Skyfall ★★★½

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

”They left the island so quickly, they couldn't decide what to take, what to leave, what was important. And seeing this every day reminds me to focus on the essentials.”

One only wishes the new custodians of the Bond franchise would have lived on this abandoned island like the fun cyberterrorist villain Raoul Silva. They might have learned the same lesson and kept focused on essentials like the astounding cold open train sequence, and away from an irrelevant and highly unoriginal backstory for James Bond.

Skyfall is littered with award-winning talent behind the camera, most notably Roger Deakins, possibly the best cinematographer of his generation. It is the first Bond movie that has the highest degree of technical skill of all movies made the year it was released, period. After the worst action in the entire series with Quantum of Solace they whip themselves back into shape and bring the visual beauty of the action to a level not seen in the franchise before or since.

Adele, well she wins her Oscar for Skyfall - sometimes when the movie theme plays, because it is so mediocre, I wish the cold open could end with the movie just starting, but Adele’s song is the perfect moody segue into what promises to be a great story beginning with hurting Bond floating helplessly to the bottom of a body of water. Until Sam Mendes and the writers apparently watched the Nolan Batman movies, and then a funny thing happened…

This is a The Man with the Golden Gun situation. Whereas the kung fu craze was inspired by James Bond movies and then the actual James Bond movie ended up being inspired by it, Nolan made the Batman series influenced by James Bond, and then the real James Bond franchise ran with plot elements from all three of Nolan’s movies - Bond faking his own death and living in a faraway place (Batman Begins), Bond flying off to China to uncover part of the villains plot in a skyscraper scenario (The Dark Knight), sniper targeting an unclear shot through a window (The Dark Knight), MI6 being destroyed and the agents forced to do business out a subterranean facility (a CAVE if you will, only this one has rats instead of bats, one letter difference you see), the villain uses a train as a weapon (Batman Begins), the villain intentionally gets captured as part of his master plan (The Dark Knight), the villain wears a police uniform as part of a disguise to escape (The Dark Knight), the villain has facial deformities (one explanation this time, but The Dark Knight), Bond is older and too beat-up for the mission (The Dark Knight Rises), Bond is an orphan of well-to-do parents (all of them), he has a groundskeeper minding the old mansion instead of a butler (in a pun, groundbreaking), the mansion is burned down by the villains (Batman Begins), the villain holds a gun to his own head and to the head of his creator (The Dark Knight). There are many more examples I’m sure, but why be mean about it? Is it really a problem, particularly when past Bonds were never shy of stealing from themselves or others?

When it gets to Bond’s backstory, yes. I hate it more than anything in any Bond movie. It takes a character with a long mystery to his name and then explains with, “Actually he’s Batman because that’s popular right this second. Enjoy!” This is why I cannot get fully behind Craig’s Bond that explains rather than leaves it as a mystery - with the series too tempted to lift plot elements and action ideas from other movies, it becomes a terrible mistake to do that with Bond’s history. Because as weird as I thought Bond having a wife was in On Her Majesty's Secret Service, they do not pretend like it never happened in the movies that follow - and because not too much was elaborated on with it, they could make it its own fun mystery that would gently pop in here and there.

But this is too much, and now three unsatisfying directions exist - carry Batman Bond forever, pretend it never happened, or spend a movie retconning it in some clumsy ass way, and if you kept his family history as a tantalizing mystery, you don’t have to stumble along with this Nolan-era baggage. I get why people want answers, but sometimes I feel like Craig Bond defenders don’t get how the answers don’t provide as much as they take away. There is a sensuality to the Bond myth that is lost when you see the family tombstones. This is a spy revealing too many of his secrets. When past Bond movies started, you wonder how he got away from the women he slept with at the end of the last one - this one blabs on and on and on about himself, the women can’t wait to run away. Even an old horny widow like M sees a Bond in her flat with an ass that looks like two deliciously plump turkeys all wrapped in his Bond attire and tells him, “You can’t sleep here tonight. Get the fuck out of here.”

But I guess Raoul Silva wants to get with that, so…overdue for a male Bond villain to have the hots for him, as fruity as they tend to be? I like Craig’s bemused reaction to it, too. Not so much him saying, “You don’t know if I have the gay or not!” If he’s going to say that, he should stop teasing and seduce Raoul Silva - I'm fine with sexuality not being a mystery. No lie, I would love a James Bond film directed by John Waters - how glorious a return to Camp Bond would that be?

This movie looks great. The actors in it are great. But goddamn the story. They should have left it on the island.

And for some reason, even though this one takes the time to explain that Bond doesn't have it physically any more, we have two more Craig Bonds to go. The next one without Deakins, and we will see how the lack of his expert eye makes the frailties of this interpretation of Bond more or less clear...

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