Friday, November 9, 2012

A Huge Downer: Skyfall

This review originally appeared on the San Francisco Appeal.

I have a complicated relationship with the James Bond movies. For me, no Bond will ever top Sean Connery, as I prefer a suave Bond over a Bourne Bond, and there's no one suaver than Sean. I also have an intense love of the era those first Bonds were set in. But I've realized those two things are, really, the only things I really like about the James Bond franchise, and even taking that into account, I've never wanted to watch a James Bond movie more than once.

When you get down to it, they're always very long, and...kinda boring. There are no real surprises. He's never going to die, not really. So right there, the stakes are pretty low. And all the films tend to follow the same plot outlines: Opening sequence; introduction of Villain; introduction of Bond Girl; sex; fighting; defeat of bad guy; ironic ending.

Skyfall is an attempt to raise those low stakes, by bringing "depth" to Bond, and putting a much-loved character at the center of danger.

It begins with the requisite action sequence. Bond is chasing a bad guy who has stolen a top secret list of the identities of hundreds of undercover agents. The chase eventually finds them on the top of train, with Bond manning a bulldozer as a weapon. (Yes, ON the train.) The scene ends, with Bond OMG MAYBE DEAD (he's not dead), and gives way to one of the better post-Connery credit sequences. (And I'd put Adele's theme song up there in the top five of Bond songs. For those who say it sounds too much like other Bond songs, all I can say is: Exactly.)

The crucial list is lost, and eventually the owner threatens to expose the identifies of undercover operatives around the world. He also seems to have a personal vendetta against the head of M16, M herself, (Judi Dench, back for more), and after an explosion rocks M16 headquarters, M's future in the agency, and the very existence of the agency itself, comes into question.

Bond, having come back from the dead, (this isn't a spoiler; it's a JAMES BOND movie), is assigned to the case, even though his abilities aren't exactly up to par after months on a bender consisting of women, scorpions, and Heineken. He's tired, physically and mentally, and this close to muttering "I'm too old for this shit."

Javier Bardem is the villain, Silva, a bleached blond computer wiz, who is also an ex-spy who used to work under M, and he's pretty sure she betrayed him. (It's very telling how everyone refers to her as "M'am," but it comes out sounding like "Mum.")

The best Bond villains are the most ridiculous ones, and Javier Bardem knows this. His Silva is so over-the-top, the only thing missing is a white cat and a moat filled with sharks.

There's no doubt the Daniel Craig Bond movies have been a shot in the arm for the franchise. And I understand this was a necessity to bring the series to the 21st century; Craig's Bond is the toughest, most badass of the Bonds.

But I still miss the Bond of yore. For Connery's Bond, charisma was his weapon of choice, and when he was able to shoot the bad guy, or get out of a jam, it was almost an afterthought. Craig's Bond is pure wiry, sweaty, vein-popping, fighting machine; when he's trying to lay on the charm, that feels like an afterthought.

So, I suppose one's Bond preference boils down to one's preference for watching ass-kicking, or martini-swilling. But even with all that aside, even if Sean Connery was magically transformed into his 1960s self again, and back to play this Bond, I would still have some major issues with Skyfall's plot, and the treatment of some of its characters. To discuss would be a major spoiler, so I'll just say, something happens in it that makes everything that happens before that event, completely pointless.

Also, the movie is 143 minutes long. That's too many minutes! For every stunningly-shot fight sequence, (and director Sam Mendes and cinematographer Roger Deakins provide some beauts, including a breathtaking scene in a Shanghai skyscraper lit by neon signs), there's an equally dull scene of Bond sadly walking down a beach, or struggling to catch his breath. Plus, there's only one real Bond girl--Severine, beautifully played by Bérénice Marlohe--and she disappears much too soon.

Even with the appearance of a beloved icon from the original films, the addition of some witticisms from Bond, and a fight that happens in a Komodo dragon pit, this Bond is a huge downer. Some may prefer the realism of this incarnation. But I'll take gun fights in tuxedos, women with ridiculous names, and Sean Connery's Scottish lisp over it any day.

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