“Skyfall”: A Review

 

What follows discusses “Skyfall” in some detail, so be warned if you wish to see it without having had any of its not particularly surprising plot points revealed.

“Skyfall,” the twenty-third cinematic outing for secret agent extraordinaire James Bond, is a pretty good movie as far as these things go. If you are not put off by obvious capitulations to cinematic nonsense — that ten minutes outside of Istanbul is an alpine wonderland of gorgeous scenery and perilous gorges; that the United Kingdom has host-country permission for shootouts pretty much everywhere; that computer hacking is mostly accomplished by typing more frenetically than the self-evolving hostile code — then it’s a fine way to spend two and a half hours.

It also doesn’t quite hold up, and not for the usual reasons. James Bond films are always escapist, which is a generous way of saying they run the gamut from unrealistic to insultingly ridiculous. “Skyfall,” though, attempts something a bit different, in that it is a film with a message. That message is this: old things are still necessary things. It’s a good one, and right, but poorly delivered, mostly because the film never establishes that necessity.

The villain of the piece, Javier Bardem’s Raoul Silva, is on a mission to humiliate and murder Judi Dench’s M. As the film unfolds, we find that he has a rather good reason for doing so: years past, she betrayed him to the Chinese, who proceeded to torture him for a very long time. Her reason for having done so is explained away in an unfortunate monologue in which M explains that Silva, while in MI6’s employ, once exceeded his brief and caused a lot of trouble. (A canny filmmaker might give us a look of alarm, or perhaps self-awareness, on James Bond’s face at this point, but no such luck.) You can’t like Silva, but you also can’t blame him for being rather resentful. In a different movie, his quest would be played as a righteous crusade for vengeance. The man is owed some payback, or at least a generous pension.

Why do we care about any of this? “Skyfall” confers upon Silva some rather improbable powers of information dominance, plus command of squads upon squads of expert killers. James Bond must stop Silva because Silva can access all the information, and control all the machines, all the time! (This is, by the bye, also the threat in the season finale of season two of the BBC’s “Sherlock,” and Sandra Bullock’s 1995 epic “The Net,” and “Lawnmower Man,” and please stop using this.) Okay, that’s reason for the world to care — and when the British soldiers swarm Silva’s island compound with all its servers, you’d think they’d end that threat. But they don’t! We learn this about twenty minutes later, when Silva is revealed to still have helicopters, and weaponry, and access to electronic muckety muck that he brings to bear for the climactic fight at Bond’s childhood estate of Skyfall in Scotland.

Yes, Scotland: we learn that Bond, James Bond, is Scottish in the same movie whose marketing advertised an early scene in which a psychologist, subjecting the agent to free-association, says “Country,” and Bond replies, “England.” This is not something Scotsmen are apt to do. But you know where that moviegoing market lives.

So, in the end, of course Silva is defeated, after Bardem chews on so much scenery he chokes. M expires, thereby giving the villain his win — although the film betrays no hint whatsoever that James Bond understands he has actually failed in his mission. His gambit to fight the bad guy mano a mano turns out to be a bust after the bad guy sensibly brings along about twenty other manos. Is there any inkling of this? Is there any shred of understanding that Bond may grasp that his plan completely failed? Is there any regret at not having had a plan B? Is there any acknowledgement that the United Kingdom, having displayed in this same movie an ability to deploy an entire air-assault company to a Pacific island in mere minutes, could likely have done the same in the United Kingdom? Finally, as M journeys to wherever spy chiefs who give up their people to Chinese torture go, is there any realization communicated to the audience that the actual threat posed by Silva — remember, he can access all the information and blow up all the gas mains and tank all the markets! — is still live and presumably accessible by many living henchmen?

Spoilers: no, no, no, no, and no.

“Skyfall” falls into the same maw of climactic irrelevance that consumed “Return of the Jedi,” where the major scene of resolution — Luke Skywalker’s final confrontation with Darth Vader — was pointless to the eventual outcome. Imagine an alternate “Return of the Jedi,” if you will, in which Skywalker is either slaughtered by his father, or joins his father to murder the Emperor and establish a new hereditary Dark Side galactic imperium. (Hey, this sounds like a much better film, now that I mention it.) What happens next? Why, the same thing that happens when Luke and goodness win: Lando Calrissian and Wedge Antilles blow up the Death Star and everyone on board. (Like I said, much better.) This is “Skyfall” in a nutshell. The major resolution is, when you think about it, the minor resolution, and ultimately irrelevant to boot. At least “Jedi” gave us the big-picture finish. “Skyfall” doesn’t even bother, on the probably correct assumption that most won’t miss it.

At the end of all this, we are to be persuaded of what the late M, quoting Tennyson to boorish British Cabinet ministers, has been contending all along, and is The Big Message of “Skyfall”: old things are still necessary things. A cracked porcelain British bulldog, draped in a Union Jack, is our visual signifier here, as it travels throughout the film from M’s desk to what is presumably Bond’s self-storage space to a future episode of Storage Wars UK. Yet “Skyfall” manages to make the contrary case in full: its major crisis is precipitated by MI6 itself, and its protagonist fails at his major mission. James Bond of the 1950s and 1960s issued from Ian Flemings’s pen fighting absurdist villains, yes, but also real-world threats including first and foremost global communism. “Skyfall’s” vision is more narrow, combating the monster of our own creation. The world is safer after Hugo Drax dies: it isn’t after Raoul Silva does. 

And there’s the irony of “Skyfall,” which sets up its main character and institutions as false anachronisms to be revealed as relevant and triumphant. It thereby accidentally exposes a real anachronism, exemplified in a Churchillian cracked-porcelain bulldog: a Britain that believed in something.

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Members have made 44 comments.

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  1. Profile photo of Mollie Hemingway Contributor

    Just saw the flick and enjoyed your review. Were you as surprised as I was that Sam Mendes made the bad guy be a homosexual with mommy issues? Or is that predictable?

    • #1
    • November 25, 2012 at 6:16 am
  2. Profile photo of Misthiocracy Member

    Just be happy that this is the last Bond flick for the hack scriptwriting team of Purvis & Wade. Virtually everything that has been wrong about the Bond franchise since The World Is Not Enough can be laid at their feet.

    Skyfall wasn’t a film. It was a mashup of other films:

    • Mission Impossible
    • Goldeneye
    • The World Is Not Enough
    • You Only Live Twice
    • The Dark Knight

    Heck, even some of the music was a ripoff of The Dark Knight (first Bond film since Tomorrow Never Dies that wasn’t scored by David Arnold, and it showed).

    Plus, Q was portrayed as an idiot who (spoiler alert) thinks that the bad guy’s password showing up as cleartext on an encrypted hard drive isn’t at all suspicious, and couldn’t possibly be a trap.

    I’m still hopeful that the next one will be better, since they’s finally ditched Purvis & Wade. They should really hire Jeffrey Deaver or Raymond Benson, and/or use John Gardner’s books as source material.

    • #2
    • November 25, 2012 at 6:19 am
  3. Profile photo of Misthiocracy Member
    Mollie Hemingway, Ed.: Just saw the flick and enjoyed your review. Were you as surprised as I was that Sam Mendes made the bad guy be a homosexual with mommy issues? Or is that predictable? · 3 minutes ago

    Was he really, or was he just trying to get Bond’s goat? I think he was just doing an “enhanced interrogation” tactic, trying to get a rise out of Mr. Cool.

    • #3
    • November 25, 2012 at 6:21 am
  4. Profile photo of Joshua Treviño Contributor
    Joshua Treviño Post author

    Mollie, given my abiding loathing of Sam Mendes — I agree with Camille Paglia that “American Beauty” was “crappy [and] condescending” — when we got to that part, I let it just go right by. It’s not even close to his worst.

    • #4
    • November 25, 2012 at 6:22 am
  5. Profile photo of Misthiocracy Member

    I really hope they bring back QUANTUM, which was really starting to get good as the successor to SPECTRE.

    • #5
    • November 25, 2012 at 6:24 am
  6. Profile photo of Joshua Treviño Contributor
    Joshua Treviño Post author

    Quantum faded as a threat when its big scheme turned out to be a probably-not-even-illegal attempt to corner the Bolivian water market.

    • #6
    • November 25, 2012 at 6:25 am
  7. Profile photo of Misthiocracy Member
    Joshua Treviño: Quantum faded as a threat when its big scheme turned out to be a probably-not-even-illegal attempt to corner the Bolivian water market. 

    Ah, but that was just one scheme. It’s not like SPECTRE only ever had one iron in the fire at a time. The point isn’t the individual scheme. The point is that there’s still an organization out there about which Universal Exports still knows nothing.

    • #7
    • November 25, 2012 at 6:27 am
  8. Profile photo of Misthiocracy Member

    Also, Adele’s theme song was terrible.

    It should have been Muse’s song Supremacy (as seen in this fan-made trailer) which they submitted to the Bond producers but was rejected.

    • #8
    • November 25, 2012 at 6:44 am
  9. Profile photo of Mollie Hemingway Contributor
    Misthiocracy: Also, Adele’s theme song was terrible.

    OK, you lost me. It’s a great song — perfect homage, nice mix of vintage Bond and authentic Adele. What’s terrible about it?

    • #9
    • November 25, 2012 at 6:51 am
  10. Profile photo of Joshua Treviño Contributor
    Joshua Treviño Post author

    Yeah, it was pretty good. If you want a genuinely terrible Bond song, have a listen to Johnny Cash’s “Thunderball” theme. This is real. This actually happened.

    • #10
    • November 25, 2012 at 6:56 am
  11. Profile photo of Misthiocracy Member
    Mollie Hemingway, Ed.
    Misthiocracy: Also, Adele’s theme song was terrible.

    OK, you lost me. It’s a great song — perfect homage, nice mix of vintage Bond and authentic Adele. What’s terrible about it? · 2 minutes ago

    For one, no Bond theme song has used the title of the movie nearly as many times. Yes, the movie’s name is Skyfall, we get it.

    Madonna’s song for Die Another Day comes close. It was also terrible.

    I fully concede that I generally prefer the “rock” Bond themes. The ballads are only worthwhile if Shirley Bassey is the singer.

    Incidentally, Shirley Bassey recorded a theme for Quantum of Solace. It was rejected. Sigh…

    • #11
    • November 25, 2012 at 6:57 am
  12. Profile photo of Lance Member

    I thought it was fine. I really dig Craig as Bond and more or less take it at face value, as long as they try to accomplish something. By that try to be something more than just a cartoon. Casino Royale was a blast, quantum less so. This one more the first than the last.My two favorite are still my first two…both less than great in retrospect. But still no less fun… For Your Eyes Only and Octopussy. But the best Bond film isn’t a bond film, but is everything a Bond film should be, including a superior bond girl that is more Lady than girl… The Thomas Crowne Affair with Brosnan and the amazing Renee Russo. I can watch that movie a hundred times and never tire of it, or stop wishing that aa real Bond movie was more life that.With Daniel Craig, at least it is, even just a little.

    • #12
    • November 25, 2012 at 7:01 am
  13. Profile photo of Lance Member

    Sorry, that last comment of mine was full of typos, way more than by my normal standards of accidental error. First comments made from an iPad.

    • #14
    • November 25, 2012 at 7:05 am
  14. Profile photo of Misthiocracy Member
    Lance: I thought it was fine. I really dig Craig as Bond and more or less take it at face value, as long as they try to accomplish something. By that try to be something more than just a cartoon. Casino Royale was a blast, quantum less so. This one more the first than the last.

    Craig is my favourite Bond, and Casino Royale is my favourite Bond movie. Of all the movies, it’s the one that stays closest to the novel, despite the necessary changes to bring the setting up to date with the 21st Century, and Craig comes closest to what’s in my mind when I read the Bond stories (especially the short stories in For Your Eyes Only).

    If you want to see Pierce Brosnan at his best, go rent The Fourth Protocol. It’s my favourite spy movie of all time. It’s definitely the best spy movie of the 80s.

    • #15
    • November 25, 2012 at 7:08 am
  15. Profile photo of Misthiocracy Member
    Lance: Sorry, that last comment of mine was full of typos, way more than by my normal standards of accidental error. 

    SPECTRE does not tolerate failure.

    (Lance falls into piranha tank under Blofeld’s desk.)

    • #16
    • November 25, 2012 at 7:15 am
  16. Profile photo of Lance Member

    Myth…I remember watching Fourth Protocol a long while back and will look it up again. When it comes to spy movies, I read a bunch of Robert Ludlum stuff back in the day, including the original Bourne Trilogy. Talk about having to bring material up to the 21st century. It took me a while to realize that Hollywood was doing more than an admirable job making Mr. Webb a realistic cinematic reality. Making the character a superman was a fine tradeoff for jettisoning the very dated and very convoluted plot line that wove through the three books. I still do pine a bit for those classic spy stories making it to the movies, even if they were all about secret Nazi societies and their secret plans to take over the world via some Greek myth inspired naming techniques.Would I have been better served reading John Le Carre? If so, what should I invest my audiobook credit in?

    • #17
    • November 25, 2012 at 7:26 am
  17. Profile photo of Misthiocracy Member
    Lance: Would I have been better served reading John Le Carre? If so, what should I invest my audiobook credit in?

    The George Smiley books are great, but they aren’t action-filled thrillers. Le Carre wrote them as a sort of rebuttal to the Bond novels. Bond’s adventures were based on the sort of action British soldiers and agents saw in World War II, and very unrealistic for the Cold War era. Le Carre’s Smiley stories are about what spycraft was really like during the Cold War (from Le Carre’s point of view, anyways). Slow, methodical, and bureaucratic.

    I’d recommend they be read in order.

    (Personally, I think one can skip A Murder of Quality. It’s not up to the standard of the rest of the oeuvre.)

    I’m not much of a fan of Le Carre’s novels that do not feature George Smiley. Once Le Carre stops writing about the Cold War, he really loses it.

    • #18
    • November 25, 2012 at 7:33 am
  18. Profile photo of goodburker Member

    I actually liked the movie and it’s themes, and even Bardem’s performance, very much. Oh, and the credit sequence was awesome. The song was good, not a classic, but solid.

    A few points:

    1. The James Bond franchise got a reboot with the Daniel Craig remake of Casino Royale. Bond was now darker, grittier and had to operate in a world without absolutes. An analog might be the Christopher Nolan reboot of the Batman franchise (much better movies, I admit)
    2. We live in a world where bad guys are hunted by drones, The government reads emails without warrants, and a right to life is not intrinsic but relative to a person’s utility. Moral confusion ensues. In this world, how “useful” is Bond? How “useful” is M?
    3. The island was a setup. It was all a setup, bread crumbs to lead Bond to Silva, which would get Silva to M. So it didn’t bother me that the tech threat wasn’t ended there – there could’ve been more servers somewhere else.
    4. Silva died never knowing if M would, thereby robbing him of the satisfaction of vengeance.
    5. It not a great film, but I thought a pretty good one.
    • #19
    • November 25, 2012 at 7:36 am
  19. Profile photo of Lance Member

    Myth- George Smiley was the protagonist in Tinker, Tailor Soldier Spy? I saw that film. What was your take on that?

    • #20
    • November 25, 2012 at 7:47 am
  20. Profile photo of Misthiocracy Member
    Lance: Myth- George Smiley was the protagonist in Tinker, Tailor Soldier Spy? I saw that film. What was your take on that? · 1 minute ago

    It’s too big and intricate a story to fit into one movie. The movie really glossed over large parts of it. The tv series with Alec Guinness as Smiley did a much better job.

    Even so, all of Le Carre’s stuff should be read instead of watched. His stuff is so methodical, and internal, and intricate, that it does not translate well to the screen. In many cases, you really need to be able to back up to previous chapters to retrace the trail of breadcrumbs he leaves for you.

    That being said, the performances in TTSS were spot-on. Gary Oldman was masterful, and the others did fantastic work as well. No complaints here about the acting.

    • #21
    • November 25, 2012 at 7:53 am
  21. Profile photo of Misthiocracy Member
    Joshua Treviño:

    … that the United Kingdom has host-country permission for shootouts pretty much everywhere…

    The recent James Bond novel, Carte Blanche, which was a much more well-thought-out reboot of the Bond Mythos, addresses this very well.

    In the novel, Bond is not licensed to carry a gun on UK soil. As such, he’s ordered to liaise with MI5 and Scotland Yard’s Special Branch.

    This adds something we’ve never seen before in a Bond story, when in one of the action scenes Bond is unarmed when he comes under attack.

    When outside the UK, Bond is required to liaise with the local security service if he wants to so much as wipe his nose. 

    Bond, of course, finds all this bureaucracy incredibly stifling,

    The villain is also a perfect reinvention for the 21st century. I don’t want to spoil it for y’all…

    • #22
    • November 25, 2012 at 8:13 am
  22. Profile photo of Misthiocracy Member
    Neolibertarian: I’m not sure what “best Bond film” means, nor what most people expect from Bond films in general.

    I actually set a very low bar for Bond films, which is precisely why I’m such a cranky fan-boy when they don’t meet my low standards:

    1. Dialogue can be corny, but not TOO corny. (See, Goldeneye: “She always did like a good squeeze.” Ugh.)
    2. Bond is not Superman. He cannot break the laws of physics. (See, Goldeneye pre-credits sequence.)
    3. Plot holes take me right out of the movie. (Even a rookie mall security guard could have seen that Silva WANTED to be captured. That Bond and MI6 fell for it is inexcusable.)
    4. The villain and his/her scheme must be plausible. That means no space lasers, no underwater octopus lairs, and no tectonic bombs dropping California into the ocean.
    5. The gadgets must be plausible. Submarine cars are allowed, barely, but invisible cars are not.
    6. Pseudoscience is to be shunned. This isn’t Star Trek.

    Do I really ask for too much?

    • #23
    • November 25, 2012 at 8:50 am
  23. Profile photo of John Fitzgerald Member

    Skyfall was an above average action film, but a terrible Bond film, even with the Daniel Craig reinvention. The central threat to British intelligence did not seem menacing enough with mid-90’s movie computer viruses popping up on M’s screens taunting her.

    Also, Javier Bardem was a great choice of an actor for a terribly written villain. He was too sympathetic after revealing the physical effects of his torture in concert with how minimal of harm he was perpetrating. (The room full of servers didn’t seem very scary.) In fact, M almost comes across like ‘the bad guy’ with her equally emotionless treatment of Bardem’s character and Bond.

    A more focused threat that builds rage in the audience would have been more effective, and Bardem’s death felt like an afterthought.

    The film’s length seemed to be more for the director to check all of the requirements of a Bond film rather out of what the plot and characters required. A very unBondlike Bond film.

    I expected better since I really enjoy Craig as Bond, and like Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace.

    • #24
    • November 25, 2012 at 8:57 am
  24. Profile photo of Commodore BTC Member

    Goldeneye is my favorite intro theme (also one of the best Bond films)

    • #25
    • November 25, 2012 at 9:02 am
  25. Profile photo of Neolibertarian Inactive

    I’m not sure what “best Bond film” means, nor what most people expect from Bond films in general.

    Almost every film begins with a spectacular and improbable escape/chase sequence. Jumping out of an airplane without a parachute, skiing down the alps chased by motorcycles. Then comes the dream sequence with psychedelic floating nude women and credits. Then the movie actually begins with smart ass James teasing/flirting with Moneypenny, getting his orders from M, and then getting his spy gadgets from Q. Then he infiltrates the bad guy’s HQ, gets caught, escapes, and then saves the day. The more twists and reversals, the better.

    Something changed in the Bond films from Craig’s Casino to Skyfall. James is more human than before. The Empire isn’t what it once was. The enemies are less Russian, less Dr. No, less SPECTRE, and more like home grown corporations.

    M cast away 2 top agents. She abandoned Raoul Silva to the Chinese, and she ordered Moneypenny to “take the shot” on James Bond.

    It’s a story about fallible people. A fallible Empire. Thereby it makes what the protagonists are attempting even more impossible, and dare we say it? Heroic.

    • #26
    • November 25, 2012 at 9:40 am
  26. Profile photo of James Of England Moderator

    I thought that having the villain be, for the first half at least, essentially wikileaks/ Assange was a lovely surprise. If only Hollywood could more often remind us of the evils of the left.

    I’d also note that the film does not, as I recall, establish that Bond was Scottish. It establishes that he grew up in Scotland, and that his family had held a house there for generations. He responds “England” to “Country”; quite a lot of English people and English families who have lived in Scotland were made to feel their nationality keenly, and the bigotry and prejudice used to be even more unpleasant. As with all such matters, there are many people who experienced no such problem (I have had little to complain about in my years north of the border, for instance, and I don’t believe that Mrs. of England suffers either).

    goodburker: The island was a setup. It was all a setup, bread crumbs to lead Bond to Silva, which would get Silva to M. So it didn’t bother me that the tech threat wasn’t ended there – there could’ve been more servers somewhere else.

    I agree.

    • #27
    • November 25, 2012 at 10:26 am
  27. Profile photo of Rob in N.CA Inactive
    Misthiocracy

     

    Do I reallyask for too much? · 1 hour ago

    Not really, but it is disappointing to have an actor like Craig playing Bond and to not get good movie to go along with him.

    • #28
    • November 25, 2012 at 10:51 am
  28. Profile photo of Misthiocracy Member
    Rob in N.CA
    Misthiocracy

    Do I reallyask for too much? · 1 hour ago

    Not really, but it is disappointing to have an actor like Craig playing Bond and to not get good movie to go along with him. · 2 hours ago

    Oh, now, please allow me to back-pedal a bit. Skyfall wasn’t a bad Bond flick. It’s definitely in the top 12 (out of 23).

    I’m much more critical of the flicks that almost get it right than the ones that get it completely wrong.

    The ones that are thoroughly awful can simply be dismissed and forgotten, but the ones that come oh so close to getting it right without quite nailing it really stick in one’s head and cause insomnia as one obsesses over the unforced errors.

    I place Skyfall in that category. It coulda been in the top five. It coulda been a contender.

    • #29
    • November 26, 2012 at 1:06 am
  29. Profile photo of Mollie Hemingway Contributor
    Misthiocracy: Best Song: You Know My Name by Chris Cornell (I know I’m in the minority, but the lyrics are simply perfect for a Bond song.)

    Well at least now I understand your dislike of Adele.

    • #30
    • November 26, 2012 at 3:07 am
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