Review: ‘Skyfall’ Is the Gourmet Shit

In this case, “shit” means that it’s good. Kids, amirite?

Skyfall (2012):

The Plot: When a mission goes wrong and James Bond (Daniel Craig) takes a rifle round to the chest—at M’s (Judi Dench) order, no less—the superspy is declared dead. For him, this means not shaving and drinking Heineken instead of martinis. A terrorist attack on MI6 brings him back to England, where M ignores the fact that he’s not fit for duty and sends him on the trail of Silva (Javier Bardem), a super crazy former MI6 agent. Silva is super obsessed with M, since she “betrayed” him years ago, in a decision that mirrors the one that left Bond as dead as he’s ever likely to be. Coincidence? I think not. Will Bond be able to protect M from this super crazy villain? Will Bond get to drive a sweet-ass car and make out with some hot ladies? Your guess is as good as anyone’s.

Sam Mendes made a really good Bond movie, you guys. Actually, it’s not just a good Bond movie. Goldeneye was a good Bond movie. It hit all the right notes and kind of almost had something to say a few times, but at the end of the day it was a pretty standard 90s action movie dressed up in a tuxedo.  Skyfall, like Casino Royale and the earliest Sean Connery films, is also a good movie. It doesn’t rely on franchise-specific clichés to get by. It’s got an engaging story, a good script, and, holy shit, real characters.

We’ve seen a lot of Bond in the last fifty years. Like Batman, he’s become a cultural icon to the point where we’re all pretty content to watch him go through the motions. He’s the ultimate secret agent. He’s a womanizing, probably-alcoholic badass. He’s one classy motherf*cker. MGM, that one’s a freebie. Who cares if he does the same shit in every movie? That’s why we watch them.

What would a Bond movie be without a ridiculous villain, ridiculous gadgets, and the governing idea that it’s tuxedo time ALL THE TIME? A Bond movie isn’t only a story about a British spy named James Bond, just like a Batman movie isn’t simply about a violent billionaire ninja in a cape. He’s our billionaire ninja, and Bond is our womanizing, probably-alcoholic superspy. That’s why I’ve met lifelong Bond fans who didn’t like Casino Royale because it “didn’t have any gadgets and the bad guy was too normal.” This is in reference to one of the only Bond movies that is also a legitimately good film.

MGM
If this is normal, I think I’ve been doing it wrong. Torture, I mean.

Does that sound a little stupid to you? Well, it is. But only a little. If every Bond film told an emotionally-involving story with realistic, well-drawn characters, then there only would have been like six of them and Bond would be dead now. If you’re building a fifty-year franchise, then you’re going to need a lot of junk food. That having been said, you also need to throw in some of the gourmet shit every now and then, otherwise people stop giving you money, and nobody wants to see Bond drive an affordable, fuel-efficient car. Well, not the target audience anyway.

Skyfall is the gourmet shit. After decades of retreading a path laid down by Goldfinger—the third film in the franchise—with varying degrees of success, the series has finally managed to re-invent itself. Casino Royale gave us a Bond that we could take seriously by turning its back on many of the clichés that defined the series, and Quantum of Solace made us question what the Hell was going on because the editing was so choppy. Skyfall honors fifty years of tradition, bringing back gadgets and Q (Ben Wishaw) and even the Aston Martin DB5, the car driven by Sean Connery in Goldfinger. When I saw this movie on Sunday, some of the audience actually cheered when the car was revealed. It was adorable, but also kind of awesome. Enthusiastic crowds are fun sometimes.

MGM
I hope it talks in the next movie. It can be his sarcastic American sidekick. Maybe voiced by Steve Buscemi?

What makes Skyfall really stand out—people are already saying that it could be the best Bond movie, though I disagree—is that it pays homage without becoming mired in cliché. It feels fresh, and much of that credit goes to director Sam Mendes (American Beauty, Road to Perdition) and writing team Neal Purvis (Casino Royale, Johnny English), Robert Wade (Casino Royale, Johnny English), and John Logan (Gladiator, Rango). Mendes directs this with the care and finesse that he applies to all of his films. He lets the story and lead performances take the forefront, but there’s nothing workmanlike about the direction. Again, it’s the gourmet shit.

Purvis, Wade, and Logan’s script treats the characters like real people. For the first time in a long time, M is developed beyond “cranky man/woman who puts up with Bond’s shenanigans.” Judi Dench gives a solid, emotionally-grounded performance. She’s as ill-tempered and acerbic as ever, but these traits mask an unwavering sense of duty and a deep, almost maternal affection for her top agent. Her relationship with Bond is tested at the beginning of the film, but they have a mutual respect and admiration that can’t be marred by his apparent death at her orders.

MGM
Depth or not, it’s always fun to hear her say “bloody hell.”

Seeing Bond return that affection adds a layer to his character that we don’t normally see. We’re used to watching him being suave at women and wryly defiant at bad guys and authority figures. It’s weird to see Bond sad. Weird, but also gratifying. Bond isn’t just a womanizing, probably-alcoholic superspy. He’s a human being, and we need to see him care about people if we’re going to believe that.

I said earlier that one of the script’s greatest strengths is that it treats all of the characters like real people. That was kind of a white lie. It tries to treat all of the characters that way. It falters a bit with Silva, the newest addition to Bond’s flamboyant rogues gallery.

Silva tries, like so many villains before him, to convince Bond that they’re not so different, you and I. Hi-ho Silva (and away!) used to be the top MI6 Agent, and he was also “betrayed” by M. His first scene is great. Bardem chews just the right amount of scenery, introducing himself with an anecdote about rats and trying to throw Bond off his game by hitting on him.

MGM
It doesn’t work.

Things get a little iffy after that, when the motivation for Silva’s attack on MI6 is revealed to be an obsession with M, and that obsession becomes Silva’s only character trait, unless you count bad hair and good planning. Sure, he’s crazy, but when craziness is the only thing that defines your character, then you end up with Flamboyant Spanish Joker. It doesn’t help that Silva does the whole “getting captured on purpose as part of an absurdly complex and well laid-out plan” thing. It must be super hard to be a villain in a post-Joker world (The Dark Knight flavor, of course). Dude may have dressed like a clown with bad hygiene, but he sure knew how to scheme.

Note for writers in a post-Joker world: The only reason that Heath Ledger Joker works, other than Ledger’s bitchin’ performance, is that the Joker doesn’t have a backstory. Silva does, but the connection feels hollow because the character is written as a menacing collection of mannerisms. Get it?

Skyfall wobbles a teensy bit in the middle, like Bond on his third Vesper, but it starts strong and has a perfect ending. Also, there are komodo dragons and one of them eats a guy. How great is that?

As far as I’m concerned, the film’s few golden-haired sins are forgiven.

The series has once again found its footing, and I for one am looking forward to probably another fifty years of this classy Brit hookin’ up with ladies, getting ever-so-slightly drunk, and shooting bad guys. For England.

Seriously, it’s great.

17 thoughts on “Review: ‘Skyfall’ Is the Gourmet Shit

  1. Great review! Can’t wait to see this again 🙂

    In this week’s issue of Rolling Stone, Peter Travers ranked all of the Bond movies from best to worst. The top five were 1) Goldfinger, 2) From Russia with Love, 3) On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, 4) Casino Royale and 5) Skyfall. Not surprisingly, Quantum of Solace was last.

  2. 1. Love the meme.
    2. I don’t think Javier Bardem has ever, ever had really good hair in a movie. He’s sometimes had inoffensive hair, but never good hair.
    3. I like what you say here. Bond, like so many other characters (Batman, Sherlock Holmes, Robin Hood, etc.) has become so engrained in pop culture that he’s moved beyond being a character and has become a legend, and that can lead to an utter lack of character development. Certainly with Bond, after fifty years (or Batman after eighty or Sherlock and Robin after hundreds). Fresh interpretations of him like this (or Nolan’s Trilogy) are wonderful.

      • My only problem with a “serious” Godzilla reboot is that the success of Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy and the Daniel Craig James Bond series was mainly built on and mainly focussed on 1. Realistic, good quality characters and 2. Realistic, exciting situations. And Godzilla may be able to get away with “realistic” quality situations, even though he’s a ninety metre (give or take) mutated dinosaur, or in the 1998 movie iguana, but you can’t really focus on the characters. Yes, you can have good character, and yes even a good villain, but the enormous reptile, and other monsters destroying everything is kind of distracting, but you never know, I have been surprised before. Wow… long comment…

        • I see what you mean, but there’s definitely room in a Godzilla movie for realistic characters. Just look at the original Gojira. That had a very dramatic story and relatable, well-developed characters. Godzilla was a metaphor for the horrors of nuclear war, so the characters reacted to this giant monster wrecking cities in a realistic way: like it was absolutely terrifying. Sure, most of the movies after that were more about setting up giant monster fights and had one-dimensional characters, but the original film was focused on the toll that country-wide destruction takes on average people. There’s a new (American) movie coming out in 2014, and it looks like that’s the direction they’re taking with it. I remain hopeful. Check it out! http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0831387/

          • Oh yeah, I’m pretty aware of the 2014 Godzilla, honestly though, and this is just me I actually kind of enjoyed the 1998 one, even though they kind of lost the elements of the original Gojira film. I know alot of other people didn’t, and my more particular friends called it a stain on “True cinema”, but I liked it anyway. Either way, I’m excited for the new one too, whatever it’ll be like. And I said it could have realistic characters, but it may just not go down right with Godzilla. Anyway, I’m sure it will be interesting. I’m curious about Pacific Rim, but to be honest it just sounds like Guillermo del Toro basing it on old Toho movies, and just adding CGI, and a slightly more modern approach.

            • Sorry, I don’t get to talk Godzilla that much, so when I do I tend to get a bit long-winded. Anyway, I enjoyed the 1998 Godzilla too. It may not have had much in common with the original Japanese ones, but it was still a lot of fun. And yeah, I’ll be interested to see what Guillermo del Toro does with Pacific Rim. The creature design in his movies is always fantastic, and Idris Elba is in it. That’s more than enough to get me looking forward to a movie.

  3. Pingback: Second Breakfast’s Top 10 Films of 2012 | Rooster Illusion

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