Sunday, December 9, 2012

Skyfall (Sam Mendes 2012)

One surprising thing about Casino Royale is how much the Bond fans loved it when the entire purpose of the film is to show that Bond became Bond by systematically removing every human element until he’s little more than an android.  The Daniel Craig Bond relaunch benefitted from being “of our time” so that while I would still say those are the best two Bond films (and I’ve never been any kind of fan) the reactions were also colored by their apparent rejection of some of the silliness and excesses of earlier efforts.

Skyfall, though, would fit in the mid-range of the Brosnan films, closer to straight thriller and somewhat plausible but still lacking the focus and intensity of the first two Craig or the better Brosnan.  In fact, Skyfall overall recycles the premise of The World Is Not Enough with some wronged person seeking revenge on M for her past transgressions though Skyfall combines the smart, scheming villain and the physically damaged, violent villain into one character.  Skyfall even repeats the device of an illegal transaction being paid through a casino gambling debt.

And it’s that one character that’s the biggest hurdle the film never overcomes.   Despite early claims that he can show fear like nobody, not even Bond, has seen in the end Silva (Javier Bardem) turns out to be just another Bond evil genius complete with lair and a barely plausible motive.  His dastardly scheme requires to-the-second timing involving numerous people across many blocks of London needing months of elaborate preparation just so that he can simply shoot M.  Sure he has to Make A Statement but there are more effective ways.  Though the filmmakers wisely chose to omit Silva tracking Bond towards the end they still had the Hollywood idea (even if this is technically a British film) that hackers can do anything, even blowing up MI6 offices in some way that makes no sense at all.  The revelation that Silva was formerly with MI6 teases us with the idea of a much more interesting film: 007 vs 006.

It’s odd that the film shares a major plot device with The Avengers where the bad guy engineers his own capture and is then held in a completely transparent cell while being visited by the chief spymaster.  Considering production time there’s no way the Skyfall writers could have seen The Avengers in time but it’s hard not to wonder if they’d read the script, whether this was just a coincidence or if they were both inspired by something else that escapes my memory.

But Skyfall mostly runs on these ramshackle ideas much like the series always has.  I suppose the point of Bond’s fake death at the opening is to establish that he’s burned out because another agent was killed or because he’s after a MacGuffin or because uh just because.  You have to wonder why a fabulously wealthy crook would want a dusty, dirty deserted island – at least previous Bond villains hired enough henchmen to clean up a bit.  (Not to mention that a faked disaster that sends everybody off the island will attract vastly more attention not less.)  Why is Bond given a 1950s-style tracker that he has to turn on?  This is the 21st century so it would make more sense to give him a permanent subcutaneous device.  We’re asked to believe that Bond of all people will store his old car but has not a single emergency pouch of weapons and supplies anywhere.  After all he didn’t just walk out of that river at the beginning of the film and then swim over to the tropical island.  If Silva is such a threat why send just one agent, especially one of dubious ability. 

And is this the place to point out that 2012 is a bit late in the day to continue the long tradition of Bond misogyny?  Of the three main women characters one is killed as a game, one is killed after being hunted (during which she says she’s bad at shooting just like any damsel) and one is literally sent to be a secretary.  Bloody hell.  Even the doctor is so overwhelmed by Bond’s manliness that she abandons various professional responsibilities and legal duties to give him information.

I suspect that the idea behind Skyfall is that it would be the fall and redemption of a “hero” (since Bond always seems to me like a mercenary who just happens to be working for the good guys).  Something along the lines of Frank Miller’s Daredevil: Born Again though with less color.  Or maybe that never entered anybody’s head.  In any case the script is too episodic and Bond far too blank a character (despite Craig being easily the best actual actor to play the role) for the film to be anything more than the usual spy outing.  The Tennyson quote was a nice touch though.