SPECTRE

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Skyfall (Spoilers)

Please note: this review is chock full of spoilers. Seriously, we're going deep here, so if you haven't seen the movie yet, well, what the hell are you waiting for? We'll still be here, so get your tush into the theater, and then come back to read this painfully overlong review.

Spoiler-filled review commences after the next 4 pictures of exciting merchandise tie-ins!


Seriously, we're going to ruin the movie for you...


Dudes, don't keep going if you're not serious...


It's almost too late...there's still time to go watch Johnny English or something...


Skyfall.

Or, Meet The New Bond, Same As The Old Bond.

After the disappointment that greeted Quantum Of Solace (which, in fairness, I liked a bit better than most), the declaration of Bond fans was indeed that they wouldn't get fooled again. (Yes, I am jockeying for The Who to do the next Bond theme. Because I want to hear Roger Daltrey belting out The Hildebrandt Rarity. Because I said so). And clearly Eon heard the grumbling, and made use of the extra time from MGM's bankruptcy to get all their ducks in a row, and produce what turned out to be a top-tier Bond movie.

How top-tier? I'm going to go out on a hypothetical limb, and suggest that if Skyfall had just 5 or 6 more lines of dialogue in specific places, and about 1 1/2 more scenes that were needed, I'd be championing this as potentially one of the top 5 Bonds ever.

Alas, that is not the case, and in just a couple of tiny ways the film falls just the teensiest bit shy of that exalted status. Which is not to say that it's not very, very good, because it is very, very good. But when we're at this level, small defects can make a large difference, and in the case of Skyfall, a couple of script problems cause the film to stumble a bit when it should soar.

This is to be (allegedly) the last Bond film involving Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, who've been with the series since The World Is Not Enough. And yes, John Logan also wrote this, and it is of course a fool's errand to try, from my position of ignorance, to parse who is responsible for what.

But, to a large degree, Skyfall reads like a remake of Purvis and Wade's Brosnan scripts. We get liberal doses of The World Is Not Enough: a villain bent on revenge against M blows up MI-6 HQ; the retreat to Scotland; Bond has a shoulder injury that he has to deal with the entire movie. Add in a helping of ideas from Die Another Day: Bond fails in the teaser; Silva's capture by the Chinese sounds an awful lot like Bond's captivity with the North Koreans, except, of course, Bond threw away his cyanide capsule; the new MI-6 HQ in the Underground.

Let me be clear--almost all of these elements are handled better, and often much better, than they were in TWINE and DAD. Yet the faint whiff of deja vu dings it a couple of points, in my estimation, for the lack of originality. Really, someone at Eon should have said before filming began, "wait, didn't we just do some of this a few years ago?"

Still, these elements are fashioned into a pretty strong movie, an overall excellent script that captures a tone and sets up motifs and moods as well as any modern Bond script--except...well, we'll come back to issue as we go along.

Let's start with the teaser. I despair of ever having the gun barrel sequence at the beginning of the film again, as producer Michael Wilson seems too stubborn to admit that they did something silly in QoS for no good reason, so they're just going to keep doing it. Otherwise, we have a solid, action-packed chase through Istanbul and its outskirts. Cars, motorcycles, trains, bridges, construction equipment...the first, and most obvious thing we should take from the teaser is that those who worried that director Sam Mendes couldn't handle action really had nothing to worry about. Sure, he's mainly known from relationship dramas, and self-satisfied attacks on American suburbia--but if you ever saw Jarhead or Road To Perdition, you had to have suspected he had the chops for what Bond demanded. As an added bonus, Mendes was an actual Bond fan, and was excited to do it, and it shows.

Ah, but the teaser also gets us back to the script problems. Consider this--the MacGuffin is a stolen list of all of NATO's agents embedded in terrorist organizations. If it falls into the wrong hands, it could fatally damage anti-terror operations, result in the death of agents, embarrass Britain in front of her allies, bring down M...but I have to ask this very pertinent question: Why the hell was this all-important file doing in the field, where it could be stolen??

Not to do a comparison with other franchises, but in the first Mission Impossible movie, a very similar file was kept only in the bowels of CIA headquarters, inaccessible, and Ethan Hunt's teams had to jump through ridiculous hoops to steal it. But MI-6's file is on a lap-top in a Turkish hotel, where one lone assassin just has to shoot a guy and walk off with it? Does that make any sense whatsoever?

I'm pretty good at bending over backwards to come up with explanations for things that don't seem to make sense in films, but in all honesty, I can't think of a single valid reason for such a sensitive file, encrypted or not, to be out there. And since this is the inciting incident of the whole plot, and since one of the points of the movie is to judge whether or not M cocked it up, we really need some scintilla of an explanation what the hell was going on here. But the script chooses not to share that with us. Clearly it wasn't Ronson gone rogue (or was it?). Was it a plan to draw someone out? Why use the real file, then? Is that data on all MI-6 filed computers? Did Ronson just grab the wrong computer? Why are 007 and Eve there--as back-up? On a mission to get the laptop back when M finds out the data is on it? How does Patrice know about it, and how to find it? We need some explanation, just a sentence or two, anything that even makes half-sense...but the writers didn't bother.

The teaser also points out another "problem" that some have had with the film...a bit of the "Temple Of Doom Syndrome." The second Indiana Jone' movie's opening sequence was so full-throttle, so over-the-top, that all of the other action sequences in the film just didn't measure up--especially when the next one didn't come for 45 minutes. Well, that's is kind of the case here. After the teaser, we don't get another action sequence for 45 minutes. And of all those action sequences, none are as good as what we get in the teaser. And, CGI komodo dragon aside, few of them seem to have the flare, the panache, that we expect from the Bond team--there's nothing that makes one sit-up and say, "I've never seen anything like that before--this could only be a 007 movie!"

Well, I can see the point, and even agree a bit, although in the end I don't think it's a huge detriment to the film. Yes, the pacing is perhaps a bit slack early on--but all the stuff we get is fairly interesting and well done Yes, after the teaser many of the action set pieces don't seem insanely over the top. But I think that's perfectly appropriate for this movie. With the exception of the enquiry scene (where the people dressed as police shooting at actual police does make things hard to follow), all of those action scenes are quite well done. This is, in many ways, a dour film, a film of beginnings and endings, and too much over-the-topness would, I think, hurt the film, and take us out of the mood and themes they were going for. James Bond going through crazy improbable stunts at the end would have, I think, harmed the impact of M's death scene. And as I've written before, there is room for all types of Bond films, and I'm on record as loving the hardcore, realistic Bonds. I wouldn't want every Bond film to be like this...but this one does just fine.

The theme song, by Adele, is quite good. I have to admit, on my first viewing, it didn't do anything for me, and I was ready to dismiss it as another forgettable effort by a "hot" artist. But on subsequent hearing, it's really earwormed it's way into my brain. The chorus is slinky and seductive, in a Diamonds Are Forever kind of way (a theme song which I like more than most), the melody constantly coming to mind during the day whenever I let my thoughts wander. The lyrics are nothing to write home about, and I think the production buries Adele's vocals too much early on. She really needed to Shirley Bassey-up and belt this sucker out, and plow through the heavy arrangement. But by the time the chorale back-up kicks in, we're in high gear, and the song soars.

Let's take a look at our villain, Silva. Javier Bardem's portrayal is rich, masterful, enthralling, daring, exciting. Your attention is riveted to the screen whenever he's on it. His unpredictable cadences, his delight in the sound effects that pepper his conversation. It's one HELL of a performance, one that in lesser hands would seem camp instead of sinister, trite instead of tortured. Even his death scene, which could have been turned into Pee-Wee Herman's in Buffy The Vampire Slayer (the movie), combines shock, relief, anger and distress into a wonderful crescendo. Bravo, sir--bravo!!

Many have complained about how overly elaborate Silva's plan was, and well, duh. This is a Bond movie, after all. And even though his mission was "just," revenge, he also wanted to damage MI-6 and publicly humiliate and ruin M (and maybe corrupt her latest "top agent"). That certainly required more than sneaking up and putting a bullet in her head. And let's note, every time he has M in his sights, he hesitates. This was as much about making a grand gesture, and killing himself, as it was about killing his "mommy."

Of course, "it was all part of his plan to be caught" and "he is insane, after all," can be used to lazily paper over a whole raft of plot flaws, and his computer guru skills and apparent omniscience have been amped up to a ridiculous degree. Take for example, his escape from MI-6, and the subway chase. I'm sorry, but I find it unbelievable that, AFTER he was captured and away from his equipment, that he could know the exact timing of M's testimony at the enquiry, and the exact moment Q would plug his computer into the mainframe (and it had to be split second timing, as Silva's goons were meeting him (in stride!!) to give him the police uniform. And he knew that Bond would catch up to him at the exact moment a train would come along the hole he made. Preposterous, of course, but hardly a serious flaw, let alone a fatal one.

Yet, our script does leave us wanting with Silva in a couple of ways. In too many ways, it paints him in an outline only (which is covered up very well by Bardem's performance), and I would have liked a little more filled in. M says he "went beyond his brief" and "hacked the Chinese." That could mean a lot of things--over-zealousness? Greed? Treason? Hacked what, exactly? That info could go a long way to explaining his character (and M's--was she justified in turning him over?). How did he get away from the Chinese? Escape? Released? They thought him dead after the cyanide, and he only recovered after they dumped the "body"? What has he been doing for 15 years? Why wait so long for revenge? With the list of activities he had going on, it's hard to believe he had never previously come to MI-6's attention. Had he? Did M have any inkling who "Silva" was, that her former top agent was still alive?

 All this could have been easily done with a few sentences hear and there, and made Silva an even more fully-realized villain (and, again, have helped develop M's story, as well). They good news is, they had me wanting more. The bad news is, they didn't give it to me.

I also would have liked to see better back and forth between Silva and Bond. When Silva shows up, he's walks in with a four-minute monologue, and Bond responds with sentence fragments and smirks. Whenever they're together, the dialogue is 90% Silva, 10% Bond. Which can be seen as basically consistent with their characters, but I wanted to see more conversation, with Bond trying to rebut his arguments or question his sanity, or point out the irony that he was doing to the embedded agents what M had done to him, or a tiny bit about the philosophy of being a secret agent. Call him out on the hypocrisy of always dismissing the "running around" Bond does, while he himself relies on hired assassins and armies of thugs! We know that Daniel Craig is capable of witty extended conversations as Bond, but the last two movies seem content to portray him as a nearly-monosyllabic guy who does all his talking with his fists and guns--he had no real conversations with Greene in QoS, either. Unleash Daniel Craig, guys--let him go tongue-to-tongue as well as toe-to-toe with the villains (OK, that didn't come out right).

Another part of the problem is that Silva has absolutely no one on his side of the game to play off against. These are truly the dark days of Bond villain henchmen. We haven't had a memorable, let alone effective, henchperson since TWINE. But Skyfall falls even shorter of that ridiculously low  standard. Patrice, the only one with a name, doesn't get a single line of dialogue. None of the other hirelings have an name (they're literally named in the credits as "Silva's henchman" and "Silva's mercenary"!!), none have an identifiable look, an identifiable characteristic--there's only one single line of dialogue in English, and that's "the boat is leaving now." Silva even silences Severine before she says a single word. Not only does this reliance on undifferentiated video game-type cannon fodder hurt our understanding of what's going on in the enquiry scene, and rob us of some of cathartic pleasure in the siege scene; but it also effectively leaves Silva as a solo act, with no one to play against. Eon, please, please, please--bring back henchmen!!

Speaking of Severine, well, a bit of lost opportunity there. I thought the character fascinating, and Berenice Marlohe's performance quite strong. I was stunned when, mere moments later, she turned out to be a mere mid-movie sacrificial lamb...and one who was dismissed so quickly and passively, without even a line of dialogue. A tragic waste of a good character, I think...but then, if she survived, she might well have gotten in the way of the Bond/M/Silva triangle.

Then again, this section of the movie felt like there was a bit left on the cutting room floor...or, perhaps, again the writers didn't think things through. Bond convinces Severine to take him to meet Silva, he sneaks on the boat, then suddenly they've arrived and are under gunpoint...? Bond had no plan, except "let the nameless thugs walk us in and separate us?" Really? Again, this section feels like a part of the plot outline that never got finished before it was filmed.

But, as noted above, this is really M's story. And make no mistake about it--M is the Bond Girl in this movie. With Severine dead, and Eve not a factor, she's the woman Bond must ally with, protect, and defeat the villain for. She's the one with Bond at the end.

After multiple movies examining Bond's having to deal with the consequences of his career choice, it's fitting that we get one wear we deal with what it must be like to be the hard one ordering the Double-Os around. And just as her spies can burn out, so too can M have to overcome the weight of her actions. Eventually, making the impossible calls of who lives and dies, even if justified, comes back to haunt you, if not outright destroy you. And Judi Dench makes M the steadfast, anything for my country, bury my heartache and guilt to appear strong for my people bitch believable and sympathetic.

And it's important to note that, despite being hard, despite the cock-ups and ordering the bloody shot and leaving him for dead, she never really loses Bond's loyalty. Even when they're trading insults, you understand the underlying respect. When Bond calls her a bitch, the others don't realize that it's a compliment. And when Silva points out that she lied to get him back on duty, Bond doesn't see that as "betrayal"--he sees that as a favor. Their rock solid relationship keeps this movie on track.

And applause to the writers for giving her the grace note of earning her death scene. Her actions do get a lot of people killed--losing the drive (pending some explanation for why it was out there), refusing to leave the enquiry, not fessing up about Silva earlier...but she realizes this, and agrees to the ridiculous plan for a Western style showdown because she knows it has to stop, and because she realizes that maybe the time has come to pay the price for her sins.

Ralph Fiennes does nicely as Mallory, at first a (perceived) antagonist and then the new M. His background--held hostage by the IRA for months--makes a nice compare/contrast with Silva, because he didn't turn to the dark side. I like the fact that he doesn't change during the movie, but our perception of him does, as he goes from being seen as a bureaucratic obstacle to a valued and useful ally. He's right in his admonishments of M, but he doesn't want to lead a lynch mob, or throw the MI-6 baby out with the bathwater. His receiving a shoulder wound gives him a link to Bond, setting him up as a respected comrade as well as a boss, an M who might be a little more empathetic with Bond while still being the required hard ass. I really look forward to seeing more of his M as we move forward.

Ben Wishaw as Q is wonderful. It's fascinating how making Q younger than Bond influences the whole dynamic of their banter, their relationship. Their entire first scene together is a treasure, testing boundaries and priorities and establishing mutual respect. (and makes you wonder why Bond couldn't have this kind of dialogue with Silva...) It is worth noting that Silva actually lives the "more damage with my laptop" life that Q boasts about, bringing down companies and nations. And Silva outmaneuvers Q throughout the film. bettering him in every way on his computers. This Q obviously has a ways to go before his actual accomplishments match his boasting, which can make for a good character.

That being said, one of the banes of modern movies and TV is watching people watch computer displays while randomly tapping keys and narrating what's they're watching. Many directors and writers seem convinced that this is tense and riveting filmmaking. PRO-TIP: It's not. Mendes pulls this off better than most, but really, it can be a dreadful and boring (and lazy, and cheaper, and...) way to make your action film seem "modern" and relevant. Having Q look at a screen and say "Bond, you should be in the tube," followed by Bond replying "I'm in the tube" is not a successful long-term strategy for the characters or the franchise. I do hope they find a way to give Q more to do than that kind of "monitor duty," perhaps some actual field work so he can prove his brilliance...

Naomie Harris is delightful as Moneypenny, until the very last scene kind of cuts her character off at the knees. She's sexy as hell, and she and Craig have a dynamite chemistry together.

[I've read more than one review that says that she and Bond remained "chaste," but I'm not buying it. Their faces almost touching, "old dog, new tricks," fade out, come back fully clothed with intriguing entendres?  Sorry, there's no way they didn't consummate the relationship. Case closed]

But once again, the writers have left something vital out. There's absolutely no set-up, no explanation for why she opts out of field work. She's more than competent in the field, even despite "the bloody shot." She saves Bond's life in Macau, she handles herself well in the enquiry battle. There is absolutely zero indication that she is having second thoughts about being in the field--no doubts about the lifestyle, no odd looks at dead bodies, nothing. Her announcement at the end comes out of nowhere. Which is a shame, because there could have been some good character work involved in coming to that decision. Instead, it was as if the writers had a brief, "Eve must be Moneypenny at the end," and forgot to do any of the groundwork for that.

Also, they should have set up the Moneypenny revelation better. Tiny thing, but he should have been calling her Eve throughout (along with naughty "Adam" jokes that would entail, of course, and "Adam's apple" during the shaving scene, and...). And you could still unveil her last name in the end. Instead, the "we've never been formally introduced" would have us believe that, during two entire field operations, Bond didn't know here name? What did he do, just refer to her as "Hey, you" all the time?

And what about Groundskeeper Willie Kincade? There has been some speculation/wishful thinking that the role might have been written with Sean Connery in mind, in hopes of enticing him back for the 50th anniversary. It's probably just as well that that never happened (if it were ever really the plan)--Albert Finney does quite well, thank you, and such a cameo would have distractingly taken the audience out of the story at a time when suspense should be building. However, I will confess that the thought of Sean Connery telling Daniel Craig's Bond, "I was ready before you were born" definitely sends a little chill up my spine.

That being said, let's hope his stories and the family estate puts an end to all of the "James Bond isn't his real name, it's just a title given to whoever is 007 at the time" theories (some of which, I must confess, I've dallied with myself, in moments of weakness).

Attention must be paid, as well, to the cinematography of Roger Deakins, who has produced one of the most gorgeous-looking Bond films ever. Even in some of the grimmer settings (what, did the sun not shine at all in England or Scotland during filming?!?). Even the bleak final chase scene, lit by the amber glow from the burning mansion, is a thing of beauty. Macau, the fight in the Shanghai tower, the bizarre abandoned island--all of it looked far better than it had any right to. Director Mendes earns extra credit for making sure his someone as highly qualified as Deakins came on board to help realize his visions.

Which leaves us with Daniel Craig. Unlike certain critics who can't seem to remember what they've written about his past performances as Bond, I'm been on board his bandwagon since the beginning, and nothing about his performance here changes that. Craig gives us a Bond we can believe has decided to drop out, albeit for only a while, but comes back when he's truly needed both by his country and his surrogate parent figure.

It's interesting that, despite the burnout, he feels compelled to put himself into dangerous situations, such as the scorpion drinking game. I couldn't help notice that his hand didn't shake a bit there, as it did during his firing range practice. The difference, I would hazard, might be that James could still summon up his old nerve--but not for practice, only when his life was on the line.

So at the end, we've gone full circle...meet the new Bond, same as the old Bond. We've gone through a "reboot" and three movies only to end up back at the beginning, in virtually the same office with the same byplay with Moneypenny and with M handing him missions. But this didn't feel like retreading at all...no, we were earning our way back to the old status quo, showing how everyone got there this time, instead of just turning up in media res as in Dr. No. And this time we're looking the consequences of this type of career straight in the eyes.

It's all done with with high style, and high art, with proper reverence for the past. And if not for a couple of bone-jarringly upsetting script omissions, which fail to lay groundwork and fail to explain things we need to know, well, who knows how high it might have ranked? A few lines of dialogue, an extra scene or two showing us what was really going on with Severine, why Moneypenny chose as she did, and you have one of the true greats.

But it is really, really good...probably top 8, maybe higher. And if you'll excuse me, I think I'm going to go see it again...

SNELL'S NOTES AND RANDOM OBSERVATIONS:

**Oh, the missed opportunity!! A Bond film set largely in England, and 2012...and no set piece set at the Summer Olympics? Bond could chase Patrice through the decathlon--discus and javelins thrown! Pole vaults! Breaking up a peloton to steal bikes! Jumping off the high dive whilst shooting! Oh, the lost possibilities...

**That really cool scene where Bond adjusts his cuffs when entering the train? Craig ad-libbed that.

**Wolf Blitzer!!

**If Bond doesn't dig out the bullet fragments and have MI-6 analyze them, then they can't identify Patrice, and have no trail to Silva, who wants to be caught. So, what if Bond had actually been dead? Or had his shoulder patched up by a doctor on his little tropical paradise? Surely Silva couldn't have planned on this...were there other bread crumbs he would have laid?

**Our second meeting with Patrice doesn't make a lot of sense to me, despite being fun and beautifully filmed.

First, the payment chip was already in his case? They paid the assassin before the hit? Yes, I know, they wanted Bond to follow the clues, but would Patrice know that? With all Silva's yammering that Bond wasn't fit, how could he count on Bond defeating Patrice and finding the chip?

**And while we're at it, look at the set-up. They hire Patrice to shoot someone from across the street. Then Severine and her goons immediately remove the body. Well, if the intent was to make it look like someone else killed him, why move the body? And if you don't care, why not just whack him yourself, and save the 4 million Euro fee? (Yes, I know, they wanted to lure Bond...but still doesn't explain why they'd move the body. As I said, the "he wanted to be caught" excuse tries to paper over a lot of flaws)...

**"Don't touch your ear" was a nice callback to Casino Royale, doubly nice because that is how Bond made Severine's goons..

**One of Severine's body guards was played by an actor named...Tank Dong. Wow.

**I was going to question the komodo dragon scene, but I researched it, and they have been known to attack humans in the wild, and adults can get as large as 300 pounds.So, OK, then.

**As to all the reviewers blathering about "the first gay Bond villain," A) grow up; B) you haven't watched previous Bond films very carefully, have you?; C) more like bi, given that Severine was his "lover"; D) certainly Silva was overplaying that aspect during the initial meeting to get under Bond's skin; and E) grow up.

**That being said...so, James, where is the "you're scratching my balls" taunt while Silva's feeling you up, eh?

**Yes, 007 could have stalled a little bit longer during the William Tell scene, and thus perhaps have saved Severine...but as far as I can tell, he could have had no idea exactly when (or if) the cavalry would arrive, so he had no reason to think that would be an effective strategy.

**Silva's monologue about the rats was bravura--how long did he spend practicing it, you wonder?--but it was also set up earlier in the film, when Tanner tells Bond that their new underground HQ is full of rats...

**Silva's island is an actual place, not a set. It was formerly a Mitsubishi-owned coal mining facility and community and occasional forced labor camp that was abandoned in 1974. It's a fascinating story...


**M's testimony at the enquiry was essentially the English version of Jack Nicholson's "You want me on that wall! You NEED me on that wall!" speech from A Few Good Men...

**That said, the enquiry was not especially well written. Unless the point was to have M and the mean MP completely ignore each others' argument to attack other straw men. MI-6 too old-fashioned and technology savvy? That's not what we saw, and in fact that dependence on technology is (part) of what caused all the problems. And M's impassioned "you need MI-6" goes on deaf ears, because no one was talking about mothballing it...instead they were critiquing her handling of the specific case and the agency in general. And as I mentioned above, since we never get critical information about what the Turkey mission was, or exactly what happened in Hong Kong in 1997, we really can't judge who might be right...

 **It's great to see The Car back...but does this mean the Craig Bond experienced Goldfinger?!? Oh, my aching head...

**I do find it difficult to believe that Jame Bond wouldn't have a couple of bolt holes/safe house somewhere with a few weapons stored for emergencies like this. He obviously had a bit of cash stashed away somewhere, because he sure wasn't broke during his "death."

**Some have suggested that the Siege At Skyfall went on too long. I thoroughly disagree...but I will concede that some of the "preparation" and gazing at Scottish vistas could have been trimmed a bit (especially since more important things were getting ignored earlier in the movie...)

**Some have also questioned the way Silva deployed the first wave of mercenaries during the battle, just walking up there like lambs to the slaughter. Well, I have to point out, when did Silva ever show the faintest shred of caring about his underlings? They were his sacrificial lambs, the ones sent in to test Skyfall's defenses, and flush Bond and M out, and waste their resources. They were the canaries in the coal mine, as it were, just as Patrice and Severine were. 

 **Some thematic echoing: immediately after the scene in which M writes Bond's obituary, the camera pans down over a statue looking down on London as her car drives by (help me out, Brit friends--who's the statue?).

And at the end, when Bond is on the roof, the camera pans down over him, same stance...



**More nice thematic follow throughs: Recall Bond and Q's initial meeting, as they discuss the painting of the obsolete war ship being towed away.

Cut to the final scene. We see two paintings in M's office. Behind his desk is the old, now abandoned MI-6 HQ, and on the right wall is a painting of the old warships, in full glory. Not so obsolete after all, eh?

**Bond Score: 3. His lover while dead, Moneypenny (don't argue with me), and Severine. Cumulative Bond Score: 61.

And, as always,

JAMES BOND WILL RETURN

...and hopefully they'll call it the Hildebrandt Rarity...

15 comments:

  1. Well, once again I find it hard to argue with you about ANY of it. I frequently had the same thoughts, and we even called out Tank Dong during the credits. Because that's what we do. If you look at my capsule review, I even pulled the same "M is the Bond girl" comment.

    But I'm willing to discuss the idea that Silva's plans were way too intricate to actually work, including the notion that he wanted to get caught. Whenever we see "mastermind" stuff like this, one thing people rarely assume is that the mastermind in question is, rather than a master planner, a master improviser. An Iago, to put it in Shakespearean terms.

    Granted, I've only seen the film once, so I'm not on solid footing, but does it help if you think of Silva as someone who remains alert, finds opportunities and acts on them in creative ways? For example, yes he wanted to get caught, and might have had a plan for police uniforms etc. in place for when it happened. He was smart enough to know that destroying MI6 would send them to the underground from where he would make an escape. And knew he could use a virus to get out. The timing, however, could all be a measure of luck. He doesn't know when an agent will find him, or even that it will be Bond, but he lets it happen. The assassination in Shanghai isn't necessarily a lure, it just happens to work as one. (I have no problem with the chip because it forces the assassin to show up at one of the villains' lairs, so if the deed ain't done, he can't very well redeem it... it's a twist on paying half before and half after.) All Silva has to do once he notices Bond's radio is to let him activate it. If this hadn't happened, he would have proceeded to whatever plan he had in mind to get caught.

    That he escaped when M was in a hearing is likewise a matter of chance. He might have gone after her at home, or in transit, or inside MI-6. He just had a back-up (the clothes and explosives) to help get out of there either before or after. A superspy like him would know the train schedules, and could more or less plan the train crash (were there any people on that train?). It's a good idea for him to do it even if Bond isn't after him because it paralyzes security services (yeah, the real failure in Skyfall is MI-5's).

    In other words, I get over the elaborate schemes by saying the actual result wasn't necessarily the original intent. It just worked out that way, and let's not give Silva too much credit.

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  2. Well, perhaps I'm putting too much stock in Q's assertion "he's had this planned for years." Etc.

    On screen, the train was empty, save for the driver. I'm not sure if it was supposed to be passenger-less, or this was a failure of the stunt/effects team...I'm certainly not familiar enough with the Underground to know the likelihood of empty trains running during rush hour...

    I'm pretty sure MI-5 has never even been mentioned in a Bond film, despite a fair amount of nefariousness taking place on British soil over the years...perhaps in the Bond universe, they've been phased out, and all the budget gone to Q branch. (And in fairness, the show MI-5 frequently had the British Home Secretary running foreign policy and having MI-5 carry out sabotage and assassinations abroad. So sauce for the goose...)

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  3. Yeah, not unlike the CIA/FBI split. The former seems to do a lot of work inside the USA in the Bondverse, for some reason.

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  4. Excellent review and analysis, thank you.

    ' **It's great to see The Car back...but does this mean the Craig Bond experienced Goldfinger?!? Oh, my aching head...'
    Ha,ha- I know the feeling!

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  5. Been waiting for your review, and of course it's spot-on as usual. You've nailed it, right down the line. I loved the movie, came away impressed and gratified, both by the new mark this film set for performance and the outlook for the whole series. Easily a Top 10 Bond film, with a difficult-but-not-impossible shot at the Top 5.

    I'll throw a few reactions/thoughts out there just for fun:

    1. There's nothing to support this in the film at all, but here's a possible explanation of the "drive with the secret list floating around in the field" problem: perhaps the files were hacked and the information stolen electronically, and Ronson (and Bond and Eve) were trying to recover the stolen data before it could be delivered, posted, sold, or exploited. (Think of the Death Star plans in Star Wars.) That would seem to play into Silva's MO.

    2. Agree that Silva's plot was ridiculously complicated if all he wanted was revenge on M, but then again, the may have been the point. He could (easily, I imagine) just have flown to London and killed her at his convenience, but given the depth of his psychosis, he may very well have wanted (needed?) to game the whole system, to turn MI-6's resources back on the themselves, and crash the whole damn outfit, with M's humiliation and death being the cherry on top. (But then, why kill her during the hearing? Why not let her government throw her to the wolves first, let her enjoy the humiliation a while, and then kill her?)

    3. The first time I heard Adele sing, I thought "My god, this woman needs to sing the next Bond theme." 3 years later, I feel quite fulfilled.

    4. Best use of a car in a Bond film since the Citroen in FYEO. It would have been dangerous and deflating to have TOO many nods to older films (think Die Another Day), but this one was perfect, from Bond's threat to eject a griping M, to using the car's machine guns to "start the ball" at Skyfall, to Silva inexplicably -- and spitefully and hilariously -- ordering his gunship to riddle the vehicle, to Bond's reaction to this ("What's more chickensh** than f***ing with a man's automobile? I mean, don't f*** with another man's vehicle. It's just against the rules.")

    5. Bond's return to the Skyfall estate blew me away. Didn't see it coming, didn't know the significance of the title (I assumed it referred to the oft-previewed fall from the bridge). So I was caught delightfully off guard and thrilled to see Bond returning to his childhood, and gratified that he was driven to it only by his need to protect M. A really nice touch that honors and elevates the whole series after 50 years of near-silence on Bond's past.

    Only downside is, now I REALLY want to see the next one. NOW.

    Thanks for the great review! See you again in 2 years?

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  6. Matt, as long as the keep making Bond movie's, I'll keep doing this.

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  7. Snell, any comments on the absence of Quantum from this film? I have a bit of a fan theory on that, which I'll quote from my own review of the movie:

    Although I knew in advance of watching the film that Skyfall would not continue the Mr White/Quantum plot thread from the previous two Craig movies, the way the film conspicuously avoids any mention of the Quantum organisation was a little distracting to me. It felt like Quantum should have been somehow linked to Silva, because their actions were so similar to his: Quantum breaching MI6 security by planting a sleeper agent as M's bodyguard, compared to Silva breaching MI6 security via their computer systems. (The SIS infiltrated twice, two films in a row? They really are a bit crap at this security lark!) The sort of conspiracies Quantum were involved with also sounded pretty similar to the ones Silva described in his "you can pick your own missions" speech to Bond. So it seemed a waste not to link them. (FAN THEORY TIME: Maybe Skyfall's villain could have been folded into that overarching storyline with a couple of lines of dialogue explaining that the reason Quantum and their embedded agents had remained undetected by MI6 for so long is that Silva had been advising them with his knowledge of MI6's methods?)

    As for some of your points:

    And of all those action sequences, none are as good as what we get in the teaser. And, CGI komodo dragon aside, few of them seem to have the flare, the panache, that we expect from the Bond team--there's nothing that makes one sit-up and say, "I've never seen anything like that before--this could only be a 007 movie!"

    Oh, I completely disagree with this! For me, by far the film's best action sequence was the fight scene in Shanghai - the fight choreography was solid, but what really impressed me was the fact it was shot in silhouette and in one apparently uninterrupted take. Perhaps it's just the fact I'm a sucker for technically impressive long takes in general, but for me it's the best hand-to-hand combat the series has had since the train in From Russia with Love.

    I do hope they find a way to give Q more to do than that kind of "monitor duty," perhaps some actual field work so he can prove his brilliance...

    I agree. In Skyfall, Q's role as "voice with an internet connection" (as TV Tropes would put it) was pretty similar to the things done by Simon Pegg's character Benji Dunn in Mission: Impossible 3. In the fourth M:I film, he got to do a little more - so maybe Q's actions will follow the same pattern in the next Bond film.

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  8. [Split over two comments because I hit the character limit...]

    > I despair of ever having the gun barrel sequence at the beginning of the film again, as producer Michael Wilson seems too stubborn to admit that they did something silly in QoS for no good reason, so they're just going to keep doing it.

    Apparently that was Sam Mendes' decision - he felt that the action of the gun barrel and the action of the first shot were so similar that it looked silly when he tried placing them together. (In my opinion, in the same way that Casino Royale incorporated the "turning and shooting" part of the gun barrel action into the film itself, to some extent Skyfall hints at making the "walking in from the side" motion a part of the movie - but it doesn't do it quite as explicitly as I'd like.)

    Having said that, surely that similarity was intentional and planned long in advance, so Mendes would have known before filming began that they wouldn't sit well together?

    > [Silva's] computer guru skills and apparent omniscience have been amped up to a ridiculous degree.

    Robert Wade has a brief comment on how much Silva had planned. (I haven't yet listened to the Empire podcast from which the comments in that feature were taken, but I definitely intend to.)

    > (what, did the sun not shine at all in England or Scotland during filming?!?)

    That's pretty likely to be the case... :)

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  9. Snell,

    I love the blog; yours are among the most pointed, entertaining Bond reviews on the Internet.

    Still, I'm baffled that you found Skyfall's flaws grievous enough to consign the film to a mere Top Eight. Unkind, considering that the drawbacks to the other top-tier installments--Lazenby's performance; the misguided, myriad climaxes of FRWL; Brosnan being out-acted by everyone in GE--are far more egregious. Skyfall is Top Five material, undoubtedly.

    Also, you didn't mention my prevailing SF misgiving: Bond's failure/disinterest in stopping Patrice from assassinating that poor art-gazing fellow. I realize 007 isn't the most heroic sort, but jeesh...

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  10. Derek...Early days,...my opinion obviously is still in flux. And top 8 isn't all that far from top 5...

    As to the "art-gazing fellow," well, assign that to all my other misgivings about Patrice and that scene. But let me add: A) "Poor"? For all we know, he was a right bastard who had it coming. Again, the script neglects to actually tell us the story, so we'll never know. But it's hard for me to care when the script doesn't care enough to clue us in. B) Bond is, of course, echoing M's cold-heartededness re: Ronson and Silva--the mission is more important than the collateral damage. The mission is the most important, and he judged he had the best chance to take Patrice when he relaxed after taking the shot. That he was wrong merely amplifies the movie's theme. Again, better writing might have made that point more clearly.

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  11. Nick, the absence of QUANTUM doesn't bother me...the constant reliance of S.P.E.C.T.R.E. was, I think, a bit of the weakness of the Connery run, so no need to repeat that. If it eases your mind, note that Connery's 3rd movie didn't involve S.P.E.C.T.R.E, and now Craig's 3rd doesn't involve QUANTUM. Eerie...

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  12. Excellent review - I agree with the vast majority of your comments. I usually don't rank Bond films until the dust has settled and a couple years have passed, but do think Skyfall will be considered one of the better ones.

    I think you're right about the sense of deja vu with the latter Brosnan films - I really think Skyfall is the movie TWINE should have been (I try not to think about DAD). Similarly, all the hints to Bond's dark and lonely side since Licence to Kill are finally addressed in a satisfying and fulfilling manner.

    And I do think Silva's plan relied on too many random variables (like many of these tend to) and am glad I'm not the only one who had no idea what was going on with Severine. Seriously, was she doing Silva's bidding all along and was then killed by him to show his depravity? Or did she genuinely think she could smuggle Bond in to kill him? Cause the guards that were on the boat all along treated her like a prisoner as soon as they landed. No clue.

    And yes, another vote for the gunbarrel at the frikkin beginning. Change is good sometimes, but don't throw everything out - some Bond elements should remain, and that's a quintessential one.

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  13. Just saw Skyfall today, and enjoyed it, though with some misgivings. The plot holes are the sort of thing that annoy me more and more over time and multiple viewings (and the biggest problem I have with the Nolan Batman movies.) One I haven't seen discussed is how Bond leaves himself seriously outgunned for his big "showdown" at Skyfall, for no good reason. I guess Bond didn't expect the Bond family gun collection to have been sold off, despite having some warning of that general possibility (and I believe 21st century Scotland actually has telephone service, though I may be mistaken about that....)

    Loved seeing the old Aston Martin, BUT... I'm sadly spoiled by real-life knowledge from Top Gear, that the car's pretty much a dog performance-wise, even in its day, when apparently Aston Martin was routinely exaggerating its performance specs. And that the DB5 will get bet - easily - in a drag race against a modern Honda Accord, and not even the V6 one! So it's hard to credit it as having been used by the modern Bond on some past mission.

    Still, loved seeing it again, and it's still one of the most beautiful cars ever made. Sad to see it go, though. Two of the saddest scenes in the series are the destruction of the modern Aston in Casino Royale and the DB5 here (though I'm 99% certain the Humane Society can certify that no actual DB5s were harmed in during the filming of Skyfall.)

    The business with Eve's name irks me a little too, especially since there's a perfectly good excuse they could have used - what if Bond only knew Eve by her *number* before the last scene? The Bond series pretty much created that gag. I can't recall if any non-00's were given numbers in the books or movies before, but I don't think audiences would balk at it.

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  14. Great review and analysis (as are all of the others you have done)! A (Money)penny for my thoughts, as it were;

    re: the question of did Craig-Bond experience "Goldfinger"? According to the 007 Legends videogame, (yes, i know videogames aren't canon) he did... along with OHMSS, Moonraker, LTK, and DAD. Goldeneye as well, in a different game (with a remake of the Goldeneye theme done by Nicole Scherzinger which blows Tina Turner's away, IMHO..and i LOVE Tina's version). Along with a standalone adventure, Blood Stone (tremendous game, if you haven't tried it).

    Speaking of DAD; not only would a Sean Connery cameo as the groundskeeper been awesome, but, what if EON had decided to run with the "Bond is a codename" premise and made Brosnan the villain instead of Bardem? What if the events leading up to the title sequence were the last moments of Brosnan-Bond (as far as M knew) and the events of DAD were an hallucination? Then, the reveal of the villain as he confronts Craig-Bond, going on about how he used to be the favorite would have had impact for the audience who now ALSO feel betrayed by one we once saw as the ultimate hero. Of course, EON wouldn't do that as that would lessen the appeal of the Brosnan films (for some) who now would no longer want to watch the adventures of a man wo is destined to turn traitor. I will admit that, when I was watching Skyfall for the first time and Silva was giving his "origin" story to Bond, I was totally picturing that scenario, though.

    re: the gunbarrel. I definitely hope that it will find its way to the beginning of the next film since, as you pointed out, CR06, QoS, and Skyfall are a prequel trilogy that bring us full circle back to classic Bond tropes by the end. Perhaps the gunbarrel at the end of Skyfall is really the first moment of the NEXT film (Hildebrandt Rarity?) and will reappear there, where it belongs.

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  15. I just saw this yesterday. It is very, very decent! Definitely top 10.

    I feel little for *trying* to discover plot holes, so I just went with my gut. The biggest problem I had with the movie was the whole "he planned all this" moment. It reminded my instantly of Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight. The Joker is supposedly an anarchist, someone who doesn't plan things. Yet, if you see all the things he ends up doing, there is no way he could have just improvised.

    In TDK, The Joker gets caught, is thrown in prison, and then escapes. Supposedly he "planned to be caught", as commissioner Gordon says, but nothing *ever* gives one the impression that he indeed planned it all along.

    So no, The Joker is not an anarchist who doesn't plan things. He's in fact a planner, so good at planning, that he can make it look as if he didn't plan any of it. (He's not *too* successful at it, however).

    At least in Skyfall one doesn't have to deal with Silva supposedly being a sort of anarchist. But here too: Is there anyone who got the impression that he *intended* to be caught? Basically, they just shouldn't have mentioned that he planned it all along. Would have left a plot hole, but the whole "he planned it" plot device actually opens up more plot holes that it covers up.

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