Sunday, November 18, 2012

Movie Review – SkyFall

  Kathy, Ben, our neighbor Don, and I went to see the latest James Bond movie, ‘Skyfall’ last Friday. The Marshalltown theatre we went to see it at wasn’t even a quarter full, yet the movie had the biggest US opening weekend ever for a James Bond film at 88 million dollars.

  The large box office figure can be attributed not only to the record number of screens set aside for the movie but the energy and popularity that the James Bond franchise experienced since Daniel Craig took over the role since the 2006 ‘reboot’ of the franchise.

  Craig took over from Pierce Brosnan in the James Bond role. I thought Brosnan was the best of the replacements for the irreplaceable original film Bond, Sean Connery, but at 53 Brosnan was getting too old to be James Bond. Short, stocky, and blond, Craig looks as different from the archetypical Bond as possible. Aside from looking different, Craig’s James Bond is written as more of an action hero than the previous Bonds.

  The first two movies in the current reboot attempt to show how James Bond becomes James Bond, setting it as his first missions as a ‘00’ agent. While Bond can still do all the action stuff and is able to sleep with any woman he wants to, he falls in love with treasury agent Vesper Lynd who dies in the first movie (Casino Royale) and is avenged in the second (Quantum of Solace). With the exception of the some extraordinary sappiness between Bond and Vesper (‘If the only thing left of you was your smile and your little finger, you'd still be more of a man than anyone I've ever known.’), the movies were action packed from start to finish. They were box office hits and that made the four year wait for the third movie inexplicable. The given reason for the delay was the financial problems of the MGM studios, the current owner of the franchise, but if a company is having financial problems, why wouldn’t it pour whatever resources it had into a sure moneymaker?

  Skyfall starts off with a great chase scene which ends up with Bond having an epic battle on a train ending when he gets shot by friendly fire, falls into a river, and is presumed dead. Bond spends an undetermined period of time incognito, using his supposed death to retire, but he comes back after the MI6 headquarters is bombed. Bond returns as a much older agent who is shell of himself. He can’t pass the physical and psychological tests required to get back to active duty but he is restored by ‘M’ anyway because she is under government fire because of the MI6 bombing and needs an agent she can trust.

  Bond travels to Shanghai and has a battle atop a skyscraper and eventually meets the movie’s villain, Raoul Silva. Silva is a former MI6 agent who, like Bond, was an ‘M’ protégé but has turned evil. He has mad computer skills, having hacked into M’s computer and also decrypted a secret file of all MI6 agents embedded in terrorist organizations, whose names he is releasing. Bond allows Silva to capture him and take him to his deserted island hideaway, but then outsmarts him by summoning a helicopter using a radio device given to him by the newly introduced ‘Q’.

  Unfortunately, Silva has outsmarted Bond and only allowed himself to be captured so he could be brought to the MI6 headquarters in London and have his computer examined. His computer hacks into the MI6 system, Silva escapes and proceeds with the next part of his plan, the assassination of ‘M’. Bond foils the plot and realizing his technological inferiority to Silva, takes ‘M’ to his family estate in a desolated part of England where he defeats Silva and his small army of mercenaries (and an assault helicopter) with a couple of guns and some household supplies. England is saved, Bond is proven to be back at the top of his game, and the movie ends much as the first James Bond movie begins, with Bond in ‘M’’s office getting his next assignment with Moneypenny waiting outside.

  Skyfall is smashing worldwide box office records for a Bond film and is even being touted as a potential Oscar winner. I didn’t think it was anything more than a workmanlike Bond film. I was disappointed that the movie had to be interrupted by filling in background on Bond’s past (Bond was an orphan; Bond’s family had an ancestral home; etc…). I understand that the ‘reboot’ aspect required some of this filler in the first film, but three movies into the current incarnation seemed a bit much. I imagine that the Bond enthusiasts were thrilled to see glimpses of the ‘inner Bond’ but I’m much more interested in action, thank you.

  The film was entertaining enough but except for the opening action scene, it seemed like a rip-off of other films. The final fight was more like something out of a Steven Segal movie or an episode of MacGyver than a James Bond film. Javier Barden gives a fine performance as the rouge psychopathic agent Silva. The character’s general disregard for human life (as evidenced by his callous murder of the lady companion that allows herself to be seduced by Bond and his attempt to have ‘M’ kill herself and him at the same time instead of just shooting her himself) and psychotic demeanor reminded me a lot of the Joker in the Batman movie ‘The Dark Knight’. Even some of Silva’s battle plans are similar to the Joker’s. Silva lets himself be captured by MI6 so he can attack from within just like the Joker allows himself to get captured by the NYPD so he can blow up the police station from the inside. Even the entire scenario of Bond retiring after his supposed death and then making a physically and mentally unprepared comeback is reminiscent of ‘The Dark Knight Rises’.

  I thought Skyfall was entertaining but nothing close to being the best Bond movie ever made and I’d put it in third place among the Daniel Craig James Bond movies. I was wondering why it took four years to make this movie and I think the reason wasn’t because of MGM’s financial problems, but rather to get a little distance between it and the Batman movie it copied so much from.