erik lundegaard

Skyfall
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Skyfall (2012)

WARNING: SPOILERS

Was I the only one who was bored by this? Who thought the slow bits weren’t intellectually engaging enough and the fast bits weren’t fun enough? We get the usual whiz-bang chase sequences in exotic locales around the world (and London and Scotland), and feints at soul searching (without much soul or searching), but it’s hardly fun. And what’s the point of being James Bond if there’s no fun in it?

Craig’s Bond has turned into a bore. He’s a drag. He has no twinkle in the eye, just a long, slow smolder. He lives in a post-9/11 world where he’s always on guard. He stands there, in his too-tight suit, ready to pop. In this movie he’s offered a new way of looking at the world and doesn’t take it. One gets the feeling he doesn’t have the imagination to take it. Or see it.

Yes, the pre-title motorcycle chase scene over the rooftops of Istanbul is glorious. Yes, the photography, particularly of the Scottish countryside, is beautiful. Yes, director Sam Mendes (“American Beauty”), and writers Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, and John Logan, give us one of the great villain introductions: the long, still shot of Silva (Javier Bardem) coming down the elevator and into frame as he tells his tale of a giant hole of rats eating each other until only two survive; and these two rats, who now have a taste for rat, are set free because they will keep the island free of other rats. It’s a horrific tale that resonates. Silva is speaking of himself and Bond. He obviously feels a kinship with Bond. He’s selling himself short.

M stands for Micromanager

Here’s the description of the movie on IMDb.com:

Bond's loyalty to M (Judi Dench) is tested as her past comes back to haunt her.

I would say it’s not tested enough. M, let’s face it, is a lousy boss. She’s a micromanager. Here are some of the decisions she makes during the course of the film:

  • During the pre-title sequence, M tells Bond to leave behind an injured MI6 agent, Ronson (Bill Buckhurst), knowing Ronson will die, to pursue Patrice (Ola Rapace, Noomi’s ex), who has a disc with every undercover and embedded agent on it. You get a flash of disagreement from Bond here but I’m with M. The disc is more important. The bigger question is who created the disc in the first place? Hey, let’s put all of our secrets in one place, where they’ll always be safe and no one will ever find them.
  • M continues to bark orders throughout the high-speed pursuit. She then tells Eve (Naomie Harris), a relatively new agent, to shoot Patrice as he fights with Bond atop a speeding train on a trestle high above what I assume is the Black Sea. Eve is worried she’ll shoot Bond but M orders her to “take the shot” anyway. Meaning M puts more trust in a new agent than in her best agent. Not smart.
  • When the MI6 network is hacked, and its headquarters bombed, she moves the agency underground, into caverns left over from … is it the Blitz? But this plays right into Silva’s hands.
  • When Bond returns from the dead, and from a self-imposed exile, she clears him for duty even though he fails every test. He’s not psychologically ready. He’s not physically ready. He can’t shoot straight. But what the hell. Apparently she doesn’t have anyone else.

We also learn of the horrible decision she made that led to the present circumstances.

Bond is to Batman as Silva is to the Joker

Silva, you see, is former MI6. Years back, during the Cold War, M traded him for six agents. Were there extenuating circumstances? Did she just like the numbers? I forget. Silva was tortured but divulged nothing. He tried to kill himself with a cyanide capsule but didn’t die. The cyanide ate away at his insides and turned him half-insane. He stayed alive for revenge. On M. So all of this, the entire movie, is about M. MI6 isn’t saving the world from bad guys anymore; they’re eating their own. The chickens have come home to roost.

Bond has his own issues with M. He didn’t like leaving Ronson behind and he didn’t appreciate M’s “Take the shot” directive. M didn’t trust him to finish the job and it nearly finished him. “Nearly.” It should have finished him. He’s shot twice and falls hundreds of feet into the Black Sea. M and MI6 actually think he’s dead. We know he’s not because it’s the beginning of the movie and he’s James Bond. He’s our plaything. We can drop him from the moon and he’ll survive.

So what does James Bond do, being thought dead? This may be the most disappointing part of the movie for me. He sulks. He hangs out on a tropical beach, has rough sex with a local beauty, plays rough drinking games with scorpions, and loses his edge. He only returns when he hears of the terrorist attack on MI6. It gives you an idea what he’ll be like in retirement. A drag.

At this point the question of the movie becomes: Can Bond regain his edge? He’s weaker now. His hand shakes when he shoots. Losing this, he loses everything. Until he gets it back, of course. Which he does later in the film. We knew he would. We can drop him from the moon, remember.

Bond could be Silva. That’s how Silva sees it anyway. But Bond couldn’t be Silva because Bond isn’t smart enough. Silva is not only a trained MI6 agent, in the Bond mold, but he outwits the new Q (Ben Whishaw). Even when Silva’s captured, halfway through the film, he’s not really captured. He’s in a glass booth in the middle of a guarded room, like Hannibal Lector in “Silence of the Lambs,” but we know he’ll escape. Hell, he wanted to be captured. It was part of his master plan. It took me a moment to realize why this scenario—the villain, incarcerated, holding all the cards—echoed. It’s the Joker in “The Dark Knight.” He too felt an affinity with the hero, and the hero, Batman, was too dumb and humorless to see it. The dynamic is the same and it’s dull. It’s dull because the hero is dull and the villain has all the fun. Used to be the reverse for Bond. Used to be the villain humorlessly stroked cats while Bond stroked other things.

The real Bond girl

Speaking of: Where are the girls? All the movie’s pre-publicity trumpeted Bérénice Marlohe as Sévérine, but she’s killed halfway through the movie. The tropical, rough-sex beauty lasts about five seconds. There’s a fling with Eve, discreetly implied with old-fashioned fireworks, but by the end she’s a pal. By the end she’s Moneypenny. Literally.

No, the Bond girl in this movie is M. She’s the girl being fought over by hero and villain. Near the end, during the assault on Skyfall, the home in Scotland where Bond grew up and was orphaned, she’s injured and in pain, her hand is red with blood, but I felt nothing for her. Are we supposed to have sympathy? I think the filmmakers want us to. But all of this is because of her. The chickens are coming home to roost on her. There should be soul searching throughout London, and Great Britain, and the world. There isn’t. The enemy is us but we either don’t realize it or don’t care.

M dies but we get a new M (Ralph Fiennes). Bond could die but we’d just get a new Bond. We will get a new Bond, eventually, world without end. When we do, a request. Please make him a little less superseriously American, like Batman and Ethan Hunt and Jason Bourne, and a little more British. Because: Please, he’s British.

—November 12, 2012

© 2012 Erik Lundegaard

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