Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Skyfall


*For the final review of my 007 Marathon, I've decided to do something a little different. For Skyfall, I approached a good friend of mine who runs a great movie review blog over at Movie Curiosities to do a 'tag-team' review on it. Check out his blog as well, and enjoy the review!
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  Skyfall, the 23rd 007 movie, takes a chapter from the Connery era reminding us what we loved about a good classic spy caper. However, at the same time, it inhabits the world that Casino Royale laid out for the current Bond. The bad guys these days aren't the megalomaniacs of old. As M says, in one of the best scenes in the movie, "I'm frightened because our enemies are no longer known to us. They do not exist on a map. They're not nations, they're individuals. And look around you. Who do you fear? Can you see a face, a uniform, a flag? No! Our world is not more transparent now, it's more opaque! It's in the shadows.-", "-ask yourselves, how safe do you feel?" The scene is not only addressing the fictional world in which the characters exist in, but also how we view villains for real.

  It bears remembering that the 007 franchise grew primarily in the '60s and '70s, periods that now seem laughably campy in retrospect. Furthermore, Bond himself is clearly a product of the Cold War, which is now thankfully long gone. Making a statement to prove why James Bond is still relevant in the 21st century was a very smart move, especially for the series' 50th anniversary.


 Absolutely. It’s also something they should’ve done for the 20th movie, which just so happens to be Die Another Day; A movie that, to me, is pretty relevant to Skyfall. The villains of this era are desperate and dangerous. They're scary. Bond villain Silva captures this perfectly, and Javier Bardem brings him to life with such flair and gusto. Of course, as an ex-agent, Silva is cut from the same cloth as Bond, he knows MI6 inside and out. Bond himself could have been in his place very easily. In fact, he was. In Die Another Day, Bond was abandoned to the enemy. How much scarier is it to think that our 'maladjusted' hero could've easily been the villain in someone else's narrative?  Unfortunately Die Another Day chose not to do anything interesting with that plot thread and without time to waste, once again reduced Bond to a smattering of cliches, smirks, and raised eyebrows. Skyfall holds up Silva as a mirror to Bond, showing us exactly what Die Another Day could've been. Clearly, it could've been a much better movie. Which is exactly what Skyfall is.

  Sorry, I know I'm in the minority on this, but I thought that Silva was pretty much entirely salvaged by Javier Bardem's performance. Silva's motivation from start to finish was to take revenge against M, which seems rather petty for a Bond villain. It would have been something very different if Silva expanded his rage to MI6 or to England, out to take revenge against the organization and the country that left him to rot. But no, Silva makes it clear that he's only after M. Bardem does a fantastic job of selling the character's mania, and he wreaks some major havoc with the purpose of making M look bad before he kills her, but he still comes off as so small-minded for a Bond villain.

  I disagree. I think his small-mindedness was actually a product of how he was trained as an MI6 agent. Even going rogue, and launching a big plan just to get revenge seems completely within the mental and emotional parameters that I can imagine MI6’s psychological conditioning would’ve instilled. He’s a product of Queen and country, for better or worse. "Blunt instruments" like Bond and Silva seem to have been trained to focus on singular targets, often to detrimental results. Just look at the opening of Casino Royale, which had Bond storming an embassy just to kill one bomb maker.

  Fair enough. Anyway, this really is M's story as much as it is Bond's. Both characters have to deal with all the death and destruction they're responsible for, both have to justify their continued existence in a world that seems to have outgrown their methods, and both have to balance their personal feelings and flaws with their duty to the greater good. It all adds up to a fantastic send-off for Judi Dench and a worthy tribute to her treatment of M as a de facto mother figure for Bond.
Incidentally, watching the movie a second time, I realized that Ralph Fiennes' Mallory character takes a bullet for M during a shootout. That's a hell of a way to pass the torch.

  Oh definitely. I noticed that this time as well, as everyone else on the council was ducking, Mallory was leaping to M’s aide. Impressive no matter what the context. But yeah, aside from operating in the very grounded and frightening world of post-9/11 espionage and murder that Casino Royale introduced, Skyfall also infuses this ongoing reboot of 007 with much-missed elements from yesteryear. Firstly, the sense of humor is on point. There are plenty of moments in Skyfall that make me laugh, but it's not the brand of in-your-face silliness that's plagued the franchise in the past. It's smartly written dialogue, and clever moments that flow with the scene and the characters. In their effort to bring back classic elements, there's a fantastic scene in which Bond makes a quip about the 'company cars' and reveals he still has an Aston Martin DB5. Which is, for those of you who don't know, is the car from Goldfinger. M remarks that it's not very comfortable, and Bond hovers his finger over a very familiar little red button...
"Oh, go on, then, eject me. See if I care." She snaps. Bond then smirks as they drive away. Probably the most obvious example of it's nostalgic mentality and of it's wittiness. It's also a perfect example of how well it works.

  Easily one of this film's greatest strengths is in how it recognizes the Bond cliches of yesteryear without being beholden to them. Q finally appears, but the gadgets that he offers are quite sensible and useful in a variety of situations, unlike the gadgets that could only be useful in some laughably specific predicament (the glass-shattering ring from Die Another Day springs to mind). And of course he asks Bond to try and bring the equipment back in one piece, but the delivery of that line makes it clear that Q is only saying it as a formality.

  It also bears mentioning that Q is now a much younger man, which makes perfect sense given the younger generation of tech geniuses today. Also, Ben Whishaw plays the character in a sort of quiet and contemplative way that contrasts brilliantly with 007. Even better, Q is no longer some recluse who only shows up long enough to dispense the weaponry -- Q uses his computer know-how to play an active role in guiding Bond and tracking Silva.

  By a similar token, it was an absolutely genius move to introduce the new Moneypenny in the opening action sequence. Right off the bat, it's immediately shown that this is a love interest who could be a worthy field partner for Bond if he really needed her. She's a love interest who's an equal to Bond and a black woman, neither of which could have been possible in the sexist and racist years of Bond's heyday. Couple that with sizzling chemistry between Craig and Naomie Harris, and this is a fantastic update for a classic Bond character.

  Definitely. An update that was long overdue if you ask me. Some people have complained about the Daniel Craig era of Bond being 'too rigid' or 'too serious'. Well, I beg to differ. It's well-rounded entertainment. Moreover, it's good James Bond, period. The movie's message of "sometimes the old ways are the best." is not lost on a fan like me. Bond hasn't turned into an aftermarket Jason Bourne yet. The exotic locations still have that spy thriller flair to them, the women are still tragic and ill-fated characters, and the action scenes are still incredible. From the opening chase scene, which involves motorbikes, cars, a train, and a digger, to a claustrophobic fist fight in a casino in Macau, all the action scenes are top shelf stuff. They still manage to wow and impress in an era so desensitized to high flying stunts and elaborate choreography.

  Don't forget the camerawork. Roger Deakins is a master cinematographer and the visuals in this movie are absolutely superb from start to finish. I'm particularly fond of the fistfight with Patrice (the assassin played by Ola Rapace), done in silhouette while the lights of downtown Shanghai dance around them and reflect off all the glass surfaces. Jaw-dropping stuff.
I'll absolutely agree with you that the action scenes are amazing, though the underwater fight scene during the climax is terribly underrated. It's notoriously difficult to stage underwater action in a way that's technically feasible and safe for the actors, but that scene manages it in a way that sells the danger and looks incredible. The pit fight at Macau is a weak point, however; it's hard to get too invested when the Gila monsters look so laughably fake.

  Although they weren’t that distracting to me, I can see how that could take someone out of the movie. But I’m definitely gonna agree with you about that underwater fight sequence. In fact, that whole scene looks simply gorgeous. Visually, it’s stunning, and I think that adds a layer to the fighting and running around that many other movies lack. Another example is the scene you mentioned a bit ago, Bond’s fight with Patrice. Simply fantastic stuff. This whole movie is eye candy, without being insulting to the audience’s intelligence. Far too many Michael Bay apologists claim his movies are simply “eye candy”, yeah well so is Skyfall. It’s also not stupid though. So there’s that.

  Getting back to the love interests, I find it interesting to note that this is the third straight Bond film in which a sympathetic Bond girl dies tragically. Of course, Bond girls are expendable by definition, but Berenice Marlohe's character was just awful all around. Paper-thin, terribly acted, and disposed of without consequence just as soon as her limited contribution to the plot has been fulfilled.

  I can agree with that to an extent. Even Ms. Fields from Quantum of Solace was a highlight of the film; Severine was nothing of the sort. However terrible this may sound… I’m actually glad she died. Because if she hadn’t she would’ve been a useless tag-along like Olga Kurylenko was in the previous film. If that wasn’t the case, she would’ve disappeared from the movie, alive, but only given a throwaway line to resolve her sub-plot. Unfortunately, when all is said and done, she was just a plot device. A tragic one at that, but one that bothers me less each time I see the movie.

Nevertheless, Bond's trademark swagger is in full gear here. The 007 theme creeps into the score every now and then at just the right moment, and it gave me a fantastic feeling. He's back. Not just Daniel Craig, or James Bond, but Ian Fleming's James Bond 007... is back. This feels like a sequel to Goldfinger or From Russia With Love. It captures that classic spy thriller atmosphere, whilst maintaining the modern elements that have saved James Bond from becoming an antiquated dinosaur. It does all this while making Moneypenny a black woman, Q a young man, and Bond a man capable of anger and making mistakes.

  I'd argue that the title theme helped a lot with that as well. Adele has built her career on soulful performances with a retro style and a modern attitude, which is exactly the blend that this newest Bond era was built on. Her song, in tandem with the classic Bond theme, form the perfect foundation for this film. It's hard to imagine a better fit, though I'd be interested to hear the similarly retro-minded Bruno Mars give one of the sequels a try.

  That would’ve been pretty neat actually, and of course, I’m in total agreement about the title theme. Adele was indeed perfect for this. And speaking of perfect, this is the perfect end cap to a trilogy of movies that sought to update and redefine what James Bond could mean to us in this day and age. Casino Royale was a huge bold step in the right direction, shedding almost all affiliation with the "old" notion of 007, but Skyfall reminds us that sometimes... some of the old ways are still good. Still usable. Still the best. As long as you handle with care, it's okay to take the DB5 out of the garage for a spin every now and then.

  The film is solid (albeit flawed), and it's exciting to think that after three movies, James Bond is back in his prime like never before. The sky's the limit with the franchise at this point, and I'm thrilled to see where MGM and Sony take 007 from here. Personally, based on what I've seen and heard so far, I have every reason to believe that they'll continue to honor the character's past while blazing a new trail.
To paraphrase the series' new M, "Good luck, Mr. Bond. Don't cock it up."

Couldn’t have said it better myself.

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