The good, the bad, and the Bond: Re-evaluating 007 – Skyfall

AND SO we come to the last hurrah of The Good, The Bad, and the Bond. We want to thank you for sticking with us through the good times and Moonraker. We hope that you’ve all enjoyed what has been quite the journey over the best part of half a year. Luckily, we get to go out on a bang with Bond taking on Javier Bardem as definitely-not-Julian Assange as Joe and John take on Skyfall!

Jozef Raczka: James Bond always comes in ebbs and flows. For Ying, there has to be a Yang, for every negative there has to be a positive, for every Quantum of Solace, there comes a Skyfall. When Craig burst onto our screens, he brought us a new Bond, one more violent and vulnerable than any (except perhaps Dalton) that had come before. So of course Quantum took the cool, muted tone of Royale and gave us a dour tale forgetting that ‘serious’ doesn’t mean ‘dreary and humourless’. Sure, he’s never been comfortable with a quip, but then that’s not been him, he’s not a joker (he’s not a clown either, Octopussy); he’s a thug that someone thought it would be a good idea to give him the country’s backing for his crusades. In short, he’s not exactly the most reliable source of sanity. So what happens when we finally see him break?

Skyfall is on the surface, another fest of gunfights, car-chases and explosions (all beautifully photographed by the inimitable Roger Deakins) but, underneath, it’s about the franchise itself. It’s questioning whether Bond has gotten too old, too much of a loose cannon to properly function. Just pay attention to the word association in Bond’s interrogation: from his connection to Dench’s M (“bitch”) through to employment (“murder”), he is a self-aware object of an outdated form of espionage. We are long past the Cold War, but Bond’s methods haven’t changed since the 60s. He’s a wounded  soldier (literally after that thrilling opening chase scene) and he’s in an age where a YouTube video can reveal the name of every agent MI6 has in the field within seconds.

For such a personal Bond story, it’s only right that Silva, as played with a magnetic brilliance by Javier Bardem, has a link to M and, as a result, Bond. When we meet Silva, he has a speech about rats on his grandmother’s island that is not even subtle about how it’s not about the rats but the two men in question. I tend to favour the smaller, more personal Bonds  and this one follows well in those footsteps by focusing inwards. It certainly has its fair share of big moments: a terrorist attack on MI6 HQ, a nail-biting chase through the streets of London, Bond fights a FUCKING KOMODO DRAGON!skyfall-silva-02

But, really, it’s about Skyfall, the childhood home of Bond and the place where he, along with M and Groundskeeper Kincaid (a melancholic and endearing Albert Finney) make their stand in a superb finale. Yes, it seems a tad reminiscent of Home Alone, but through the use of close-quarter combat and improvised booby traps it makes Bond appear to be an intelligent, resourceful spy for the first time in decades.

As much as this is a Bond film, it really is more about M. Dench always played the spymaster general role with a steely gaze and enigmatic turns of phrase, yet she allowed that natural ability to turn a syllable into a soliloquy, her character gaining traction and emotion even when scripts gave her nothing. In the end, she succumbs to a wound; she doesn’t get a grand hero’s death, but the quiet one after the climax, only appropriate for the calm, quiet hand of control.

I’ve still got a lot to say about this film: the great work of the entire cast (including Ralph Fiennes, Ben Whishaw and Helen McRory), Deakins’ cinematography (I could write an extra review about this, check out the lighting on shots below is fantastic), Adele’s opening credits theme which pays homage to previous, admittedly better, themes but can stand on its own like the triumphant joy it is. And yet, the best thing I can do is to take a moment to consider that this is the 24th film in the series and I can’t help but be impressed that the Bond team are able to still find fresh ideas this far along. Sam Mendes, John Logan, Daniel Craig and the crew return tomorrow for SPECTRE. I for one am excited to see how they follow this one up, especially considering even a great Bond film can have an unsatisfactory follow-up. I told you at the beginning: ebbs and flows.

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John Gallagher: I can’t help but feel like I’m missing something. An excitement of sorts that others seem to have around this time of year. I’ve always enjoyed Halloween for the wrong reasons; I never liked the idea of going out or dressing up, but instead found closure in getting home with a shiver in my spine and a cough on my throat, sitting on my couch and watching endless amounts of films. As I strap myself into the couch, I can’t help but think how infuriating I will feel when Spectre is released tomorrow. It’s not that I thought the trailer was bad, or the cast looked awful, it just feels like the one thing I should be excited for this Halloween movie season is going to be incredibly overrated; like its god awful predecessor, Skyfall.

Skyfall is not a movie. Skyfall is a 12 year old child playing with his James Bond action figures. It’s a big budget parody of a Bond film, and the 12 year old child is Sam Mendes. Nothing in this movie made sense, the plot was all over the place, characters were pushed aside for no reason, the plot is sacrificed for the cinematography and action scenes, which to be fair, are nice and incredibly heart racing, but the sacrifice is too great.

We see Bond supposedly die and he is reported killed in action. After the Adele ear bleed, he suddenly appears on a beach watching the news. From watching the news he learns that good ol’ England is in trouble and he feels like he needs to return home. Which he does. That’s pretty much it. He returns and he defeats evil.  It’s funny how quickly Bond decides to return and be an agent again. There are no references to what he’s been doing for so long, what he’s been up to, how he treated the shoulder bullet wound.

It rushes past and throws the audience into more action. These are questions that need answers, otherwise how am I going to sympathise when he fails his exam, or see his character develop throughout the story? It’s infuriating because Bond is still a person. Yes, he’s been on countless missions and survived bizarre villains, but at least give him a bit of human quality. The other Bond films at least gave him emotion when Felix Leiter was maimed, or gave him sympathy when he was cradling Vesper in Casino Royale.

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Speaking of sympathy towards characters, THIS MOVE HAS NONE! The women, for instance, are given no respect at all. Who was the Bond girl in this film? She gives Bond information, Bond sleeps with her and she immediately gets shot in the head. This isn’t good writing, this is taking the idea of the Bond Girl, and making it useless. You’ve got the good looks, the sexy body, the dark past, but does she do anything of importance? Does she move the plot along at all?

M is not given anything either, instead making her a kooky sidekick for Bond’s mischievous Home Alone parody. M used to be the leader of authority, and Dame Judi Dench played her in such an imposing way. She was an excellent M, one for the ages, but here she dies in the most pathetic way, to the most pathetic villain. It’s insulting to the audience.

Javier Bardem is a Spanish treasure, I love his acting, he has an amazing range, and an amazing presence. In Skyfall, he’s a laughing stock. First of all, we’ve seen this ex-MI6 character before, boring. Secondly, his connections to M are interesting but why not build on that? Build a stronger connection, have a twist, have a dark secret, don’t make him the ex-MI6 agent who was betrayed and then leave it like that! Have him as the leader of all the MI6 agents who were betrayed, maybe that could have been the twist. Instead, we have a villain who, in much the same way as Christopher Nolan’s Joker or Joss Whedon’s Loki, gets captured, and it was all a trap. We’ve seen this to death! As for the ending, I have no words. Bond, M, and Santa Claus all fend off Javier Bardem inside Bond’s old house (which we hardly get time to talk about by the way!) using Macaulay Culkin tactics and shotguns… This isn’t James Bond, this is James Bond fan fiction.

One thing I will say that Skyfall did well was the final five minutes. It had a great set up for the next instalment with the introduction of Moneypenny, and M, so perhaps there is hope this Halloween. Let’s just pray I don’t run out of the cinema screaming like when I saw Skyfall.

 

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