SKYFLACCID

Posted: November 14, 2012 in Uncategorized

So in South Korea ,007s Skyfall came out a full two weeks before it did in the states.  To avoid spoilers, I waited until it hit American theaters to finish my totally unqualified movie review.

In the first of this latest batch of Daniel Craig-as-007 movies, we’re given a Bond origin story in Casino Royale.  This story arc then continues into Quantum of Solace (still don’t know what the hell that means).  By Skyfall, however, Bond is an aging, guileful veteran with a grizzled chin struggling with the demons of his past as much as he grapples with his deteriorating physical ability to keep up with the demands of having a license to kill.

This is Bond as Jordan on the Wizards, Montana on the Chiefs, Beckham on the Galaxy.

Jordan retired?!

Bond as a Bruce Springsteen song

At the beginning of Skyfall, we’re shown Bond’s unraveling built up over the past two movies.   After a near-death experience at the hands of his own crew, he’s drowning in drink on some unnamed beach bar surrounded by cheering men as he takes a random shot of liquor with a provoked scorpion on his hand.  Of course, he can still close ass.  Despite an olive-skinned inamorata kissing his shoulder in bed as he mulls over his future, he can’t stay out of the game.  Cyberwarfare and terrorism at MI6 headquarters in London pulls him back, but now he’s damaged goods: out of shape, injured, can’t shoot and needs to dry out.  This may be more chinks in his armor than any Bond audience is comfortable with.

Bond can age now?

The double-O franchise used to be like The Simpsons, where the characters never age while time in the outside world carries on.  This was how things used to be done in the Bond universe before the current Daniel Craig movies.  These aren’t a trilogy like Christopher Nolan’s recent Batman movies, but they are similar in that they both attempt to entirely recreate a story with protagonists and antagonists we all know.  It’s up to the audience to disassociate any prior knowledge from any of the past movies.  The Dark Knight trilogy completes this task, while these Daniel Craig flicks insist on simultaneously existing as their own series while still carrying the torch for the Bond franchise that began with Sean Connery in Dr. No fifty years ago.

Just look past the fact that I’m like, 89.

This creates a clunky disassociation, with you know, modern technology existing and all.  Although as a book, Casino Royale is the first in Ian Fleming’s novelization of the character, the cinema simply pushes in a series reboot.  (Interestingly, Quentin Tarantino expressed interest in keeping the plot linearity of the novel and filming an origin movie in black and white, presumably with gizmos you’d see in an old Popular Science.)

“This whiz-bang’s sure got PEP!”

So are they just going to hit reset again on the Bond series after they’ve shelved Daniel Craig as James Bond?  We’re seeing the first signs of this already, with Dame Judie Dench hitting the bricks and Ralph Fiennes aka Voldemort moving in to play the part of M.  Moneypenny arrives also, with her own origin story included in Skyfall.  Without these changes they’ve certainly written themselves into a corner. Previous Bond movies have almost all started and ended in a vacuum and stand alone plot-wise.  But this is Hollywood on the ropes, and as the New Yorker put it, “it’s the work of a machine that aspires to nothing more than self-perpetuation,” so the reheating, repackaging, and restructuring of tried-and-true stories will only continue.  After Craig, I guess Bond will resurface with a new set of circumstances in an alternate universe that will probably contradict the plotline of the Daniel Craig Bond’s, and the audience will be apt to accept it.

This outright disavowal of the rest of the franchise is wonky and hard to rectify as a union with the entire James Bond cinema oeuvre over the decades, but with enough chase scenes like the spectacular opener before the credits roll at the beginning of Skyfall, audiences most likely won’t mind.

Definitely not ‘All Guns Cheat Mode’

What Casino Royale showed in Bond’s youthful but vulnerable élan and Quantum of Solace had in a fishing tackle knot of a script, Skyfall has in a straightforward, stripped down approach.  MI6 headquarters has been destroyed by Javier Bardem’s character Raul Silva–a former MI6 agent who’s now after M, Bond, and the entire British clandestine service.  They’re forced to work out of an abandoned subway station on the London tube while Bond gets back up to speed.

Things are slimmed down not just in Bond’s amorous exploits (interestingly, the only real female in his life is now the iron-clad matron “M” and his need to protect her from revenge-bent Silva), but also in plot conflict,  flash, and weaponry.  In Skyfall, Bond doesn’t rely on innovative gadgets like laser watches or amphibious Aston Martins; this is Bond stripped and sanded—a new, younger device man,(Q) has provided only a palm-print activated Walther PPK pistol and a small distress signal activator, somewhat to Bond’s chagrin.  Even in the final showdown, Bond and co. are privy only to a few handguns, shotguns and a couple of sticks of dynamite.  It’s a great reality and the best aspect of the movie–an antithesis to Die Another Day, the nadir of Pierce Brosnan’s gadget-bloated tenure as Bond.

(Overall, Pierce gets a pass, though.)

Why I quit Little League.

The conflicts in this movie are simple: man vs. man, and man vs. himself (for both Bond and M).  Still, the result of creating an easy-to follow good vs. evil plot over a convoluted plot of Quantum of Solace (or a Mission Impossible III) come off as the IKEA of diegisis—the masses can put it together with ease, but it certainly isn’t special or unique.  (Although “diegisis” could be an IKEA nightstand).

In the age of smart, non-meatdick action thrillers like the Bournes, Batmans and Ghost Protocols, Skyfall comes up short on both plot and hand-to-hand combat.   Still, the shot direction is fun to watch.  Use of vast spaces in Scotland and dark, hell-like imagery in the buildup to the final showdown draws a grim aloneness that alludes to the movie’s opening credits. (At least Adele sings the Bond song this time around.  Kick rocks, Madge.)

No country for power-bottoms

As Bond’s foe, the Spanish actor Javier Bardem is suspect at best.  He devolves from cold-as-ice Anton Chigurh fame in Oscar-winning No Country for Old Men to play a manipulative killer that looks more like a slightly menacing client of a botched gay makeover.  But since he’s there to be the creepy ultimate badass like Bardem knocked out of the park in No Country for Old Men this attempt at having a gay villain is so pushed down our throats (pun intended) without any Coen Brother’s nuance that he comes off as a Modern Family-caricature of the soulless killer Chigurh sprinkled (again, pun intended) with a bit of poor-man’s Hannibal Lecter.

“What’s the most you ever lost on a coin toss?”

“My career.”

Macao as Biloxi

Bond globetrots chasing after some world-threatening object/scenario as usual, and lands in the Chinese gambling mecca of Macao.  This sort of represents the alternate universe Bond and the Bond movie makers live in, and laughably avoids depicting China’s threatening modernism.  Macao, which makes more than two-thirds the money in gambling annually than Las Vegas, is represented through a scene in a floating Ming-Dynasty paper lantern and sliding doors casino stuffed full of the world’s tuxedoed ne’er-do-wells and bejeweled, sophisticated whores.  This instead of what I personally saw last summer as Macao’s true identity: a booming but relentlessly gaudy Hong Kong-meets-Reno with all the slot-machine fun of a senior gambling jamboree.  In Skyfall, Macao looks more like P.F. Chang’s on a cruise ship bound for Nassau than the world’s foremost gambling city.

Macao, now with 35% less sex-trafficking!

However, this inauthentic Macao scene does segway nicely into a baddie getting eaten alive after falling into a gila monster pit.  And here’s my problem.  You can’t pull that shit off anymore if you’re trying to be the new Bond in the new world.  Bad guys still have the sophisticated villainous weaponry, but now instead of shark tanks with lasers and croc pits they have political clout and web 2.0 hacking indoctrination.  You used to be able to have Roger Moore’s Bond keep his cool by saying something terribly dry about an impending death just before he skips over a pond full of crocodiles.  In the new world, Daniel Craig’s verifiable panache, tapered Armani suits, and parkour abilities should be able to carry a movie in a time when we’ve risen above such campy Roger Moore-era devices like gila monster pits.

Never again, Rog.

Daniel Craig could still go down as the best 007

What Sean Connery did with debonair masculinity, Roger Moore did with a wry wink, and Pierce Brosnan did with overall ostentatious handsome, Craig does with his oversized-shoulder swagger.  He’s meaner, more vulnerable, and definitely more morally ambiguous.  He also looks more like a competitive Crossfit freak than an agent provocateur.  Craig is the only actor to have kept Bond’s mix of deadliness and charm while adding layers of pathos to the character.  He shows us a man living on the fringe, a bachelor without deep conscience but not without regret.  I just felt a little let down.  There’s still the tapered suits and cufflinks he straightens mid-fight, but in Skyfall Craig delivers a character performance like a team with a nice lead in the third quarter.  Nothing exceptionally risky, nothing damaging.

Despite Director Sam Mendes’ (from American Beauty fame) gutsy visuals, the spectacular coordination and the stunts of the opening scene, the script falls flat.  The flick is not a miss but it’s not a game-changer. I suppose that says something to the state of the Bond franchise as a now and future cinema juggernaut, but the best Bond of all time?

Skyfall isn’t even the best Bond of the last decade.

Without too much more word pun, Skyfall isn’t the zenith of a hallowed action series, but more like that moment with the morbidly obese guy doing two momentum-gaining pre-jumps on the edge of a diving board.

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