Thursday, November 22, 2012

Skyfall - 2012

"Skyfall" - 2012
Dir. by Sam Mendes - 2 hrs. 23 min.

Official Trailer

by Clayton Hollifield

First off, "Skyfall" is closer to "Casino Royale" than "Quantum of Solace."  I generally enjoyed all three films, but I got into the "Bond" game awfully late; the first one that I saw was the one with Pierce Brosnan and Halle Berry.  So what I'm saying is that I don't have any long-held beliefs about the franchise.  But I also don't have a sense of the history of these characters that some people do.  This matters because things happen in "Skyfall" (I'm going to forgo any plot recap, and I'm sure as hell not going to spoil these things that happen) that matter to the franchise itself.  These things come across as important regardless of your level of involvement with the Bond franchise, but probably mean more if you've spent a lot of time with these characters.

Probably the most important thing to note is that the Daniel Craig version of James Bond seems capable of feeling human emotions.  While it provides for gripping scenes (and it's nice to have a character that will react to things at times instead of no-selling everything), it also means longer films.  This might become a problem in a film that doesn't have "things happen," but I didn't feel like "Skyfall" lagged at all.  The flow of the film between slower, smaller scenes and the spectacular action pieces make for a good mix.

In regards to the action pieces, the opening chase through Istanbul that starts with cars, moves to motorcycles, and winds up on top of a train was fantastic, and unfortunately reminiscent of the big action finale to the very recent "Bourne Legacy."  It's not a problem, and in the context of the separate films, it's not like anybody's cribbing from one another, but it's worth noting that if you're into spy movies, you might see both, and you might notice the overlap.  There are other action scenes here worth the price of admission; Bond stalking an assassin in Shanghai is spectacular, particularly in a visual sense.  It's a unique approach, and must be seen to be believed.

"Skyfall" also delivers all the things you'd expect from a Bond film.  Aside from the action, which is definitely up to snuff, there's all the beautiful women you'd want to see, the tuxedos, a casino scene, a somewhat flamboyant villain (Javier Bardem, who minces convincingly and appropriately), and even nods to previous films (see Bond's comment to the bartender in the Macao casino - sly without repeating catchphrases).  There's some unexpectedly heavy emotional content (talking about it would definitely constitute a walk in spoiler territory).  It's an enjoyable installment in the franchise, and did nothing to dissuade me from seeing whatever the next James Bond movie is.

So what's keeping "Skyfall" from being an all-time classic?  My main frustration with the story was that while "things happen," a continuing thread from the film is the notion that computers are the answer to everything.  How have computers changed things?  "I don't know.  Computers!"  It's as if that part of the script was penned by an eighty-year old befuddled by Friendster.  Instead of getting a grand tour of big villain Silva's (Bardem) island fortress, we get a story about how he spooked all the natives into leaving, and then we get to see his server farm.  The new Q (Albert Finney) is a computer whiz, and is subject to zit jokes.  Bond has a generally dismissive view of technology that doesn't go "bang."  The computer guys are equally dismissive and arrogant about what they can do in their pajamas (what ever happened to doing more before seven A.M. than most people do all day?  Is staying in your house in a perpetual state of undress something to aspire to?).  The whole angle is tone deaf and not very well-thought out; even John McClane had a more nuanced take on technology (while still expressing the generational difficulties of adopting it) in 2007's "Live Free or Die Hard."  When a film that has Kevin Smith playing a hacker tops a Bond film in the manner that it approaches a subject, the Bond film is the one that has work to do.

Is this nitpicking?  Maybe.  But it's also a matter of having a film that came out literally the week after the American Presidental Election that has as a central component of the story old people grumping about things.   No art exists in a vacuum, and the Bond filmmakers made a miscalculation to think that anyone wants to see old people grumping about things after spending a year-plus listening to nothing else but old people grumping about things in a political context.  This problem isn't enough to derail the film (it's only an adjunct to the main plot, but hacking takes the place of the stereotypical Bond villains' Rube Golberg contraptions), but it's enough of a problem for me to knock it down a peg.  James Bond might not like computers, but if he's in his 40's (or even his 50's), they've been around for more than half of his life in a meaningful way.  If this is the point where he's getting snippy about it, it's more of an indication of him having a problem than the world having a problem.

Beyond that, "Skyfall" is a good film.  The run-time flies by, and there's almost zero chance of anyone leaving this film let down.  It's a big holiday movie, and it functions well as such.  This makes me want to go back and re-watch the two previous Daniel Craig Bond films.  You've got to fill your holiday weekends somehow.

3.5 / 5 -Theatre

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