Saturday, 10 November 2012

Skyfall (2012)

THERE ARE SPOILERS HERE. SPOILERS. SO MANY SPOILERS. DON'T READ THIS POST IF YOU HAVEN'T SEEN SKYFALL YET, BECAUSE IT WILL RUIN YOUR LIFE. Turn back now! This is your last chance! I am not responsible for your misery if you read beyond this point without having seen the movie. SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS. Get it?

SPOILER: Bond seduces a woman and drinks a martini.

Listen, Daniel Craig's James Bond. I've been lenient with you. I got that Casino Royale was your first day out and that the young Bond was supposed to be a little rough around the edges anyway. And I understood that Quantum of Solace came out only two years after the previous entry, and that you had the writers' strike to deal with. But this is your third outing as Bond, it's four years in the making, and if you continue to insist upon pretending you're Jason Bourne, we're going to have a problem.

Matt Damon called, he wants his schtick back.
In Skyfall (Sam Mendes, 2012) an injured Bond (Daniel Craig) struggles to recapture his M16 glory days in order to confront a new threat. If that sounds familiar, it's because you saw it in The Dark Knight. Said threat appears to originate from a mystery computer hacker, but later turns out to be a rogue agent. If that sounds familiar, it's because you saw it in Goldeneye. The plot thickens when the baddie of the piece targets M (Judi Dench) personally over perceived betrayal. If that sounds familiar, it's because you saw it in The World Is Not Enough. Bond and M flee to the former's abandoned family manor, which is still being attended by a trusty groundskeeper from Bond's youth. If that sounds familiar, it's because you saw it in Batman Begins. Along the way there are action sequences more or less ripped from The Dark Knight, Enter the Dragon, and Blade Runner, and then, finally, there's a climactic showdown that frankensteins plot showpieces from Home Alone and Metal Gear Solid. I know there's nothing new under the sun, but this shit is ridiculous.

Skyfall would have been a great standard-issue Joe Schmoe's Bad Day action movie, but this is not supposed to be just another action flick. This is a Bond movie. There are certain things that come with the territory -- women, booze, one-liners, tuxedos. It's time the Craig Bond films stopped treating the Bond hallmarks like slightly embarrassing hurdles to be jumped and embraced the sources of this franchise's unparalleled durability. Chris Nolan can get away with the "everything's real serious" shit in his Batman reboots because tone has never been an identifying feature of the Batman mythos: we've had The Killing Joke, and we've also had batsuits with nipples. But the raised eyebrow, the perfectly timed groaner, the cheesy double entendre are the bread and butter of Bond. Take them all away in the name of modernization, and what's left? Just Joe Schmoe's Bad Day. In Ernest Hemingway's words (forgive me, Hem) it was a wonderful cure, but we lost the patient.

I also have another, very specific, gripe: every time this movie talks about, depicts, or even uses a computer, it's suddenly dated by 20 years. The CGI in the opening is distractingly blocky, with an early-90s Reboot slickness (too bad, because Adele's song is lovely). And Skyfall's notion of hackers -- that they spend 10% of their time actually hacking stuff and 90% designing scary skull animations and cryptic messages to freak out their victims -- is straight out of The Nancy Drew Files: Crime at the Ch@t Cafe (I should know because I had that book when I was 10 and loved the shit out of it).

I know this comes off as harsh. In truth, Skyfall has a lot going for it. I'll probably go see it again. There's a great action sequence on the London Tube and some deliciously claustrophobic stuff in the secret passages off Bond's house. The supporting cast is fabulous (can baby-faced Ben Wishaw really be 32?), and the cinematography is lovely, and yet... somehow, it all Skyfalls short. (I've been waiting three paragraphs to use that line.)

Don't try this dress at home.
SCENE STEALER: There's a surprising, and needless to say disappointing, dearth of Bond Girls in Skyfall, but Berenice Lim Marlohe gets an interesting couple of scenes as the mysterious Severine. The film seems to be quite consciously subverting the Bond franchise's tradition of stereotypically fetishized Asian women (Miss Taro, Kissy Suzuki, Peaceful Fountains of Desire) in Severine. She appears in a Shanghai casino looking literally like the cliche of the "dragon lady" -- long lacquered nails, heavy makeup, blowing her cigarette smoke out in a snarl -- but before long reveals that the truth of her situation, and her relationship with Bond, is a little more complicated. It's not unproblematic, obviously, but it's an interesting attempt at self-deconstruction on the part of the franchise. Severine also gets one of the more iconic deaths in recent Bond history (where's William Tell when you need him?).

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