November 26, 2012

A Bond Devoid of Style, Charm and Wit

We took in the latest James Bond film, Skyfall, today, with great expectation. It starred Daniel Craig, my favorite of the franchise players (yep, he edges Sean Connery for me). It was set in London, Shanghai and Macau, and co-starred Javier Bardem as the villain. What could go wrong?

On the plus side, there was Craig, and he was terrific as usual. But at least the first third of the film was about Bond losing his touch. He was out of circulation for just six months of movie time, but he couldn’t shoot or do pull-ups, and he was gray at the beard.

We know Craig has two more Bond films ahead of him. Will the final installment feature him with a cane?

Javier Bardem’s Silva was a quiet, seething, yet meticulous maniac, and I like that in a villain. Somehow, though, his character was never as engaging as Mads Mikkelson’s Le Chiffre from Casino Royale. I got the feeling that Bardem’s Silva could easily have been his equal, but his part never reached that level.

There were exotic locations in the film replete with gleaming towers and bright city lights, but most of the footage shot in Macau and Shanghai must have been left on the cutting room floor. That’s a shame, because what we did see was visually stunning. The bar scene with the concubine was quite well-done, and Bérénice Marlohe was arresting as a tightly-wound, terrified kept woman. It’s another shame that we didn’t get to see more of her before she was dead.

The sole reference to “Bond style” was his remarked admiration as a female bartender mixed a “perfect” martini for him. Really. The here-to-fore slightly bemused British agent was seen only fleetingly this time, during a scene with Eve in the otherwise grim underground headquarters of an MI6 under siege.

That word, grim, best describes the overall tone of the film from the time Bond plunges from the train until he is seen standing atop MI6's headquarters building in triumph.

On the flip side, we got a world-changing reveal in the final scene, in fact, the final scenes were among the best of the 2-hour, 23-minute film. The revealed plot point was left satisfyingly enigmatic, letting you wonder if, in fact, you saw what you just saw. You’re left to connect the dots later. It’s such a chestnut that you probably haven’t read the details anywhere. Don't go looking for it … it's a gem best uncovered within the film context.

I left the movie house mildly confused. I had entered wanting to like this film as much as I had Casino Royale, or even Quantum of Solace. That didn’t happen for me. If every bit of matter has an opposite, this film was essentially an anti-Casino Royale. This Bond, this M, this MI6 and, indeed, this England were lions in winter, and I have no use for that. Bond always rose above the debris of an empire in ruin. He does again this time, but barely.

I’m sure I’ll see Skyfall again, and again. Maybe it’ll grow on me. In contrast, I left this summer’s Dark Knight Rises wanting to see it again, and right away.

I went looking for movie reviews after we got home. I wanted to know if anyone else felt as I did; I wondered what was wrong with me. Rotten Tomatoes had given Skyfall a 92% rating. All the opening week reviews I had read were glowing. Then I found the SFGate film review. It captured what I felt about this film:

“Part of the romance of James Bond, what has kept it thriving for 50 years, is that the Bond life has seemed enviable: sex and danger and thrills and beautiful women and exotic locations and great clothes … but not this time. ‘Skyfall’ is a different kind of Bond movie, one that works just fine on its own terms, but a steady diet of this might kill the franchise. One ‘Skyfall’ is enough.”

Well-put. The rest of the review is worth a read if you were left wondering about Skyfall.

Take my opinion with a grain of salt, though. I’m the same guy who really didn’t like this summer’s The Avengers at all. Most who saw it, though, loved it. My trouble is that I'm always looking for the home run, the film that will blow off my socks. I got very lucky with Chris Nolan's Batman trilogy. Alas, Skyfall was not among their kind.

And yes, there were the inevitable (for me) reasons to never return to a theater. The older, somewhat hard-of-hearing couple who, of all the seats in the theater left after we other three movie-goers were seated, had to sit in our row and LOUDLY discuss each trailer as it was showing. And the couple who brought AN INFANT to the theater with fifteen minutes left in the film. I mean, WTF?

Skyfall: three stars out of five.

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