Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Film Review: Skyfall (2012)

I don't get it. From the reviews Skyfall's been getting I'd expected something pretty damn special, a new standard in Bond films. What were the critics seeing? It's not bad, not at all, and it's better than Quantum of Solace, but it's not as good as Casino Royale. This is an OK film, but by a narrow margin there's more that's wrong with it than right with it.

Plot has never been the strong suit of Bond films. The high point in that regard was From Russia With Love and it's been downhill ever since. But even by the weak standards of this franchise, Skyfall gets demerit points. In a nutshell, an ex-agent played by Javier Bardem feels he was betrayed by M (Judi Dench) and decides to humiliate and kill her. And to accomplish this he sets up a vast criminal organization that's entirely devoted to offing her. It really doesn't get much more complicated than that. The plot is simplistic, but it also becomes annoying because various key plot points revolve around the villain's genius at hacking computers. This has got to stop. Filmmakers have to stop using hacking and hackers as plot devices to explain away the success or failure of complex schemes. They might just as well  hand one of the characters a magic wand and have them solve problems with that. What's worse is that the audience's intelligence is usually being insulted at the same time. Most people are intimately familiar with computers, but filmmakers seem to think they can getaway with showing computers doing all kinds of unlikely things, and this film features a giant computer display that even the most computer-illiterate person is going to find fatuous.

The other problem with Skyfall is that it neglects Daniel Craig. Craig is the best actor to have held the 007 license, but in this outing he seems to have been shorted in the dialogue department. What a waste of talent. Bardem and Dench get the longish speeches while Craig is left with nothing but quipy or stoic one-liners. Admittedly, Bond and one-liners go together like bacon and eggs, but this isn't Roger Moore we're dealing with.

On the plus side, the action elements are up to snuff, and the finale in the Scottish Highlands has a moodiness that's a first for a Bond film .Although when Bond and M head into the Highlands for the showdown with the villain, for a brief moment the scenery made me think they were heading to Hogwarts. Bardem is a good villain, far better than that anonymous, weaselly-looking French baddie in Quantum, and the overall look of the film is pleasingly sleek: just what we expect from a Bond film. The massive success Skyfall is enjoying is probably due to it being an action movie for grownups. The screening I attended was a sea of silver hair (mine included) and everyone seemed to be enjoying a movie devoid of superheroes, cartoon characters and Adam Sandler.

Finally, I have to mention that this has to be the most English of the Bond films. In fact, it seems to make a point of wrapping itself in the Union Jack. There's a shot of M standing in front of a row of coffins convered in Union Jacks; a poem by Tennyson is quoted that has a very patriotic tone; M has a china bulldog on her desk that's emblazoned with the flag; and, most interestingly, one of the last shots of the film shows Bond, looking very stalwart, standing on a rooftop staring out over the rooftops of Whitehall. A number of flags are waving from the rooftops in the background, and their positioning against the sky is meant, I think, to bring back memories of barrage balloons flying over London during the Blitz. In sum, this is the most Rule Britannia of the Bond films. I don't know if that's a good thing or a bad thing, but it's certainly worth noting.

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