This movie is boring. But don’t let me spoil it for you. We have to talk about Casino Royale first.
Very briefly, Daniel Craig’s premiere go at the franchise was a blockbuster success. It eschewed the high-tech gadgetry of earlier Eon films for a leaner, meaner Bond. Craig was acclaimed the best in the role since Connery and the franchise at the dawn of a new Golden Age.
Then we talk about the sequel. Quantum of Solace was not a terribly sensible film, and Daniel Craig acknowledged that in interviews after MGM’s dissolution. The first script was written prior to the writer’s strike and a second draft could not be completed. So the film went into production, and fans of Casino were generally dissatisfied.
Four years later, we have Skyfall, a film that takes you by the shoulders and vigorously shakes you, and asks you what you liked about these movies in the first place. Are you seeing other franchises? It can change. Or maybe it can’t. “Old ways are sometimes the best ways” after all, as the film repeats every 30 minutes. It’s indicative that the phrase is coy about its own relevance. It’s sort of like a theme, and sort of like an excuse for something the movie is about to do to you.
The plot nominally concerns a list of secret NATO operatives working undercover in terrorist organizations across the world. It is stolen by a man with a vendetta against M (Judi Dench), the head of Brtain’s MI6. During an attempt to retrieve the list, Bond is shot by his field partner (the charmless Naomie Harris), as he fights a terrorist on top of a moving train on a bridge over a river (this is a Bond movie so I don’t think I need to clarify just what Bond is doing fighting a terrorist on top of a moving train on a bridge over a river – they’re in Turkey though, if you’re curious). Bond is presumed dead, the list gets published on YouTube, and secret agents are killed. Bond takes a few months to hang out in some sort of limbo – maybe the island from Lost, it’s never totally clear where that river led (I’m assuming The Source). But after MI6 headquarters are bombed, he journeys back to London where Bruce Wayne has set up a temporary base under the city. I mean MI6.
When Bruce Wayne travels to Hong Kong (sorry) –
When Joseph Gordon Levitt travels to Shanghai (sorry) –
When James Bond travels to Shanghai to track down the terrorist, he is hung over and hooked on pain medication and suffering some mild Uranium poisoning. This third Craig Bond goes a little further in exploring the truth of our semi-heroic secret agent. Namely, that he is lonely, that he is too old for this job, that he is lonely, that he is too old for this job, and he’s too old for this job.
If you didn’t question the wisdom of sending one extremely aggressive alcoholic around the world in search of somebody to punch in the face, Skyfall will question that wisdom in every scene it can. Rather than answers, it provides more punches in the face. Because sometimes the old ways are namu amida butsu.
There are aspects to Skyfall that are so juvenile the film becomes insulting to its audience, and this goes beyond a scene where a man is attacked and eaten by a giant cartoon Komodo Dragon. After 50 years, Bond’s sexual prowess (or predation, addiction, obsession – the film, and the entire Craig run, come to think of it, never quite makes up its mind) is rote, so when we see Bond for the first time after he is shot and washed down the river, he is having sex with a beautiful woman. In Turkey? Armenia? The woman is dark haired and listless looking and appears in one more scene to stroke Bond’s scarred chest while the two stare off into the distance and Bond drinks a beer. Then Bond goes to a bar on the beach and drinks some more with a scorpion on his hand. Because Bond is a risk taker. Later in the film, Bond sneaks into the shower of a woman whom Bond has accused of being sold into sexual slavery as a thirteen-year-old and has his way with her. Presumably without a condom. Risky indeed.
The relationships in this world are stilted, at best. I say “this world” because there is a pervading sense that Bond inhabits an alternate universe where cynicism has reached a religious apogee. Quips come to us like Zen koans.
There is a limit to how much cleverness can exist in our universe. No character in Skyfall is ever ruffled, upset, irritated, bemused, horrified, scared, or impressed. Everyone reacts to the terrorism and murder around them with the exact same stock jibes and sarcasm. Most everyone in the film is a member of MI6, so perhaps it’s part of the training regimen.
After 50 years, this franchise is so self-conscious about its conventions that it cannot enjoy them without a smirk at the audience. Every actor with a speaking role is visibly engaged in a wrestling match with the tone of this film. There is nothing here resembling a familiar chat, just a constant stream of dour people one-upping each other. Skyfall‘s world is so nihilistic no one is prepared to have a civil conversation.
Director Sam Mendes missed a golden opportunity to stage the first post-modern Bond by making the film just two people reading the script’s dialogue back and forth to each other over a desk. It would have been an instant comedy classic. But to dress a man up in a tuxedo and send him to exotic locales to spout this gibberish is absurd. Grown-ups do not talk this way.
The only one having any fun is the villain, played by Javier Bardem. The man invigorates the film with a gleeful evil, and I gradually realized he was entertaining to watch because he was the only person in the movie who actually felt good about what he was doing. The terrorist. Think about that.
No exploding pen for you, Mr. Bond.
Directed by Sam Mendes
MGM & Columbia Pictures
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