This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
Tentin Quarantino ☭’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
Somehow, Skyfall represents both the nadir and the zenith of the Bond film series.
I'll start with the high. It's a pretty decent movie. Fairly exciting. Didn't feel as long as it is, and didn't feel dated as the Brosnan Bonds already do. The acting is very strong, especially from Javier Bardem. And the Bond girl is smokin' hot. Loved the music, and not just the traditional Bond theme. The cinematography is well above average, though I would expect nothing less from perhaps the greatest living DP not named Emmanuel Lubezki. These are mostly all traits not found in the pre-Craig Bond films, and they are traits welcomed to the series.
Now, for the low. It's a pretty stupid movie. It's not nearly as clever in any way as any other Bond film, which made the stale and uninspired action feel stale and uninspired. Bond films traditionally open with an action scene or stunt that raises the bar as something the next films must live up to, but what do we have here? Quick, generic car chase, followed by quick generic bike chase, followed by quick generic train scene taken from 7,829 other films, and that's it? Sure, the CAT part was cool, but it's not a stunt, and it's not the kind of action you want to open your spy thriller with. Tearing the rear end off a moving train with a backhoe and crushing half a dozen cars doesn't exactly spell espionage, does it? The whole sequence was drawn out, over-indulgent, and failed to raise any bars at all (though it did cram in the duck-just-before-train-goes-into-tunnel cliche, solidifying its place among the Top 10 worst movie tropes in history). Where are the cool stunts?
This seems like a strange complaint, but it actually signifies one of the film's biggest flaws. The action wasn't technically "bad", but it's not how you open a James Bond film. It's how you open a standard, generic, garden-variety, everyday action film. Right from the very first scene, you know something is amiss. It doesn't feel like a Bond film. It feels like every other action film. This is a chronic issue that plagues the entirety of the movie.
What makes a Bond film a Bond film? Is it simply the main character named James Bond? There's gotta be more to it than that...but that's pretty much all this movie has to keep it a part of the series. And they don't even get James Bond right. Here's another question: what makes people like him as a character? It's his class, his wit, his charm, his status as someone every guy wants to be. Look at him in this film. Who wants to be that guy? He's old, incapable, can't do anything cool, doesn't say anything clever, he's sad all the time...why the hell would I want to be like that? I don't. I want to be the confident and able suave charmer who drinks not because he's morose, does awesome stunts, is always slick, and always finds a way to come out on top. James Bond in this movie does none of those things.
James Bond is supposed to be a super spy, but at what point in this movie does he demonstrate any skills that set him apart from any other random action thriller hero? The most espionage we get is him tailing the guy in China in the least-creative way possible. That's it. Apart from that, he's no different than Jason Bourne or the woman from Salt, or any other action thriller hero you can name. This film strips Bond of everything that defines his character and turns him into just another action thriller hero.
If you're going to develop the character, go forward, not backward. James Bond is essentially just a name, now. He doesn't even use gadgets, unless you count the radio transmitter that's - for some unknown reason - twice the size of the one he used in 1960. Growing the character doesn't mean stripping him of every defining characteristic so he can more closely resemble everyone and everything else in movies today. That's not evolution; it's regression.
James Bond movies should be about escapism. He should be a character I want to be. You can accomplish that in a modern action film without it being corny or silly, so that's not the issue. The issue is that this movie insists on being like every other action thriller from the past 10 years. It practically goes out of its way to avoid being a Bond movie. They didn't play the main theme music until 65% of the movie was over. They even used a made-up title instead of one from Fleming's work. There aren't many left to choose from, but they could easily fit the bill. Property of a Lady, for instance, has a whole hell of a lot more to do with the actual story than Skyfall.
Here's the deal...if I wanted this kind of film, I'd just watch The Bourne Identity, or Salt, or something else. There are plenty to choose from. Why follow the trend and purposely become generic instead of standing out from the crowd and becoming something special? I can get this kind of character and action from other films, but where can I get James Bond today? Not even in this alleged James Bond movie. I would hesitate to even call this a spy film and a Bond film. For all those reasons and more. But that's not all that's wrong with it.
The movie starts with the hero (if the movie wants me to see him as a generic action thriller hero instead of Bond, I'll play along) chasing a bad guy who has stolen the NOC list from Mission: Impossible. Right from the start, the stakes are low, and they only get lower. The world is not in danger, as it would be in a Bond film. The guy supposed to be James Bond is not even in danger from this hard drive falling into enemy hands. What happens if the bad guys get Mission: Impossible's NOC list? A handful of strangers we've never seen before get killed off-screen. Yeah, that's about it. That's what this movie is about.
A gargantuan chunk of the story deals with the idea that Daniel Craig is too old and out of date. The movie hammers us over the head with this idea in scene after scene after scene after scene after scene after scene after scene, all with the subtlety of a demolition hammer. We get it. It literally could not be more blatant. Even if you fell asleep for any 40 minute period of this film, you would still understand the point they were going for. Avatar was more subtle in its message.
If the film-makers wanted to develop the James Bond character in some way, this is actually a good issue to explore, in spite of being a wholly anti-Bond idea (for reasons stated above). What I don't understand is why they chose this movie for it. It's only Craig's third outing as the character. The first did a fair job of making him into the character, as his "Bond. James Bond" line at the end clearly demonstrated. QOS (read: POS) was pretty much his only real chance to do anything as the character for a full movie, and that movie was less pleasant than snorting liquid heroin off a Philadelphia alley. Then all of a sudden, he's old? What's he going to be 3 movies from now? 2 from now? What about the next one? I don't understand the reason for telling this story in this movie. It feels like they skipped a few movies - movies I wanted to see. I want to see James Bond *be* James Bond, and I want to see Daniel Craig playing him. He does a great job - when afforded the opportunity.
All of this may seem trivial since this movie actually does function as a somewhat decent generic action thriller, so why am I being so hard on this point? Because Bond films were traditionally given certain liberties when it came to actually telling a story. No matter how preposterous they got, nobody said anything. They only shrugged as accepted that this is the kind of popcorn entertainment that these films provide. But when your movie ceases to be a Bond film and instead wants to be taken as serious as a child's funeral, it's essentially opening itself up to any criticisms and evaluations as every other action thriller that presents itself as something more than simple popcorn fun.
That said, if the movie gave in to actually being a Bond film, I'd be a little less hard on it, because the storytelling is not good. However, since this doesn't want to be a Bond film, I'll call it like it is.
The first half of this movie is actually very good, for your run of the mill action thriller. However, things take a pretty drastic turn midway through...and I don't know if it's for better or for worse. The villain is introduced when half of the movie is already over - not a good sign. However, his introduction is one of the finest character intros I have seen since Captain Jack Sparrow in the first Pirates film. It's the best directed and best acted scene in the movie, without question. Even the build-up of meeting him is intriguing, and the scene after the intro is even better. The setting, ambient music, old-school pistols...everything about that scene is fantastic.
Sadly, this high point of the movie meets an abrupt end when the Bond girl is killed off in what felt like an unnecessarily cruel and disappointing fashion, because with her, the movie died, too. Everything from here on out is on the downward slope. Even the very next scene is an entirely inappropriate light-hearted moment. Talk about switching gears. That was just bizarre.
Because of this movie's insistence on being like every other popular action thriller out there now instead of being its own entity, the villain, as it turns out, wanted to be captured, seemingly because the same preposterous nonsense happened in The Dark Knight AND in The Avengers. Again...where is the creativity? This movie is void of it.
The villain's plan is by far the dumbest thing I have seen in a movie since my brain last shut itself off while watching the last dumbest thing in saw in a movie, thus not allowing me to remember the last dumbest thing I saw in a movie. I'm guessing an uncredited 6 year-old did a pass on this script, because the scheme makes no god damn sense at all.
Here is the villain's plan: have Bond trace the random bullet fragments in his shoulder to a hitman in Shanghai, find the casino chip the guy is carrying with him on a hit for whatever reason, get to the casino at the same time Severine is there and have them meet, then have her tell Bond where he (bad guy) is and hope Bond follows her there. Then, instead of giving himself up to get captured, he'll surround himself with armed guards, leave Bond unarmed, and hope that Bond will subdue the numerous henchmen with automatic weapons and then call in seven helicopters to take him to the MI6 holding cell. Once inside the cell, he'll count on a hope and a prayer that they took only one of his computers, and that it's the one he has the virus on which will infect the system and ultimately unlock his cell door. Then he'll wait for the computer super-genius to plug that sole laptop into MI6's computer network for no reason whatsoever, thus allowing the virus to corrupt the system. Once he is free from the cell, he will then travel to a nearby subway tunnel where two cohorts will be waiting for him with a police disguise, despite not being in communication with them at any point and not knowing if or when he will ever free himself from the cell to meet with them within the next several months. His cohorts will not give him a gun at this time to shoot Bond, because he already rigged a random underground location with explosives which nobody has found that he will then lead Bond to without being captured or delayed along the way, just in time to trigger an explosion that will cause a subway train, which will also not be delayed, to fall on top of Bond within 5 seconds. From there, he will travel to court, because M's trial will be held at the same time, march in with limited ammunition and only two of his several dozen loyal followers, barge into the hearing room as loudly as possible to alert everyone that something is wrong, and engage in a large shootout with the many other armed men and women in the room at that time...and that's how he will kill M.
Uh...any idea why that didn't work?
This guy is legitimately confused why he failed. Maybe because you picked the most convoluted and downright impossible method to execute your master plan? Name one dumber thing this guy could have done. That whole sequence and idea is so god damn ridiculous and illogical, I bet Chris Nolan masturbates to it.
They didn't even bother to think of a clever way of getting the villain to escape. Instead, he hacked them. Computers did it. Yawn. Someone needs to drop a damn moratorium on computer hacking in movies, because it's never presented in an interesting or engaging way. Here, Silva magically knows everything that will happen, and has the perfect counter. It's stupid and boring. It's like playing Rock, Paper, Scissors...you throw out rock, your opponent hacks into your rock and blows it up. You lose. It's not entertaining when there are no limits. But I'm just glad to know that anything at all can still be accomplished with a computer in movies simply by typing fast. Glad that 25 year-old idea is still in effect. Way to keep up that cliche, Hollywood.
Getting back to Silva...if he wanted M dead, why not just wait for her to be in her office earlier on and blow it up then? If he wanted to punish and torment her a bit more, why even go through the trouble of getting caught in the first place? He didn't gain anything by doing that. Just sneak off your island with a few more baddies, grab your little police get-up, and head to the hearing without Bond on your tail. Not one single part of his plan makes any sense at all. Literally none at all. It's insulting to anyone with even the slightest morsel of intelligence and common sense.
But since it happened the way it happened, Bond is there to rescue M and drive her off the grid to where Silva can't find her. So what does Q, the smartest guy in the movie, do? He leads Silva right to her. Intentionally!
This begs the question...why the fuck would he do that? What does any MI6 operative gain from this course of action? Nothing. It's almost as dumb as Silva's plan - almost. Why not just lead Silva somewhere else? Send him in the opposite direction, perhaps somewhere where he can't fly in with his armored helicopter, somewhere where MI6 could have the advantage, ambush him, and put an end to this right now. However, everyone seems to believe it's a better idea to have the villain and his army of loyal followers take on the frail old woman with only the assistance of a frail old man and an aging field agent who didn't even pass his physical, out in the middle of nowhere with limited resources, worthless defenses, and no contingency plan. The INTELLIGENCE agency thinks that's a great idea.
On a side note, I'm really getting sick of all these new-age movies where the bad guy has legions of the most faithful followers who will obey his every command, even if that command is to storm into a government-controlled building to commit mass murder. This is the kind of thing you see in Saturday morning cartoons from the 1980s. It's dumb, it's childish, it's played-out, it's not what I want to see in a professional, $200,000,000 movie. Think of something better - that part is free!
But this movie is just absolutely devoid of creativity or cleverness. It's so by-the-books that it makes it hard to believe so many people were truly wowed by it. It feels like a big joke. If that's a reflection of the state of the cinema audience of today, that's just pathetic. It seems people don't care what you give them; they only care about the presentation. You can do the dumbest and most ordinary stuff in a movie, but if it's given to the audience with flash and style and faux-realism, they're okay. As long as everything is on the surface and plainly seen and understood, people are happy. Well, most people. Sadly. Maybe they just need to watch more movies.
The climax lasts about 35 minutes, it seems. And it, too, has nothing special or creative to justify its length. It does what it does fairly well, but what it does is fucking ordinary. Maybe apart from the helicopter crashing into the mansion; that was cool, as was the following explosion. But otherwise...there's nothing here that I can't already find in another movie. The only guy who seems to have used his brain for thought during this entire sequence is Roger Deakins, because it looks fantastic.
By the way, what ever happened to the hard drive that everyone was in such a hurry to retrieve earlier? Did they ever get that?
Seems like a pretty important plot point to just throw away. Surely they didn't expect us to not notice that. The movie shifts its focus half-way through and totally abandons the very concept of the plot up to that point in favor of even lower stakes by turning it into a simple revenge story. Again, not what a Bond movie would do. And I don't even know why I'm supposed to care if M dies or not. Her cranky, masculine persona wasn't exactly endearing, and we knew very little about her. I don't know why this movie chose that as the thing we're supposed to worry about and hope doesn't happen. She's perhaps the worst leader of all time, especially Judy Dench's M.
Look what she accomplished:
Goldeneye - 006 turns out to be a traitor.
The World is Not Enough - fails to kill Russian terrorist, gets MI6 bombed, then gets captured by the woman she trusted.
Die Another Day - agent she assigns to help Bond turns out to be a traitor.
Casino Royale - accountant she assigns to help Bond turns out to be a traitor.
Quantum of Solace - her own bodyguard turns out to be a traitor.
Skyfall - gets MI6 bombed again, gets numerous agents killed, then dies.
Not the best track record.
In the end, I didn't care one way or another. I stopped caring once Severine was offed, because she was really the only thing that made this feel like a Bond movie. Everything else was tired, worn, and unoriginal. Once she died, the movie died. Bring in a superhacker villain? Because that hasn't been done to death.
I also hated how the movie kept bludgeoning us with questions about whether Bond was a thing of the past. It was less subtle than Sesame Street, and a pretty pointless question to even ask in the first place. I mentioned before how the idea of Bond getting older can work if executed correctly instead of how it was here, but to practically break the fourth wall by alluding to the entire film series being out of date felt totally wrong. One way you counter this is to simply make a good Bond movie. Hell, everybody loved Casino Royale and seemed on board with Craig's no-nonsense portrayal, so the question was already answered. You don't base an entire film on addressing that question. Because by doing that, you're giving weight to the idea of Bond being irrelevant.
And that's what Skyfall did: it made Craig's Bond irrelevant by admitting that Craig isn't Bond unless he has his Walther PPK and Aston Martin with an ejector seat and machine guns, a scene with Q, some banter with Moneypenny, a meeting with M in a padded 60s-style office, etc. And what's with M giving Bond a FOLDER marked Top Secret? Is this 1944? This movie just missed the point entirely. Bond is still Bond, but the world has changed. But Skyfall essentially puts Bond back in the 60s and turns the whole thing into a nostalgic farce.
If you want to make a Bond movie, make a Bond movie. Don't make a standard action thriller and shoehorn in a character named James Bond who scarcely behaves how James Bond would. It seems almost a certainty that the film-makers were literally afraid to make an actual Bond movie. The movie's plot itself questions whether or not Bond is still relevant. They borrowed the modern, gloomy, pseudo-realism from the Bourne films, swiped ideas for the villain from The Avengers and (especially) The Dark Knight, stole numerous things from various Mission: Impossible films (lead male hero talking covertly during well-dressed formal gathering via tiny earpiece to very sexy black female sidekick ring a bell?), then threw Bond's car, Bond's gun, Bond's boss, Bond's theme music, and Bond's name into the most unimaginative action thriller script floating around the Hollywood waste barrel, expecting to come away with a Bond film.
Sorry, but there's a lot more to it than that.
I know I harped quite a lot on the negative points of this movie, but I was truthfully entertained by most of it. Not all. The first half is very good. The second half is dog shit. Therefore, my rating will fall directly in the center of the scale on 2.5 out of 5 stars.
Concerning what I mentioned at the top, this is a high point in the Bond film series because the movie is quite a bit better than most Bond films, it's fun - if you don't use your brain for thought, it looks outstanding, and it tried to do something different with the character, even though it can't necessarily be considered a success. This is also a low point in the Bond film series because this is not even a Bond movie. It's just a stupid, normal, routine, stock, typical, familiar, common action thriller with a lead character who happens to be named James Bond, carries James Bond's gun, and drive's James Bond's car. That's it.