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.

No comments: