Monday, November 12, 2012

High Noon at Skyfall

The rave reviews are out there. Entertainment Weekly gave it an A. They’re calling it the “best Bond.” But I didn’t see it that way.

In the latest James Bond film starring Daniel Craig, Bond is recovering from a near-death experience. He looks older, his cheeks are sunken, and his hand shakes when he aims his gun. That won’t do! Out to thwart him is a villain named Silva, played by Javier Bardem who taps into his own Chigurh from No Country for Old Men as well as Heath Ledger’s the Joker. (Like the Joker, Silva seems to have a limitless army of goons willing to do his bidding and die in droves for him. I always wonder how much these fools are getting paid! Whatever it is, it's not worth it!) The conflict is simple. Silva wants to kill M (Judi Dench) for some past betrayal when Silva was an agent for MI6 – but it seems to be more than that. When, at the end, Silva is just about to shoot M, I almost expected her to say, “No, Silva, I am your mother.”

All sounds good, but the first half of the film is a snooze. We start with yet another chase across the roofs of Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar. Ah, this time it’s with motorcycles, but the Turks need to ban films from shooting in this over-used location. This follows the car chase through the bazaar. Saw that in Taken 2. Then we proceed to the fist-fight on the top of the speeding train. I’m starting to nod off. Hasn’t this been done in a previous Bond film? The Turkish engineer blithely speeds on while Bond rips the roof off a car with a ditch digger. Then, another head scratcher when Bond’s sidekick Eve (Naomie Harris) takes “the shot,” hits Bond, but then doesn’t take another shot at the bad guy! Suck it up, Eve, and do your job!

Later, after Shanghai and a mysterious island, things grow tense when it appears that Silva is going after M in London! But the writers should have thought of any kind of chase other than a chase through a subway. All future films need to be banned from shooting chase scenes in subways. Also, if the sewer roof explodes behind Bond and he says, “Was that for me?” and Silva retorts “No, this is for you,” you and I and James all know that a train’s going to come through the roof and all he has to do is step aside, which he does with no problem. What a waste setting that up, Silva, just to give it away!

The second half (probably less than half) of the film gets better, starting with the chaotic shootout in the hearing chamber, with desk-job agent Gareth Mallory (Ralph Fiennes) pulling a gun and joining in. I enjoyed that. Appropriately, what follows plays like High Noon at Skyfall Manor, very much a Western scenario, with a bit of Straw Dogs thrown in for good measure, as Bond, M, and the old game warden (Albert Finney) defend the Alamo. “Welcome to Scotland.”

I liked all the Western stuff, and I liked the stark setting of the stone manor in the middle of the Scottish moor, and the wonderful Roger Deakins-framed images of the pursuit across the moor shot against the bright flames. Loved all that, and I enjoyed the humorous tributes to previous Bond films (the ejector seat), but at nearly two and a half hours, Sam Mendes could have trimmed off most of the first half and gotten us more expeditiously to Showdown at Skyfall. Also, M should have been Silva’s mother.


FilmDr said...

Nice review. I couldn't find myself liking the movie because most everyone else did, so one looks around for an angle. I wondered about the gender dynamics of a young woman shooting Bond off the train due to the command of M--are they both trying to get rid of the oppressive male stereotype here? I mostly kept thinking of the various strategies in which Mendes does his best to revivify and somehow make high class all of those dreary Bond conventions.

Hokahey said...

FilmDr - Thanks, now, I do like your theory of gender dynamics. M and Eve want to get rid of Bond; and Bond is powerless to save the exotic woman who gets shot in the head. In keeping with that, I really thought Silva regarded M as some sort of mother figure. Seriously, I really expected her to say, "I am your mother." Also, there was something Freudian about him wanting the same bullet to kill them both.

Mendes does revivify some of the old conventions. The ejector seat joke was well done.

But the conventions of the action scenes: motorcycle chase; roofs of the Grand Bazaar chase; down the escalator into the subway chase; fight on the speeding train - all bored me, and I found myself lamenting how a great percentage of films are part of a franchise or are re-makes - or are even adaptations of novels that have been made before - or are movie versions of musicals. That's why we salivate over movies like this year's Moonrise Kingdom and The Master and Cloud Atlas (well, maybe only you and I salivated over the last one). They are flawed, but at least, for God's sake, they are one-off original stories that are not set-ups for sequels.

Sam Juliano said...

I would have to count myself as a fan of this film, though I was a dissenter on CASINO ROYALE and QUANTUM SOLACE, two films that many appreciated. The train chase in the beginning and that typically imaginative credit sequence in the were well integrated and successful set piece because they were followed up by some appealing character-driven scenes and the franchise humor. I don't say that it didn't drag, and I concur with you that Mendes could have trimmed some footage, and can see why you or anyone else would get impatient the way it plays out. Still, as you rightly note that breathtaking finale in Scotland, and the terrific work from Craig, Dench, Bardem, Finennes and Finney inject some welcome humanity in the pyrotechnic show, and the great Roger Deakins, using color tapestries and silouettes to arresting effect has elevated this film in the series' pantheon. As always, wonderfully perceptive piece!

Hokahey said...

Thanks, Sam. I agree that the visually arresting final shooting and conflagration on the moor were a nice break from CGI pyrotechnics. I enjoyed that latter portion.