Skyfall

The theme tune is just okay. I want to love Adele, but I don’t, quite. She seems a sort of pale imitation of what she ought to be. The girl is young, though, and perhaps she’ll grow into that voice. Surprisingly, the Chris Cornell theme tune has grown on me, though I hated it at first; it’s the best of the Craig themes so far.

And Casino Royale is still the best of the Craig films, perhaps because it’s a modern take on the original Bond flavor, just as Quantum of Solace was a modern take on the franchise circa License to Kill. It’s not that Skyfall isn’t impressive as hell, because it bloody is. I’m still getting my head around all the places this film goes and all the motifs it plays with.

It’s got some fun moments, but still nothing quite like the fun we used to have with Connery and Moore: as we all know, this is a serious Bond who’s supposed to persuade us he’s real and means business. He’s an assassin, and sometimes just a thug. He doesn’t do a lot of what you’d call spying; most of his duties involve running and jumping and shooting people. Sometimes he makes a laughable attempt to interrogate people, typically by asking silly questions like “Who do you work for?” when they’re bleeding to death or hanging over a yawning chasm. Of course he never gets an answer. Can you imagine?

Maybe I’m forgetting that this is how it always was, but Daniel Craig is good at draining Bond’s face of the intelligence we know Craig has, leaving mainly quick wits, perceptiveness, laser focus, and icy calm. Either he never gets angry or he never stops being angry, and even when he’s got a woman in his paws he looks stony and sour. He’s great, don’t get me wrong, but part of what makes Bond so much fun to watch is that before and after the danger he enjoys life. There’s no sign that this version of him ever does. We still hardly know this man, even though the whole film is supposedly a commentary on him.

The action’s better than that of Quantum of Solace, because it’s clearer. The locations aren’t as good, because we hardly get to see them; lots of night shoots, lots of interiors. The girls are okay; neither is a match for Olga Kurylenko or Eva Green in any significant respect, but as in the last two films, the formula persists that one girl is relatively impressive and competent, while the other is a doomed unfortunate. There’s a surprising and largely unexplained pre-credits action sequence that recalls (but can’t hope to top) the beginning of You Only Live Twice, and there’s a really surprising endgame that is quite unlike anything I remember from any previous Bond film, for better or for worse.

By far, though, what struck me the most about Skyfall is the incredible list of elements that reminded me of The Dark Knight Rises (or the prior two Nolan Batman films). I can, in fact, touch on just about every interesting element in this movie by listing the comparisons. I’ll try to be vague, but this may spoil some of the film for you if you haven’t seen it. Both films, actually.

  1. At or near the beginning of the film, our hero is missing and presumed dead.
  2. In fact, he’s alive, having survived what to the audience appears to be an unavoidably fatal situation (in TDKR this comes at the end).
  3. He’s in hiding and grows some scruff before shaving it off and getting serious.
  4. When he returns to action, he’s got some aches and pains from prior missions. He’s a little off his game.
  5. (A little personal opinion here: he’s played by an actor who’s talented but whom I happen to find it difficult to warm to. He plays the part effectively and insightfully but sacrifices some of his predecessors’ charm in order to do it.)
  6. He finds himself working with a good-looking woman who likes driving fast vehicles and attempts to shoot the villain he’s wrestling with.
  7. She’s thinking about retiring and settling down somewhere she’ll still be close to him.
  8. His older parental figure seems perennially displeased with him and questions his fitness for duty.
  9. Even after returning to duty, he is considered a liability by officials, someone whose way of doing things is disapproved of, someone who should retire on account of age.
  10. He finds himself up against a genius opponent who is able to take control of computer networks easily and single-handedly, and commit apparently effortless acts of terrorism.
  11. This villain turns out to be someone who trained in the same way as our hero and is returning to exact a “reckoning.”
  12. This person is even said to have come from “the shadows,” and to inspire great fear (Batman Begins).
  13. The villain was crippled near to death in the course of a heroic act, and now must wear special mouthgear in order to function normally.
  14. The villain escapes from what we must assume is one of the best prisons in the world (deep inside a cave, though this is one where our hero works and it’s filled with technology) and flees through the underground, which he has somehow rigged for detonation.
  15. The villain has a markedly effeminate/eccentric air, laughs easily, has a gruesomely deformed mouth, and seems at least half insane (The Dark Knight, though to be fair none of this is too far out of line for a Bond villain).
  16. Our hero’s parents had a rather impressive ancestral home, which includes a cave in which our orphaned hero spent a tense evening as a child, and which is ravaged by fire toward the end (Batman Begins).
  17. The climactic battle is precipitated by the scientific genius character using technology in a supposedly unauthorized but seemingly innocuous way to create a trail that leads hero and villain to the same place (The Dark Knight again).
  18. Significant themes of the film include questioning the relatively advanced age of our hero (can he still cut it? are his methods outdated?), and judging the ethics of the powers that be (do they use people irresponsibly with no regard for their lives?).
  19. The end of the film sees a surprisingly competent character revealing their name to be one we recognize immediately (but which has no significance to anyone in the film, who of course don’t know this name from prior versions of the story).
  20. The end also involves a passing of the torch from one character to the next.

There are probably more. I really didn’t have to spend any time at all thinking to come up with these, and you could probably double it if you really dug for them. I don’t want to give the impression that this seemed like a total ripoff to me. At no point did I think “oh, I’ve seen The Dark Knight Rises so I don’t have to see this now.” The two trilogies have so much in common concerning their approach, themes, interests, and relationship to what’s come before that it really shouldn’t be strange that they’re so much in sync. And yet it is.

I’ll be honest: as much as I admire everyone’s work in these films, including Craig’s, I’m just about ready for some turnover. I was glad to see the torch passed, because as much as I like the actor who’s leaving, I never felt fully convinced by the character, and I think what comes next will feel a little more on-target. I would really love to see the next Bond film relax a bit, take itself a little less seriously, luxuriate in its exotic locations and intrigue, let the action take care of itself a bit more. There are so many films today that give us the opportunity to see improbable chases and masonry blowing to bits and fights on top of trains (and even heartstring-tugging glimpses into damaged heroes’ pasts). There weren’t quite so many of these big action blockbusters back when Bond got started, and he helped make them the big industry they are today.

But there’s still a niche for the stuff that comes in between, the Casino Royale stuff like cocktails and tuxedoes and gambling (Bond even enters a casino at one point and never even places a bet) and penthouse suites and first-class resorts, not to mention good-natured half-smiles, suave jokes, glib cover stories, and yeah, even those dorky gadgets that Skyfall wrongly declares to be passé. We’ve had our Skyfall now, and as much as I enjoyed it, I’m ready for us to have our Bond back.

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