Skyfall = Bond fall

I finally caught the new James Bond movie Skyfall this week and I was entertained but ultimately left deflated. The movie starts brightly, like a rocket flaring into space, but soon burns out. Apart from a few glowing parts on re-entry, this Bond film falls through the sky to a dank end at the movie’s titular location.

***Spoiler caution***
***I’ve tried to avoid giving plot details but if you haven’t seen the film…***

Before going any further I should say I have seen most, if not all, the Bond films over the years, but only once or twice so I am no Bond expert. I’m sure there are people far more qualified than me to dissect story arcs and continuity etc. Nevertheless, there are a few basics you expect from a Bond movie:

Bond – a confident charmer who is good with a gun and successful with the ladies (up to a point).
Bond “girls” – usually sexy, sometimes conspiratorial, sometimes oppositional, not always just eye-candy.
Exotic locations – the tourism industry must adore Bond.
Gadgets – cars with ejector seats and machine guns, exploding pens etc.
Villains – usually megalomaniacs with a quirk.

Bond has been moving in a slightly different direction since the box office success of Jason Bourne and some of that has been necessary to move with the times. But there is only so much you can change before you start to lose the essence of what made something special in the first place.

In reverse order, here are my thoughts on the five Bond basics above and how they played out in Skyfall:

Villains – Javier Bardem was a good choice to play a Bond baddie. He generally looks the part, although his blond mop did grate with me occasionally. Imagine former Bond villain Jaws in a Boris Johnson-esque wig and you’ll get the idea. Bardem has to walk a fine line between acting diabolically (not diabolical acting) and over-egging it. Generally he stays the right side, but there are one or two moments where I thought he strayed beyond. Bardem’s character is let down by a script which drags this supposed evil genius out of his lair and into a foggy shoot-out.

Gadgets – Nicely played in Skyfall, which might seem odd when all Bond is given is a gun and a radio transmitter. Possibly the best line of the movie comes from Q, who asks Bond: “What did you expect? An exploding pen?”
Bond does get reacquainted with a favourite old car though and this happily satisfies this requirement, particularly on the 50th anniversary. It also leads to a nice comic line.

Exotic locations – The movie starts with a wonderful action sequence in Turkey and a well-shot casino scene in Macau, before moving on – all too briefly – to the bright lights of Shanghai. Throw in a beautifully filmed deserted island and everything’s looking pretty good. The problem is I doubt we’re half-way through the movie at this point. From there the action heads to Britain. While it is nice to see a bit of Bond’s motherland, the action dwells here too long. The movie becomes like the remnants of a hurricane that has blown itself out over Florida, crossed the Atlantic and settled as a depression over the UK, bringing a steady drizzle for days on end.

Bond “girls” – Women in Bond films will probably never be totally politically correct, but I thought there was a backwards step here. One moved from fieldwork to a desk job, another was shown incapable of firing a gun and left in the protection of two men, and the third was used and unceremoniously shot without putting up a fight. All the women in this movie ended up appearing weak and I don’t think it needs to be like that in a modern Bond. I seem to remember plenty of Bond girls had some fight about them and that was sadly lacking here.

Bond – This was another disappointing part for me. Bond should have some mystery about him, but here we see him vulnerable and we learn, in my opinion, too much about where he comes from. All too predictably, it’s not a council house. Maybe it never would have been, but I liked the thought that Bond could have come from anywhere and got where he got because he was good at what he did. He was still shown to be good at what he does (although officially he’s not) but the mystery has gone. When these details are revealed, I am also left wondering when he will don his bat-suit.

Finally, a note on the storyline. It seemed a bit flabby to me. I could go into this in some depth, but I think it suffices to say I noticed people around me fidgeting like they were getting bored during some of the elongated sections between action sequences. It felt like there was an attempt to fuse elements of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy into Bond and the hybrid didn’t quite work.

It all contributed to the feel of a November fireworks display that gets rained off half-way through – how terribly British!

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