper rifle. If you feel you have to make that case, you’re in the wrong movie.
* I’m torn on the character of Moneypenny. If I think of her as a kick-ass field agent who decided to become a secretary because she made one little mistake, she’s a disappointment. But if I think of her as Moneypenny—a woman who in previous incarnations was never anything but a secretary—with a surprising new backstory as a kick-ass field agent, that actually becomes kind of cool, especially if her field agent days aren’t over. I think the way I would have gone with this would be to find some way of combining the secretary and field agent roles from the start, rather than suggesting she’d gone behind a desk because she couldn’t cut it in the field. As it is, the revelation that she’s more rather than less than we’d expected comes too late in the film.
* With the exception of the nameless Turkish gal he hooks up with early in Skyfall, every woman Craig’s Bond sleeps with ends up dying in a particularly gruesome fashion. There are valid storytelling reasons for doing this. In a “gritty” action film, supporting characters are going to die in horrible ways, and it makes sense to pick on people the hero cares about. And nothing demonstrates how evil the bad guy really is than having him sadistically murder the good guy’s family/lover/best friend/dog. And yes, these are cliches, but if you don’t like those, what are you doing buying tickets to the 23rd film in a franchise?
That being said, I like stories that have the guts to do things differently. My favorite part of Quantum of Solace was Bond’s relationship with Camille. A more typical Bond film would have had the two of them fall into bed together as a matter of course (and would probably have had Bond kill the general for her, rather than letting her take her own revenge); instead, Quantum keeps their relationship professional, except for that wonderfully awkward goodbye kiss.
Skyfall goes the other way, giving us Sévérine, a former child sex slave now in thrall to Silva. Bond offers to free her from bondage if she’ll tell him where her boss is hiding, and she accepts. A little while later, Bond shows up on her boat, catches her in the shower, and without so much as a hello strips off his clothes and joins her. Whereupon Lisa and I looked at each other in the theater and said, “Really?” Because walking in naked on a woman you’ve just met is a risky move under the best of circumstances, but when the woman in question is a sex slave, it’s just twelve kinds of wrong. More to the point, it’s twelve kinds of wrong that aren’t consistent with the character Craig is playing. The Connery Bond, sure, but Craig’s Bond, despite fronting misogyny when he’s feeling wounded, isn’t a rapist. The only way that shower scene makes sense is if you’re following a studio mandate that says he’s got to have sex with at least one named Bond girl per film, and Moneypenny’s off the table because she’s a special case.
* …and then, Silva shoots her in the head. I get it; he’s evil. Also, Bond is off his game, can’t shoot straight, and so can’t save her by winning the William Tell game. Oh, the humanity! Except it’s not true: Right after Silva kills her, Bond reverts to form and wipes out Silva’s henchmen. I imagine the filmmakers would argue that it was the shock of Sévérine’s death that allowed Bond to do what he did, but I just felt like I was being messed with.
* So Bond had a Batman childhood. In Scotland. Interesting, and it kind of works. I did like the showdown at the old country estate. And I liked Albert Finney’s loyal old
butler gamekeeper, although Lisa makes another good point: Silva should have killed him at the chapel. Silva’s evil, remember, so why would he spare the life of an old man who was impinging on his alone time with Mom? The answer, probably, is that the filmmakers didn’t think the audience would like seeing the nice old man get shot. Which is fine, but then how about applying some of that sentimentality to Sévérine?
* I am curious to see where they go from here. Craig’s Bond is still my favorite so I hope he sticks around for at least one more film. (Though the rumors that Idris Elba may be next in line are intriguing.)