Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Skyfall - 3 1/2 stars

Casino Royale was great.  It was the most exciting and emotionally satisfying James Bond movie ever.  I can't remember ever being this excited to see a James Bond movie again.  I liked it so much I took other people to see it.

Quantum of Solace was a disappointment.  It wasn't bad, but Casino Royale set the bar so high and QoS would have been a let down even if the previous movie was Die Another Day.

Skyfall is somewhere in the middle, although the finale is one of the more interesting and exciting climaxes a Bond movie has ever had. 

The movie does not begin with the traditional gun barrel.  I wish it did.  Star Wars movies open with "A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away ..." and Bond movies start with the Bond music and the gun barrel. 

Anyway, Bond (Daniel Craig again) and another agent named Eve (Naomie Harris) are trying to catch someone who has just stolen a hard drive containing the identities of undercover agents.  If he gets away, they could all be killed.  So Bond and Eve chase him through crowded streets and onto a train.  Bond uses everything at his disposal, including a Catepillar, to try to catch the guy.  Eve gets ahead of the train, finds a good spot and pulls out a sniper rifle.  She doesn't have a clean shot, but M (Judi Dench), who is monitoring the situation from MI6 headquarters, tells her to take the shot.  The mission is more important than one agent.  If you have seen the trailer, you know that the shot hits Bond and he falls to his presumed death far below.

The opening credits sequence is very cool as it always is, and the Adele theme song is really growing on me.  While Bond is enjoying death by living on a tropical island, sleeping with women and drinking, MI6 is attacked.  Bond sees this on TV and decides to come back to work.  The man behind the attack, and the theft of the hard drive, is Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem).  Silva used to be just like Bond, but he was abandoned by M and tortured.  He now wants revenge against M.

At first, this movie doesn't seem to be wasting time.  The opening action sequence is great.  But the whole sequence of Bond enjoying retirement then coming back seems to happen too quickly.  It seems like a little more time should have been spent on Bond doing nothing, then having to think about whether to come back to work.  As usual, he has a pretty easy time finding out who the bad guys are.  He heads to Shanghai and the movie grinds to a halt for at least 20 minutes.  Bond spends a lot of time wandering around and observing people.  There is a fight here and there, but the plot doesn't advance much and it seems like this whole sequence needed a re-write.

Once he meets up with Silva, things get exciting.  Bardem gives the best performance I have seen in a Bond villain since, I don't know, Goldfinger or Blofeld.  He has good reason to hate M, and when we find out what he went through, it makes his character really complex.  He also introduces some sexual tension in his scenes with Bond, which I think is a first for this series.  And Bardem is such a good actor that any time he is on screen, I was loving it.

The finale is also something different.  Bond movies usually end up with some kind of a shootout and a big climax, but no Bond movie has given us something like this.  Instead of Bond being inside the villain's lair, Silva is going after Bond on Bond's territory.  It becomes something of a home invasion movie. 

I also enjoyed how much screen time Judi Dench got.  M has never been this involved in the action, even to the point of shooting a gun.  And Ralph Fiennes shows up as a bureaucrat who thinks Bond and M should retire.  He starts out as kind of a dick, but I liked the way his character evolved. 

There is a point in the movie where it seems like a character is going to be killed, and it sets it up wonderfully, but then the character survives.  This sequence was done really well, and while I like it when a movie has the guts to kill off a major character, I was glad this time that the character survived. 

Now I'd like to address some problems with the script.  Where to begin?  There will be some mild spoilers in this review, but Bond movies are rarely about surprise twists.  Was anyone actually surprised that Sophie Marceau turned out to be the villain in The World is Not Enough?

During the opening sequence when Bond is shot by Eve, he didn't know she was there with a gun, right?  Or did he?  I seem to remember he and Eve communicating with their earpieces earlier in the chase.  And I don't remember seeing Bond lose his, so Eve should have been able to alert him that she was in position with a sniper rifle.  He could have ducked.  I think this was proven when he sees M for the first time.  He tells her exactly what she said to Eve ("Take the bloody shot!"), so I think this should have been addressed.  All they had to do was show Bond losing his earpiece at some point in the fight.  And they couldn't have had Bond say M's line back to her.

I know Bond movies aren't Le Carre spy stories, but there should be a little bit of espionage.  I hate it when it's so easy for Bond to find the bad guys.  Like in Moonraker when he is exploring an abandoned warehouse, and he finds a nice big patch that says "Drax Industries" which they accidentally left behind.  Too easy.  In Skyfall, Bond pulls shrapnel out of his chest and luckily there are only 3 people in the world who use this kind of ammo.  Of course they know exactly who they are, Bond identifies the man, and luckily the FBI is tracking him.  He will be in Shanghai tomorrow.  Go there and intercept him. 

To me, that is lazy writing.  They could have tried to make it a little harder.  But then it gets worse.  The assassin lands in Shanghai and Bond follows him to an office building.  Instead of apprehending him, Bond just watches while the guy kills a couple of security guards, puts a sniper rifle together and shoots a man in another building.  Then Bond decides to grab the guy.  Why did he wait and let the guy kill 3 people?  Bond had no idea why the guy was assassinating the man in the other building, and the security guards were definitely innocent victims.

After he kills the assassin (continuing the theme from Quantum of Solace where Bond can't help killing people before he gets the information he needs), he finds a casino chip in his pocket.  He goes to the casino, cashes it in, and immediately finds a woman who knows everything.  She knows who is behind everything and she works for him, so she takes Bond to him.  This is simplifying the events, but that's basically what happened.  It doesn't make sense that Bond would know who this woman is, or how connected she is.

Those are my biggest gripes with the movie.  So why did I give it 3 1/2 stars?  I guess I forgive the writing flaws more in a Bond movie than I would in other movies because much of that stuff is typical in a Bond movie.  It has always been easy to find holes in the scripts.  Plus most of the movie was so good that I could overlook the things that bugged me.  I enjoyed it overall and the end of this movie really made me excited for the next Bond movie.