Saturday, November 10, 2012


Like many others, I went to see the new Bond film Skyfall this weekend. In spite of several intense, exciting and well crafted action sequences, my wife and I left the theater feeling very apathetic about the film overall.

This is not James Bond
After much thought, I realized that the films tone was similar to those bleak, emotionless cold war spy movies with healthy doses of Dark Knight Rises added for good measure. Now, don’t’ get me wrong. I like Batman. I like films like The IPCRESS File. The thing is, this is James Bond and Bond isn’t Harry Palmer nor is he a Nolan’esque Bruce Wayne even though many wish it were so.   Bond doesn’t sit in a van parked up the street and listen to a bugged apartment. Bond gets pushed out of planes without a parachute. Bond drives submarine cars. Bond fly’s a mini copter called Little Nelly. Yes, it’s true that the franchise had become more like Austin Powers during the Moore years than Austin Powers. This excess was reigned in to a certain extent with the release of the first film of the Brosnan era, Goldeneye. However, the Brosnan films slowly started veering closer and closer to Moore territory by the time of the release of Brosnan’s final, critically panned Bond film, Die Another Day.

This is not James Bond
In June of 2002, about 6 months before Die Another Day came out, another spy film was released to much critical praise, The Bourne Identity. The Bourne Identity was a modern, fresh, young approach to the Robert Ludlum spy novels. It featured two engaging and charismatic actors (Matt Damon, Franka Potente) with a lot of chemistry and lots and lots of action. It was a slick little spy film and by comparison, Die Another Day was much more clunky and quaint. In light of the popularity of the Bourne Identity and it’s sequel The Bourne Ultimatum, it was pretty clear that when Bond was rebooted, it was going to take more than a few cues from Bourne. The new Bond debuted in 2006 in Casino Royale. Daniel Craig was the sixth actor to play the role in the Bond franchise.

THIS is James Bond.  Any questions?

As Bond, Craig was much more emotionally raw and intense than any actor to play the role prior to him and there was a clear nod to Matt Damon’s stoic, laser focused Jason Bourne. But Damon also gave Bourne a quiet sense of humor. Craig’s Bond was similar in that regard. While he was basically more of a “blunt instrument”, Craig also had Bond’s sly wit and cold hearted sense of humor. Bond had been needing a facelift for a few years. Casino Royale and Craig seemed to fill the bill. It was a nice hybrid of Bourne and Bond but overall was still mostly Bond.

Matt Damon as Jason Bourne
Casino Royale was to be the first part of a trilogy that showed us Bond at the beginning of his career and coming into his own as 007. Casino Royale showed us how Bond got his license to kill, falling in love, getting betrayed and getting his heart broken. We were given a glimpse of a new shadow organization that was pulling all the strings. A new version of SMERSH or SPECTRE for our new Bond to fight. In the second Craig/Bond film called Quantum of Solace, we learn the name of this organization, “Quantum”. Picking up just minutes after the end of Casino Royale, QOS has Bond seeking revenge for the death of his lover, femme fatale Vesper Lynd and trying to find out more about Quantum and the puppet master behind events in Casino Royale. In Quantum, Bond is humorless. Like Jason Bourne in “kill mode” but unlike Jason Bourne, no off switch. It’s a dry, cold, dull, lifeless mess of a film. It feels less like a movie and more like a deleted scene from Casino Royale. Granted, this is the second part of the story but you still need a beginning and an end and characters that you care about. 
Daniel Craig as Bond in "Skyfall"
Quantum of Solace gives us none of that. We learn more about Quantum as Bond exposes a few members as he works his way up the ladder to the villainous Mr. Green. However, Mr. Green is just another member of Quantum, not its leader. At the end, Bond takes his revenge on Mr. Green for the death of Vesper but there are still many unanswered questions about Quantum and just how deeply they have infiltrated MI6. I was hoping that we would have some of these questions resolved when the third part of the Bond trilogy came out. Four years and one studio bankruptcy later, the Bond machine started up again and just in time for Bond’s 50th anniversary we got Skyfall. Yes! Finally! I was going to see the conclusion to the Vesper/Quantum story arc!
Or so I thought.
Javier Bardem as Raoul Silva in "Skyfall"

Naomie Harris as Moneypenny
Skyfall continues the tradition of keeping Bond in humorless “kill mode” and never turning him off. Craig/Bond is lifeless and by the end you feel as though you spent less time at a Bond movie and more time at the DMV. You couldn’t find an ounce of joy in this film if you strapped it to a table and threatened to cut it in half with a giant laser. And that’s a shame because all the ingredients are here to make a brilliant Bond film. We get a changing of the guard with the coming of a new “M”, the origin of Moneypenny, a new “Q”, a glimpse into Bond’s past and a wonderful villain who is so great that I found myself wishing he had killed the other characters off and started his own franchise. Unfortunately, we don’t get any resolution of the story arc that began in Casino Royale. Instead, the previous films are ignored completely and we are given a two and half hour retirement party for Judi Dench and a Bond who is little more than a moody, glorified body guard. No “Quantum”, no resolution of questions raised in the first two films. This was fairly disappointing and only exacerbated the other problems.

Ben Wishaw as Q
The plot is a Mission Impossible derivative with Bond searching for a “NOC” list that has been stolen by a rogue agent (played brilliantly by Javier Bardem) as part of a revenge plot against his former employer. If this sounds familiar that’s because the plot is very similar to Brosnan’s first Bond film “Goldeneye” in which 007 faces off against old friend and co-worker 006. It’s an inherently entertaining idea, the “It takes a thief” concept and it’s one that I’m always a sucker for. In this case, it’s given life by the performance of Bardem as the psychopathic and flamboyant former agent. And the changing of the guard idea is also a good one. The problems are the films dark, depressing tone, Craig’s too-broody Bond and a complete lack of chemistry between any of the characters in this film. All three of which do their damnedest to completely undermine all the good things about the film. The only characters that manage to rise above all of this super duper serious stuff is Bardem and, surprisingly, the films Bond Girl du jour played by the stunning Bérénice Marlohe. Marlohe’s high class, Shanghai call girl conveys a real sense of terror at the thought of crossing her employer and a poignant sense of hope that Bond just might be able to save her after so many others have failed. I was more interested in these characters than I was with M or Bond or Moneypenny. Even Ralph Fiennes is more intriguing as M’s possible replacement, a “bureaucrat” who is much more than he seems.

Berenice Marlohe as Severine in "Skyfall"
It‘s not that what they‘re going for here is lost on me. I get the whole “Bond is becoming Bond” Batman Begins thing. And I get that, apparently, this can only be done via a whole lot of brooding and silent, icy gazes. My wife loves those blue eyed, icy gazes. However, the charm of Craig’s humorless, icy gaze became rather tiresome for her and I after the first hour, hour and a half. About the same amount of time it took for breath of fresh air Bardem to make his appearance and spray the film with a big can of Brooding-Be-Gone.

Ralph Fiennes as Mallory in "Skyfall"
Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t hate this film. I don’t hate any Bond film. I’m a Bond fan, always have been, always will be. Bond films have been a huge part of my life as a film buff and reader of comic books. I like some more than others but ultimately I like something about all of them. Even the bad ones. Because at their worst, Bond movies have a fun, cinematic history, a lot of heart (some beating stronger than others), beautiful women, exotic locales, at least one spectacular stunt sequence (in this case a breathtaking chase atop of a moving train) and hopefully, a memorable villain. There’s a long history of iconic actors or actors who have played iconic characters taking the role of Bond villain. The ones that come to mind first are Christopher “Dracula” Lee in Man With The Golden Gun, Louis Jourdan in Octopussy, Christopher Walken in View To A Kill, Sophie Marceau in World Is Not Enough, Jonathan Pryce in Tomorrow Never Dies, etc. Some have been hit and miss and at times ultra hammy. Bardem joins their ranks as one of the best villains in the Bond series.
No one does smug like Roger Moore
In the end, this was a mixed bag. I had high expectations from the plot, expectations of a certain amount of closure regarding the last two films and hopes that we would see the Craig/Bond of Casino Royale. In this regard I was solidly disappointed. But I did get other things such as an engaging femme fatale, a great villain and a few terrific action sequences worthy of the Bond franchise. The bad doesn’t completely overwhelm the good stuff even though it tries real hard. It’s sort of 50/50. It’s not my favorite Bond film and, because of it’s depressing tone, wont be one that I revisit often except to fast forward to the good bits. It is worth seeing if only to see Bardem join the ranks as one of the best villains in Bond history and's James Bond!


  1. Hoping for a Vesper/Quantum conclusion arc? I must know you escaped the press that hammered home the point that this was not going to be a continuation, like Goldfinger, it was going to be its own story.

    No fun and a brooding Bond? I couldn't disagree more. From Eve trying to explain to HQ what was happening during the chase, Bond in M's home, to Tanner briefing Bond, the tests, Q and Bond's relationship, Eve again, the komodo dragons, Silva and Bond, etc. Bond was brooding for a little bit, but he was shot a couple times, once on the order of his boss. I thought there was more life in any number of scenes than the entirety of QoS and the Bourne series.

    This is not a Bond-becoming-Bond story. Bond became Bond when he let Vesper go. This is the Daniel Craig era becoming Classical Bond, which is definitely part of the reason for its success.

    1. Actually, Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson have both said in interviews promoting Skyfall that these three films are indeed a trilogy. Which is at odds with what Daniel Craig has said in interviews, that it isn't. Given the lack of any continuity with the previous films, it's possible that Broccoli and Wilson haven't seen it.

      I agree that there are some great moments and there is no doubt that it is one of the most successful films in the franchise. That said, Craig's dramatic staring for half the film does get rather tedious.

    2. Wow, I hadn't heard that from either Broccoli or Wilson. I know the feeling is Quantum is still out there, for future films, but after I saw the trailer, and by Craig's words, I knew this was a completely different beast.

      I really enjoyed the fact that there wasn't any excess dialogue. Just by the way Craig and Fiennes stood it revealed a lot about their characters. I'll take the visual storytelling over auditory storytelling every time.

    3. What's funny is that, in the Adele song, there's a line that says "So overdue I own them". I actually thought that might refer to Bond owing some payback to Quantum. Of course I know that most lyrics to Bond themes often make no sense or have anything to do with the film, still, that had me curious about what would happen in the film.