Movie Discussion: Skyfall
Warning! This entire discussion contains spoilers for Skyfall.
James Bond's loyalty to M is tested when her past comes back to haunt her. When MI6 comes under attack, 007 must track down and destroy the threat, no matter how personal the cost.
Genre: Action, Adventure, Thriller
Director: Sam Mendes
Writer: Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, John Logan
Actors: Daniel Craig, Javier Bardem, Naomie Harris
Release Year: 2012
Scott Hardie | January 10, 2013
The more that I listen to Thomas Newman's score on Spotify, the more I like it. It's a blend of electronic and classical that has a real punch to it. It reminds me of John Powell's score for The Bourne Supremacy, one of my all-time favorites. Totally deserved Oscar nomination.
I also really liked how Bond spent his retirement at the beginning. I can't imagine any of the other Bonds doing that, but it was perfect for the bitter, tough, anti-social, Daniel Craig Bond.
Erik Bates | January 11, 2013
I was once a much bigger soundtrack listener than I am now. I'm thinking I should get back into it.
Scott Hardie | January 12, 2013
There was some pretty good music this year. The Dark Knight Rises had one of my favorite pieces, not that the audio compression on YouTube does it justice.
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Scott Hardie | January 7, 2013
Parts of this movie blew me away. Casino Royale set the bar high for quality and emotional depth, much too high for the underachieving Quantum of Solace to hit, but Skyfall definitely reached those same heights. Javier Bardem is intense and creepy as Raul Silva, not appearing until the middle of the film but still utterly dominating it. Daniel Craig and Judi Dench are great, but of course they are. The images by Roger Deakins and the music by Thomas Newman are amazing. I was thrilled with the nods to the classic series (as problematic as they were for continuity; I'll elaborate below) and to Bond's family history, previously (mostly) unexplored. I LOVED the family subtext, in fact, that strongly symbolized M as a mother figure to orphan Bond, via the MI6 staff nickname "Mum" that the series has used for her before but not quite this frequently or pointedly. I also appreciated the death imagery, even if the opening credits did lay it on a little thick.
But other parts of the movie were just kind of on auto-pilot, lazily going through the motions of another Bond movie when they should have been thrilling (the train-top chase) or wrenching (the cruel murder of Severine). And by far the biggest problem with the movie, one that I think keeps it from being great, is how many times the otherwise very intelligent professionals do really stupid things just because the plot needs them to: M stays behind to finish her speech at the hearing even when her life is in imminent danger. Q plugs in a master hacker's laptop at MI6 headquarters after he has too-easily been captured. Kincade waves around a fucking flashlight when trying to flee into the dark of night on foot! M doesn't attempt to bandage her wound (admittedly, supplies were severely limited) or stop her bleeding in any apparent way.
This kind of problem in movie plotting is a pet peeve of mine for several reasons. One, these are lazy contrivances of the screenwriters. Really, you worked on this script for four years and it's still this heavy-handed? Two, we've seen these same scenes before in other movies, so we mostly just tick off the minutes until something more interesting comes along. Is there anyone who didn't realize that Silva was allowing himself to be taken prisoner, and didn't spend almost the entire duration of his time in MI6 captivity waiting impatiently for his inevitable escape? (I say "almost" because the cyanide capsule injury was a pretty creepy moment in the middle of the tedium, a nice way to have a disfigured Bond villain who can wear a normal face most of the time.) Three, these smart-people-do-stupid-things moments just feel wrong for the characters. These are trained professionals (well, Q and M, not so much Kincade) making colossal errors in judgment as if it's their first week on the job. The very reason why the Bourne movies were a breath of fresh air and forced the Bond series to step up their game was because it felt like the characters had seen all of the old tricks from other spy movies and were much harder to dupe. Skyfall has plenty of nods to the classic Bond series, for better and for worse.
And speaking of the classic Bond series, here's where Skyfall had other problems. Die Another Day had a nice little fan-service scene with Bond teasing Q about some of the dusty old equipment from earlier movies in the series, firmly establishing that Pierce Brosnan's Bond was the same man as all of the others, because he remembered doing what they did. But Casino Royale was a full reboot, featuring a young Bond just becoming 007 and learning the ropes. (Why they kept Judi Dench as M, other than that she's excellent, I never knew. It would be like the Spider-Man movies doing a full reboot and starting over with a new cast and new characters, except they kept Rosemary Harris as Aunt May with no memory of the earlier movies.) So if Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace and now Skyfall take place in a canonically new Bond series, how come this Bond still has the same Aston Martin DB5 that the other Bond drove in Goldfinger? How come there are so many winking references to the classic series in the dialogue and character names? And how come this Bond feels so tired and world-weary only a few years into his career, as if he's bearing the burden of fifty years of adventures? I thought the new series was supposed to have a clean slate, but Skyfall's heavy subtexts about aging and retirement and being a dinosaur in a modern era could only work in a series that is 50 years old instead of 6. These subtexts are not inherently bad (I LIKED them); it's more that they leave me very confused about what this new series is trying to be. The filmmakers need to write a mission statement and stick to it.
As long as I'm picking on the writing, I'll also take a moment to criticize that other unbelieveable plot contrivance that is somehow still a cliche, the characters knowing exactly where to be at the right time. How could Silva count on Bond catching up to him at that exact point in the subway tunnels and not kill him instantly, long enough for him to set off a bomb that he already planted in advance in the exact right spot at the exact time that a train was going to come by? How did Bond time it so that he emerged from the building at the exact moment that Patrice was going to drive by with Moneypenny in pursuit? How did the henchman catch up behind Bond, on a goddamn frozen lake, at the exact moment that Silva stopped Bond in his tracks by shooting at him? Maybe the filmmakers work this stuff out in advance (for what it's worth, every NPC in Gothic Earth has a reason for doing what they're doing and being where they are at key moments, but 90% of it stays in my head and never gets said), but it feels arbitrary.
If I'm picking on the movie too much, it's because I was frustrated by the problems that kept it from being great -- my point being, it's actually a pretty good movie. This is one of the better Bond films, certainly one of the deepest and most emotionally-sensitive Bonds, and more than adequate entertainment, with some really great ideas and exciting scenes where the parts click together well. If I had seen it sooner, I would have put it at #10 on my best movies of 2012 list.