June 19, 2013 1 Comment
Year: 2012, and in glorious 2D! The first of many brilliant steps EON took to assure Bond’s return from the brink of financial ruin would be a classic film firmly planted in tradition. Unlike the slice and dice action of 2008’s Quantum of Solace or the digital vomit of 2002’s Die Another Day EON ignored the current “hip” trends and celebrated 007’s Golden Anniversary on the silver screen with a gift to fans. Skyfall is nothing short of a celebration of everything we love about Commander James Bond. Watching it again six months removed from the release (Ed Note: This is the first Bond film I’ve seen in the theater since starting the project in April of 2010, hence …) it occurred to me that Skyfall is more of a reboot then Casino Royal (2006). The film is about stripping “James Bond” down to his core so he can then be built up again. And when I say “James Bond” I’m referring to not only to the 007 character but also his world. Bond has always been an idealized stand in for the UK but here Bond and England are truly one. When the crown falters, so does he. When the villain blows a hole in MI6, the absent Bond is wounded. He then must straighten himself out, return home, and save his country, even if she, in the form of penny pinching, pencil pushing bureaucrats, doesn’t realize she needs saving until it’s (almost) to late. In pulling himself back from the brink, Bond not only reinvents himself but his world. MI6 is physically moved to a new location and 007’s three pillars of support (two of which have been absent in the Craig era) M, Q, and Moneypenny are all reintroduced, reinvented and yes, rebooted. In breaking Bond down to build him up again the film is both rooted in the past while looking forward to the future. After Quantum and the MGM bankruptcy, it seemed our hero was finally done for, but as I’ve learned time and time again with this project, every time we count Bond out, he somehow comes back stronger. Skyfall is no exception.
Film Length: 2 hours 23 minutes
Bond Actor: Daniel Craig. Bingo. In his third film Craig not only pulls off the double backflip, he nails the landing. Whether he’s your favorite or you think him worse then Timothy, here Craig bleeds like Connery while adjusting his tie like Moore. He does both, by the by, right after ripping open a train car like Jaws tearing into a minivan. Hold on to your hats, James “not Jason Bourne” Bond is once again fun and Craig is having a blast. Not since Brosnan’s debut in Goldeneye (1995) have we seen an actor love being Bond like this. All I can think is the weight of the role must have finally lifted for Craig. His first go around he was too precise, what with all the world-wide-web denouncing him as the “worst Bond ever” before he was even issued his Welther PPK. “Don’t F it up” seemed to be the actor’s mantra and in avoiding mistakes he took no risks.
The next film had no script, an incompetent director, and Craig was left dangling in the wind. Now, after four years of “will there or won’t there be another film,” Craig finally realizes what he’s got, the best damn job in the world. (OK, second best job after play first base for the 1986 Mets.) Additionally, Craig is given the tools to deliver the most well rounded Bond since Lazenby pointed out “this never happened to the other fellow.” We learn for the first time that Bond does sleep in spaces outside of hotel rooms. He has a flat in London! However, we never see it because when Bond was presumed dead, the place was sold off and all his belongings were put into storage. “Standard procedure” though this maybe, one can’t help but imagining the folks from “Storage Wars” coming across that bounty. “Holy shit, look at all this Dom Perignon! And I wonder what happens when I click this pen …” We also spend the entire third act at Bond’s family home in the moors of Scotland. (Where I come from, New Jersey, they call em swamps.) We learn James, an only child, was born to Andrew Bond and Monique Delacroix Bond (French!) and the two were burred in a shared grave. Kincade, the butler, even gives us insight into the boy Bond when he revels that after his parents died, little Jimmy hid in a secrete cave under his house for two days. “He went in a scared boy, when he came out he was a man.” I’ve often made the connection between one Mr. Bond and Mr. Wayne in the past, but after seeing Skyfall, the house, the deal is sealed. Both men have impossibly rich tastes and a weakness for the ladies. They both have secret identities and fight for what’s right against eccentric weirdoes. They both have signature cars and gadgets and lab men (Q, Mr. Fox) to keep everything in working order. But now it goes deeper. Both bachelors were orphaned and after a childhood trip below their ancestral homes (run by understanding older men, Kincade and Alfred) into caves of discovery, both emerge with greater purpose. Yah, Bond is in some ways England’s Batman, but with better suits and a license to kill. (Ed. Note: My new punk band, Worst Then Timothy, will premiere this Friday at Gussy’s in Astoria. $3 at the door)
Director: Sam Mendes. Indeed, the first Oscar winning director in the franchises 50 year history is not the first guy who jumps to mind when thinking Bond. After years in theater Mendes made a huge splash with his feature debut American Beauty (1999). However, the years since have not been kind to Beauty and by the time Mendes turned the Titanic couple of the 90’s into bickering symbols of middle class American dysfunction in Revolutionary Road (2008) the Englishman’s criticism of American suburbia was no longer welcome on these shores. A shame, for Away We Go (2009) was a delight. But in Blog James Blog’s not so humble opinion, the most criminally overlooked film on Mendes’ IMDB page is the period gangster film Road to Perdition (2002). Not only a clinic in nailing set design and atmosphere, Perdition boasts an incredible cast of Tom Hanks in the bad guy role, Jude Law coiled like a spring, Paul Newman in his last on screen performance, and an up and coming English actor, Daniel Craig. Craig and Mendes became fast friends and the two would often give each other career advice. Craig in fact called Mendes when first asked to take the Bond role at which point Mendes told his pal to run the other way, fearing Craig would forever be branded as Bond. A justified concern as only Sir Sean has had an A-list post Bond career. Years later, Craig bumped into Mendes at a LA party and offered his old friend nothing short of the directing gig for the next 007, something the leading man, a few drinks into the evening, had no authority to do. The next day while nursing a slight headache Craig called his Bond bosses to admit he may have F’ed it up. Wilson and Broccoli forgave their 007 and welcomed Mendes with open arms. For his part, Mendes became interested in helming a Bond film after watching his buddy in Casino Royale. Mendes said it occurred to him that it “was still possible to make a big fantastic escapist movie and at the same time say something about the world we are living in.” For anyone unclear what the role the director, cinematographer, and editor play in making a film, you’re encouraged to watch Quantum and Skyfall back to back and you’ll get some idea. The metaphor Mendes and Co. play throughout the film (and none to subtly, this is Bond after all) is that M and Bond are old England, and they are dying; one will reinvent themselves to fit into modern times, the other will not. This message is expanding upon with set design and atmosphere but Mendes also uses dialog as a connective tissue to keep the theme in the fore. Two phrases in particular keep popping up like something of a manifesto.
The first is “Sometimes the old ways are best” as in Bond discussing his straight razor, Kincade talking about the virtues of a knife in a gun fight, and Bond once again when he plants said knife firmly in Silva’s back. The other is “Of course he/she/it is” as in “Bond, Silva is now in disguise as a policeman” “Of course he is” and “Bond, Q is afraid of flying.” “Of course he is” and Silva commenting on how both he and M have their final showdown in a dark gothic chapel “Of course. It had to be here.” I read this as Mendes talking directly to the audience, he feels the older Bonds, as well as the older ways of filmmaking, are the best. And it is with that mindset that Skyfall goes to all those Bond places and hits all the classic Bond themes because it is a Bond film, so of course it has to.
Reported Budget: $200,000,000 estimated.
Reported Box-office: $303,460,000 USA and $980,000,000 worldwide. Now that’s a figure to make Dr. Evil bite his pinky. The biggest hall for a Bond film ever and every penny was earned. To pick on Quantum again, after learning that film was $200 million I wanted a full audit. Surly, someone took off under the dark of night with bags of cash because that certainly did not look like a $200 million film. Here, it’s all, as they say, on screen and more importantly, it all works to serve the films ideas. There is a motorcycle chase over the rooftops of Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar (of course) that was shot for real (the old ways are best) that must of cost more then I’ll make in three lifetimes. A fight scene in a Shanghai skyscraper is not only unlike anything I’ve seen before, but the story is served as the glass towers and LED lights of this modern city strike a perfect counterpoint to London’s old, grey, stone skyline. Even transition, like cutting from M in a small office talking about how the villain and Bond both operate in the shadows to the wide open gorgeous blue sky and water where Bond, standing on the deck of a sail boat, slowly and openly makes his way to the villains lair. The locations mean something here, as do the explosions and stunts and over the top sets. Mendes didn’t just use his budget as an excuse to go nuts; he went nuts with purpose.
Theme Song: “Skyfall” by Adele. I love Adele and simply assume everyone else does. Because how could you not. Add the fact that outside the late Amy Winehouse no other contemporary voice could bring us back to the classic Bond themes of yore and Adele, Brit to boot, is the obvious hire for the job. However, I must admit that I was not all that thrilled when I first heard the tune. It has since grown on me, like 90% of songs and albums I tend to love do, and I now think of it as a top shelf Bond theme. The build in the song sneaks up on the listener for a good three minutes until we hit the explosive final battle cry that carries us into the film, very Bond indeed. One more music note, the extras on the Blu-ray feature a quick piece about Derek Watkins. Watkins is a trumpet player who has played his horn for all 23 Bond films. He’s got to be the only person in the world who can say he’s worked on them all, no? Amazing. Further, while I was watching him play the score with 75 or so other musician it hit me once again how big and professional and organized and talented the cast and crew of these outlandishly huge films truly are. Anyway, live from the Kodak Theater in Hollywood California, ladies and gentlemen, Adele.
Opening Titles: As Bond sinks to “his death” we see his life flash before our eyes. That’s not just my interpretation; Daniel Kleinman created the opening title sequence to do exactly that. After Bond is shot and falls into the water the Adele theme kicks in and we enter a dream full of symbolism right out of Freud 101. Floating paper targets with Bonds face bleed out of the heart, the lava lamp blood then forms skulls and finally, Bond descends into his own grave. But Bond goes not gently into the light or this would be one short film indeed. So, along with the past we get glimpse of Bond future; Chinese New Year dragons, a quick shot of Silva looking on and finally Bond shooting mirror images of himself a la Man With the Golden Gun (1974) because you see, Silva is Bond gone bad. Further, the film looks forward and back and the credits do the same. I told you it was 101 but it’s all beautifully rendered and when coupled with Adele well … nobody does credits better.
Opening Action Sequence: Yes, there has been quite a lot of “This is the best since that” already in this review but hot dog this movie has one doozy of an open. Perhaps the best since… dare I say The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)? Mendes said he wanted the open to be Russian nesting dolls with each twist revealing something new and unexpected. To quote my least favorite person this side of Tom Brady, mission accomplished. We first see Bond walking towards us, out of focus and distorted, looking like the alien emerging from the ship in Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977). As the figure comes into focus we know who it is before we see his face thanks to the horn blast that push him onto screen. It is he, our hero, returned from Chapter 11 hell. Bond stumbles into a dark room containing a dead body and a badly wounded Agent Ronson. “LEAVE HIM!” M barks into Bond’s earpiece. Our hero hesitates, not wanting to abandon his fallen comrade, but he must chase the baddie lest many more agents will fall. You see, the baddie has a hard drive containing the true identity of every covert MI6 agent. Also presumed to be included are addresses, bank account info, and Linkedin profile passwords. Bond steals one more glance into the dying man’s eyes before he bolts after the McGuffin. This tight, short sequence is the entire film boiled down to its core; what are the consequences of MI6 and/or M sacrificing the one to save the many? One more note; the agent left behind is named Ronson which sounds a lot like Brosnan who was in fact left behind when EON went with Craig. Am I reading too much into this? You bet! Anywho, Bond jumps into a jeep driven by an agent named Eve and off they go after the baddie who’s on a motorcycle. What follows is an amazing chase involving smashed up jeeps, hand guns with insane ammo clips, a rooftop motorcycle chase, a backhoe ripping up a train car, a cascade of falling Volkswagen bugs, Bond getting shot in the shoulder, and a more then a few tossed fruit carts. It all ends with Bond and the baddie on top of a moving train, which is on a bridge and quickly approaching a tunnel. Long time James Blog fans need not be reminded of my head over heels love of trains on screen and this charging locomotive doesn’t disappoint. On a near by bluff Eve has her high powered scoop and rife aimed in the general direction of the two men but she is unable to get a clean shot on the baddie. M, who has been monitoring the entire thing from the safety and comfort of her London office, asks Eve if she has a clean shot. Negative, she may hit Bond. Take the shot M commands. As the train fast approaches the tunnel Eve tries to steady her nerve. She takes the shot, but when she does the camera is not on her but Bond, who goes flying off the train as if someone yanked a rope tied around his waist. It happens so quickly, so unexpectedly, it is totally shocking in a “holy shit! Did that just happen?’ kind of way that blockbuster films rarely are anymore. As Bond hits the water far below Eve reports “agent down.” We cut to M’s office, as the most powerful spy in England looks out her rain soaked window over the grey wet London skyline. In that split second M lost her best agent and the hard drive containing the closest kept secretes of her agency. What are the consequences of sacrificing the one when you’re still fail to save the many?
Bond’s Mission: We pick-up post credits three months after Bond’s disappearance over the waterfall. M is receiving a tongue lashing from the head Nazi from Schindler’s List (1993), AKA Ralph “call me Rafee” Fiennes. It appears NATO is none to happy with the list of agent names being out in the world and M is respectfully asked to retire “with dignity.” “To hell with dignity!” she snaps back reminding us once more why we love Dame Judi. Even this simple exchange is a reference/twist on the Bond mythology. How many times have we seen this tableau with M behind the desk dropping the hammer as Bond is forced to play the “you don’t understand what I need to do in the field” card? While M is in London fighting for her professional life half a world away Bond is fighting for his very soul. It only took 50 years but thank the movie gods EON finally got Bond going off the grid right. Rock stars often talk about the rush of performing on stage being unlike anything in the world. But when the lights are off and the crowds are gone living their lives many try to recreate the rush artificially. Drugs, booze and sex are more then often involved and so it is with the superspy in seclusion. We get an amazing window into Bonds world as we watch him stumble out of his bed at sunset and shamble down the beach from his shack to the local pub, an open air watering hole suitable for Colonel Kurtz and his men, where Bond calls upon his trademark bravery, moxie, and tolerance for alcohol to eek out a living. At sunrise, Bond is the sole occupant of the bar where he slouches, still pulling at the bottle. Craig’s face lets us know this has been the daily grind for some time and I’d imagine this is exactly how a sex addicted, alcoholic, adrenal junkie who has seen every corner of the world would end up dying. So cut off from his former life is Bond that he now gains intelligence from Wolf Blitzer, who informs CNN viewers MI6’s London headquarters has been attacked by terrorist. Bond returns home to find he no longer has home. MI6 is now underground, his flat has been rented and M, Mom in every sense of the word, doesn’t welcome her son back with open arms.
He must first prove himself to her in a sequence that is more crippling to Bond then the beachfront debauchery. In order to regain his double 0, Bond must endure the indignity of reapplying. His trademark tailored suit is replaced by a tracksuit. His verbal jousts with maniacal world threating villains is replaced by a word association game with a third rate shrink. Even his gun, Hollywood’s go to phallic symbol, is rendered impotent leaving Bond, much like Austin Powers, robbed of his mojo. For a man who is always three steps ahead, the fall from grace is staggering. What’s that you say? You think this sequence of events is Mendes commenting on the Bond franchise’s fall into bankruptcy? Hummm, I hadn’t thought of that…
Villain’s Name: Raoul Silva. For Bond villains, like most things in life, it’s all about the entrance. The room, large enough to stage the pivotal number in a Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers picture, is full of wires. The camera looks down this hall of circuits like Luke Skywalker staring down the trench of the original Death Star. At the end of the hall a door opens and slowly, methodically, with a hint of swishiness, the villain walks toward the camera. Any Bond villain worth his salt gets a least one good speech and Silva’s is a doozy. We learn he’s ex-MI6, spending ‘86 to ‘97 at Station H Hong Kong, and he became lost after M left him to die in the field, not unlike the stunt she just pulled with Bond. The attack on MI6 is what brings these two men back into the fold; Silva is responsible for it, Bond responded to it. In his return from the wilderness Silva went postal, bombing his former work place because he was done with “the old lady giving him orders.” The old lady is, of course, both M and England. Bond on the other hand came back to protect the “old lady,” and that is the nut; Silva lets his hate for M swallow his sole while Bond’s love England saves his. What Mendes does is show us how thin the line between the two spies is and how if Bond were a lesser man, he would be riding shotgun with this techno terrorist.
Villain Actor: Javier Bardem. The script, the director, and set pieces all but guarantee Silva will hold a special place in the Bond universe but it’s Javier who makes him truly a top shelf Bond villain. In his character’s introduction, occurring a good while into the second act, Bardem establishes his baddie as a cross of intellectual and sexual dominance in a scene that is off the charts sizzling with tension. I was shocked when some critics, like Joe Neumaier of the New York Daily News, saw Bardem’s slow burn menace and, yes, sexual overtness, as a weakness, comparing him to farm team baddies Mr. Went and Kidd. Because he may be gay he’s weak? This is 2012 for f**k sake. In Javier we get in fact the very opposite of weak. 95% of past Bond villains are “the smart guys” and “the strong guys” working in tandem; IE Goldfinger and Oddjob or Stromberg and Jaws. Silva is both and indeed has Bond outgunned in both departments. Why do we believe this to be so? Because Javier, to paraphrase Jean Luc Picard, makes it so. Look as his face as he rumbles thought London, singularly focused on reaching M. Become uneasy watching his caged tiger in the glass tube imploring M to “Think on her sins.” Smile at his complete satisfaction in tossing grenades into Bond’s childhood home. Bardem is Jimmy Conway in Goodfellas (1990) he actually enjoys being bad.
Villain’s Plot: Outside of the big theme, Silva and Bond are equally matched opposite sides of the same coin, the plot is boilerplate move from one local to the next. Bond learns the guy who shot him in the opening sequence is an assassin who’s next hit is in Shanghai. The once and future 007 catches the next flight to Asia and in short order Bond is walking into the trap, but what a glorious glass trap it be. Bond follows behind the assassin as he breaks into a sleek, ultra modern, lobby floor to 86th floor glass office building. Bond admires the assassin’s moves and sees his younger self in his target. (This is never said, Craig’s face does the talking.) In the next moment the English spy is wishing he was indeed his younger self as he struggles to hold onto the undercarriage of an elevator as it carries the assassin skyward to the top floor. The image of Bond hung under an ascending elevator quickly brings to mind the shot in Superman II (1981) where the son of Jor-El flies under the Eiffel Tower elevator, pushing it upward. Bond is often thought of as a superman and here using a classic Superman image we see that he is indeed very human. It’s the elevator pulling him up, not the other way around, and 007 is holding on for dear life…barely. Once safely on the top floor, Bond is still the passive voyeur, standing by while the assassin kills his target in an apartment across the way. The only other occupant of the apartment is a woman who is not the least bit surprised by the dead man on the floor and therefore must be in on the hit. Bond and the woman lock eyes and she becomes the next link in the chain eventually leading Bond to Silva. Does this whole thing require Silva seeing the board nine chess moves ahead? Yep. Does it matter like so many “smart” people on the internet think it does? Nope, not a lick. In part because …
Villain’s Lair: An island! The Bond baddie lair is a freakin’ island! And a crazy impressive island at that. Bond has always been a travel log but here each location has it’s own distinct feel and atmosphere. For Silvia’s island we get an empty spookiness. If we are to believe our host, Japanese families once occupied the impressive concrete bunker like high-rises buildings that cover the small island. However, Silvia tricked them into believing the island had been contaminated in some way and overnight the island became Marlins stadium. What’s left are ghostly ruins and streets filled with abandon signs of humanity. Silva has the place wired with loud speaks which constantly play classical music, giving the whole place an out of time other worldly creepiness I can only compare to my first play though of Bioshock. Silva and music will come full circle in the third act when he once again sets out to destroy an isolate home, this time blasting the Johnny Lee Hooker perhaps too on the noise classic “Boom Boom.” (However, it’s not Johnny Lee in performing it in the film for some odd reason.) On top of all that, this island is much like the classic Ken Adam volcano lair of yore and unlike the publicly funded Tampa Bay Times Forum, home of the 2012 GOP convention, in that they built it. (“They” in this case being production set designers and craftsmen and women employed to work on Skyfall who are also no doubt dues paying union members. Anywho… A F**KING ISLAND!!!)
Villain’s Coolest Accessory/ Trait: Mr. Green, the villain from the last entry, looks like the kind of guy you would strike up a conversation with while waiting for a drink at a Manhattan rooftop bar. Silva, on the other hand, has a look that would make you get off your train five stops early if he sat next to you. Like all good Bond villains, he’s got physical problems to go along with his mental ones. Before we even learn about his prosthetic jaw (coming up, it’s worth the wait) we can see this is a man who is altering his look. His eyes look to be in the wrong head, most likely thanks to a bad eyelift. His hefty frame is slightly off balance on his skinny legs. His blonde die job screams “this man in not right.” And then there is the verbal tick, the masterstroke in Bardem’s baddie. As Silva is rattling off all the bad stuff he can do with the click of a mouse he lists “Manipulate the market? Bluup done.” The “Bluup” is delivered in a higher register then his normal speaking voice and sounds like a cross between a Nintendo Game System sound effect and dripping faucet. The first time I heard it, I thought it was a flubbed line that somehow made it into the final cut of the film but then it comes back. “Nothing superfluous in my life, if I don’t need it, Bluup” The bluup is how he sees the world. If Silva needs something to happen, he bluup, makes it happen. Now for that missing lower jaw… Back when he was with Station H (‘86 to ‘97 alert readers will recall) Silva was detained for five months. Though tortured terribly, he never spilled the beans on MI6 and when it became clear he would not be rescued, he bit down on the cyanided capsule in his molar. He did not die but everything inside burned. When he removes his false lower jaw his face drops, his eyes pop, and spittle sprays from his mouth. He is truly a monster, his insides burned out by M, and now he’s come home to get his revenge. Bluup
Badassness of Villain: Lets hold up the William Tell/ William Burroughs scene as exhibit A in the Silva is a monster argument. In a classic Bond Villain trope, Silvia plays host and escorts Bond around his lair for a grand tour ending in the abandon village square. Tied up in the middle of the square is the girl who led Bond to Silva’s island. She is also Silva’s lover because of course she is. With 1920’s big band music playing in the background Silvia and Bond drink from a bottle as Silva proposes a game. The first one to shoot a shot glass off the top of the girls head wins. Bond has the honor. With hands shaking, brow sweeting, Silvia cackling “The great James Bond can’t even shoot straight, what have they done to you?” Bond takes his shot and misses badly wide right (Sorry Buffalo), debris flecking off the girls face. “My turn” Silvia says as he raises his gun and shoots the girl in gut, causing her to bend over as the glass falls to the ground. “I win, what do you think?” “I think it’s a waste of perfectly good Scotch.” And that is just the tip of the Silva iceberg. So badass is he that he WANTS to be caught by MI6 so he can get into Q’s computer, break out of his special Hulk S.H.I.E.L.D. cage, squash Bond under a downtown 6 train, and shot M while she is testifying before Parliament. The fact that only 25% of this works is well beside the point, it’s the shear act of attempting this bat shit crazy plan that make him badass. But the icing on the cake, Silva kills the longest standing symbol of Bond badassery, the original Goldfinger Aston Martin DB5. More on that to come …
Villain’s Asides/ Henchmen: Patrice, as played by Ola Rapace, follows in the proud tradition of the silent assassins as stared by Oddjob (Goldfinger) and carried on by Chang (Moonraker (1979)) and Necros (The Living Daylights (1987)). Patrice, a man with no country of origin on record, gets the ball rolling when he kills Ronson and makes off with agent list. At one point during the pursuit he shoots at Bond with a handgun that appearance to have two round ammo clips attached making it look like an Al Capone era Tommy Gun. I have no idea if these clips are real but if not I’m sure Wayne Lapierre has his top men working to get them to market as we speak. The final battle between Bond and Patrice is an absolutely thrilling throw down that ends with a multi-story plunge for the baddie. Silva also has a dozen or so guys that follow him around totting various mean looking guns. If this were a 70’s Bond film, they would be the blue jumpsuit cats. They are incredibly versatile and pop up wherever needed, at one point dressed like police to give Silva a ride through London.
Bond Girl Actress: Berenice Marlohe. Born in Paris, the television actresses was little known outside her native France before being cast as the Bond girl, and to this I stand and applauded. It appears, so far at least, that the Craig era Bonds are returning to the tradition of hiring relatively unknown exotic women for the Bond girl unlike the jumping on the hot Hollywood actress of the moment calling card of the Brosnan era. Sadly, another old Bond tradition is brought back as well; that of the Bond girl existing only to look good, have sex with Bond, bring him to the baddie, and then get cast aside unceremoniously because we don’t want the little girl around gumming up the action now do we.
Bond Girl’s Name: Severine … kind of. The real Bond girl in this movie is M. As a result, Severine is kind of placeholder who even by the admittedly low bar of Bond girl treatment, gets truly abused. Her intro is promising enough. After the dude dies in her apartment Bond visits her at a casino where she appears to be the calm, cool, and in control manager. However, halfway though an intimate drink at the bar Bond sizes her up and sees she is simply a pretty face, a front controlled by bad men. 007 also ID’s a tattoo on her hand marking her as a sex slave. It all goes spiraling downward from there for poor Severine until she is curly tied to a poll for the amusement of two men and then shot in the belly to set up a joke. Between these two points, things get rapey.
Bond Girl Sluttiness: At the bar, Bond promises to save Severine from this life servitude. She is skeptical but willing to give this dashing Prince Charming a shot. Meet me on my boat at midnight she instructs and exits. A few scenes later we see her sitting alone in her cabin at a table set for two, her dreams once again crushed. The yacht leaves port and resigned to her fate, Severine takes a shower. That’s when out of the shadows steps a naked Bond, who embraces Severine from behind, and the music swells as the camera makes a discrete exit. I don’t know about you but when I’m along on a boat, I remain totally calm when a naked stranger I’ve meet once joins me in the shower. Its this kind of stuff that rightly infuriates our friends over at Church of Bond. (Ed Note: Church of Bond is a newish site that takes a much more focused looked at the Bond cannon and adds wonderful feminist insight to the macho boys and their toys world of 007. The reviews are fascinating and I highly recommend you visit regularly to not only keep up with The Church’s take on the films but also for the screening drink and food intake of the Church goers.) This scene was so out of left field, so ridiculously out of step with the rest of the film, that I found myself grasping for straws. So much of Skyfall is looking at Bond archetypes and spinning them and playing with them in a 2012 context I thought perhaps Mendes did this purposely bad, to poke fun of Bond’s cheesy and dodgy past, much like Qs comments on not really going in for he explosive pen bit an longer? But even this falls apart because Severine is a person and not a pen. Additionally, the only backstory we have on this paper thin character is she was a sex slave who to this day is still being held captive by men. So our hero does what to her? Sneaks up to her in a shower, has sex with her without speaking a word, then uses her to take him to the baddie who abruptly ties her up and shoots her so Bond can make a joke? Severine treatment at the hands of both Bond and the filmmaker (Silva gets a pass, he’s supposed to be evil) is a shamefully inexcusable misstep in an otherwise smart movie.
Bond Girls (Villain) Best Pick-up Line: Silva, suggestively caressing Bond, who is tied to a chair “There’s always a first time …”
Bond’s Best Pick-up Line: “Who says it’s my first time.” One small step for James Bond, one giant leap for mankind. We are at a truly remarkable place in our culture. Bond, the symbol of all that is masculine and sexually desired by women is actually made cooler, smarter, more worldly, and indeed more powerful by admitting (all be it with a HUGE wink) to a homosexual encounter. Is he bluffing? Perhaps. Does it matter? I don’t think so. Bond was on the forefront of the sexual revolution in the 60’s and while he’s not exactly breaking ground here, it’s important to not overlook what has happened here. The ultimate ladies man, the guy who’s “had em all over the world,” may have had a funky night or two with some boys in Brighton. Bravo Bond, and hats off to yah.
Number of Woman 007 Beds: Three. While Bond is slumming it in his beachfront hut, we see he had some companionship. We also have the aforementioned shower assault with Severine. Nether of these are interesting or help us understand Bond in a film that strives to give us a look behind the double 0. And that is why the Eve encounter is fascinating. It’s at this point Blog James Blog will reveal Eve is Moneypenny. More on that below but what is important for this bit is how the encounter unfolds. A full 180 from the creepy, gross, disposable, bad porn film execution of the Severine encounter, this hook up has hooks. It’s shot beautiful and has beats to bring us in. The characters dance around each other, slowly coming to center, giving the encounter weight, beauty, and emotion. There is even an element of danger as the woman who previously shot bond is not holding a straight razor to his face. It’s all manages to be super sexy without showing us anything close to sex. In fact, the scene was handled with such delicacy that at first I wasn’t even sure our MI6 heroes did the deed. Perhaps they finished the bottle of wine and fell asleep on the couch snuggled in each other’s arms? This thought was immediately shatter when the next shot cuts to the night sky, full of exploding fireworks while Bond, standing erect on a long canoe shaped boat, is seen piercing through the mouth of a dragon. So much for subtle.
Number of People 007 Kills: 24ish. This is a violent Bond and the body count becomes murky from the get go. The open features those classic Hollywood “Get out of R rated violence” calling cards like dudes crawling out of overturned cars or getting up and shaking their heads after smashing a motorcycle into a wall. For all the shooting and crashing and fruit cart calamity I marking the open as a zero kill sequence. The first confirmed use of the double 0 would be Patrice and even this could be argued. Bond is holding onto Patrice preventing him from falling to the street way below. Bond, in fact, wants him to live so he will cough up his employer’s name. Alas, the grip holds not and humpty dumpty had a great fall. Not sure if this was by Patrice’s or Bond’s hand but lets put it in James’ ledger. The next scratch off marks the return of a wonderful Bond staple we haven’t seen in forever; death by exotic animal! I stand and applaud Mendes and crew for the dragon eating demise of the faceless baddie at the casino and Blog James Blog will officially go on record as saying “bring death by mauling back.” The climax to the second act features a shootout at M’s inquiry hearing but much like the open, bullets fly with no confirmed kills. In fact it’s not till the final shoot out at Jimmy’s childhood home, Skyfall, that we can say with a certainty 21 goons meet their demise. How do we know? Well, twelve came a walking across the foggy front yard and another 10 (nine plus Silva) arrived via helicopter. Bond took out three with a shotgun, another to save Kincade and still another to save M. Two go down with the ‘sploded copper (At Blog James Blog downed choppers = two dead). And then the house blows up taking care of any stragglers save Silva and that dude on the ice. The underwater battle that follows with the dude on the ice is Bond 101 but the leg stranglehold adds a nice new wrinkle.
Most Outrageous Death/s: Severine’s senseless offing would be the obvious choice but since we’ve pretty much covered that at this point lets go with how un-outrageous Silva’s death is. This is a series that has offed lead baddies by dipping them in radiated water, fill them with compressed gas, shoving them out an airlock into space, and in the case of the longest running and most notorious Bond nemeses, getting dump from a helicopter skid while sitting in a wheelchair into an industrial smokestack. By that measure, a knife to the back is down right pedestrian. But it works in the context of the film. Stabbing is one of the more intimate ways to kill someone; you’ve got to be close and get dirty. This is why knifes work so well for horror films. And this is as intimate as a killing can get; Bond is the good son protecting mom from the evil son. A knife in the rats back seems 100% appropriate. Leaving Silva in the desert to drink motor oil wouldn’t have done at all.
Miss. Moneypenny: Loyal reads know that Blog James Blog has long held a torch for the lovely, long suffering Miss. Moneypenny. Her absents in the Craig era was an unwelcome side effect of the reboot and Skyfall more then corrects this oversight. Moneypenny gets more screen time in Bond 23 then she had in the previous 22 combine. The Bond/Moneypenny flirting always hinted at a unknown past history, especial when it was Connery placing his cap on the rack, but we never learned exactly what the story was … til now. Moneypenny shoots Bond and for all she and the rest of MI6 knows, kills him. Think about that for a moment. We are not talking about showing up at work the morning after some questionable office Christmas party behavior. We are talking about reporting to MI6 after having failed the mission of recovering the most import secrete England has only to have to write the report of how you killed the number one agent. Then, the guy you killed returns and you both get another shot to right the wrong of that mission leading to the canoe trip into the dragon’s mouth, a euphemism I pray never takes hold. And as if that wasn’t enough, Moneypenny is reimaged as Uma Thurman in Kill Bill mode crossed with Wonder Woman and a healthily dose of Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley.
She is every bit in brain, body, and brawn a perfect match for James, and as played by Naomie Harris she carries off the quip heavy flirting effortlessly. I can’t wait to see where Moneypenny, now perched at the desk next to the hat rack and across from the brown, padded door, and Bond go from here.
M: Skyfall is M’s movie and she wears it well. It’s bittersweet that we learn all about M only to say good-by but as a storytelling device it works wonderfully. By the third act we know how it’s going to end and when it finally does it’s still a gut punch. M is the Bond girl who requires saving from the baddie but as was the case with his last love Vesper, Bond fails. But first things first, this film gives us M and Bond in a more complex relationship then we ever could have imaged. After M gave the order that ends up with Bond dead she pens his obit, a piece James found “appalling” as she knew he would. When Bond finally comes in, he breaks into M’s flat and waits for her in a darken corner. You’ll recall she warned him never to do that again in Casino Royale lest he be shot. This time M asks 007 what took him so long. It’s these moments that raise the stakes in Bond and M’s relationship and by the time she fudges his test numbers to get him back on active duty, you know this is the deepest relationship Bond has had with anyone, his long buried natural mother included. Not for nothing do orphans make the best agents and when Bond says, “yes ma’am” it comes out sounding like “mum.” For her curtain call, M gets to do a bit of everything; quote Tennyson (lines learned from her late husband) and interrogate prisoners. She abuses her power and is humbled by her status. While Bond is drowning in a bottle of rum M is sipping bourbon fighting for her job, her department, and her country. When confronting the stuffed-shirt bureaucrats M is in fact arguing Bond films critics; Bond is still relevant, maybe now more then ever. And like every modern Bond girl, M gets her moment to kick ass and does so in an empowering and plausible way. When she finally leaves the stage she does so with class and dignity. RIP M, “The old order changeth, yielding place to new.” The new in this case is old again as Malory takes up residence behind the leather padded door at the dark mahogany desk where he passes off files marked “Top Secrete” to Bond. Yes, we were sad to see Dame Judy die, but the last scene, complete with Moneypenny and hat rack, made your faithful Blog James Blog, errr….. blogger, more excite about Jimmy B’s future then we’ve been in a long time.
Q: Q still has spots, James says so himself. This is to say he is young or not fully formed. He needs to cook a bit longer and mature. Unlike Moneypenny and M, and Bond for that matter, all of who are real characters in this film, Q comes across more as a billboard on which to advertise an idea. I can see this character, and Ben Whishaw, growing into something more but here he is half-baked. His opening scene is nice in that Bond instantly likes him and I enjoy the idea of some affection between Q and Bond. I also like Q as a young (Emo) tech guy because that’s what he would be in 2012. But when he spots off about not really going in for exploding pens any more, it feels like a blinking neon sign shouting “this aint your dad’s Bond.” Q isn’t a character, he’s a plot device. His purpose is to anchor the second act and kick off the third. Bond returns to find MI6 has passed him by and Q is his guide (literally in the case of the tube station) through this unknown word. But the teck world is flawed as the baddie uses Q tech savvy to his advantage and Trojan horses his way in and out of MI6. Q let the baddie go, all be it unwittingly, so Bond must go off the grid, return to the past where there are no computers for Silva to take advantage of, so we can have a old fashioned Rio Bravo showdown that ends with the two adversaries face to face, the last rats on the island. Again, as mechanics to move the plot it all works quite well and if it was another character, one we don’t have a history with and is just here for the film, fine. However, Q is on Bond Mt. Rushmore with M, Moneypenny and Jimmy B himself. I want more from Q especially since everyone else was given a chance to shine in this film. Hopefully future installments will give the gadget guru more to do.
List of Gadgets: If I don’t particularly care for beloved characters being reduced to symbols and plot points, objects work as perfect metaphors and such. So, since we all have James Bond G4 teck in our pockets, the film was smart to present us with an elegantly simple box containing a Welther PPK S 9mm (all be it with finger print ID, something the NRA will not allow the average citizen to have because freedom) and a wee radio. And that’s all MI6 has to issue. And no, I didn’t forget about that old grey auto in storage in Brixton.
Gadgets/British Government Property Bond Destroys: About that old grey car … it gets blown up. Yep, the ’64 Goldfinger Aston Martin DB5 with the headlight guns, ejector passenger seat, and Homer Simpson cup holders gets sent off to the great junkyard in the sky. Bond is also present for the destruction and a tube stations and derailment of a speeding subway but I think we can bill Silva for that one. No, outside the car, Bond is responsible for very little government owned property destruction. Now, Moneypenny on the other hand? She busts up a company car (Ranger Rover?), shreds half the city of London (the reconstructions costs presumably coming out of English tax payer pockets), and shoots and nearly kills MI6’s most valuable human asset, 007, who then must be retrained at god knows what cost. No wonder this chick ended up behind a desk, she a menace!
Other Property Destroyed: I’ve become obsessed with the upsetting of fruit carts in Bond films. I feel Sam Mendes maybe similarly fascinated by this phenomena. The open features all kinds of vegetable stand, nut barrel, and fruit cart mayhem and that’s before we drive two motorcycles down the main aisle of the grand bazar. What is it about smashing into fruits, vegetables, and dry goods that is so satisfying? Is it the variety of color, shapes and sizes? Is it the wet, juicy insides going splat? Is it a cheep prop that can be used by craft services after the stunt is complete? No idea, but much like fat guys riding motorcycles, the gag gets me every time. Less satisfying are the barrage of Beetles Bond knocks off the train as he opens a passenger car like a can of tuna. It was the only time in the film I felt I was getting hit over the head with product placement that had zero to do with anything outside of product placement. There are a few broken windows in Shanghai and we already discussed the London Underground (not his fault) but the destruction remains relatively light until the third act. Here, the Rio Bravo stand off explodes to Bondian heights with blowed up cars, helicopters, and finally Bond’s childhood home, “I always hated this place.” Mendes is in full on Filmmaker mode here using the setting and color pallet to expand the mood and tone. The stone house getting turned into Swiss chess by the helicopters happens as the sun sets on Scotland. The spotlight from the chopper creates shafts of light pouring thought the bullet holes in the home. The fire red explosions pop out from the dark blue backdrop of the swamp. It can’t be overstated how important and amazing it is to watch great directors take what could be a routine action sequence and make it more, using tools like symbolism and visual cues to tie the sequence to the greater whole.
Bond’s parents are burred here and this is where he will loose his surrogate mother. The past can be both grounding and inhibiting and here, in one night, both the baggage and the roots that made Craig’s Bond end up a pile of rubble in the fog of a swamp. Where will the future lead? Also, I wonder if any bananas were destroyed in that old houses pantry?
Felix Leiter: We get a look at Bond’s future in a little prolog featuring the new M. Since we don’t have Felix in the film, the first Craig entry in which the CIA man is absent, I will focus on Gareth Mallory, the new M played by Raffe “Don’t call me Ralph” Fiennes. I must say I’m excited about the new M as he looks to be bringing something new to the table. He starts off as a “by the books” guy but quickly shows he has more sides to him. Mallory has spent time in the field and is not unsympathetic to cutting corners or even breaking a rule or two in order to get the job done. However, he is now behind the desk and has sat in the inquiries where his predecessor was raked over the hot coals, so it will be interesting to see how the new M squares these angles and how that in return will affect his working relationship with Bond. Also, what’s his drink?
Best One Liners/Quips: Bond on M “She never tired me to a chair.” Silva “Her loss.”
Bond Cars: Bond drives more cars then he sleeps with women in this film. I’m sure there’s a joke there somewhere, I’m just unwilling to find it. The motorcycle at the top of the film is a Honda CRF250R. This could be the Cadillac of motorbikes or the Honda; I have no idea. I do think its odd to say Bond and Honda in the same sentence. In Shanghai Bond speeds around in a sexy little beast known to those who know cars as the Mercedes-Benz S-Class and to me as the one he drove that was not the Aston Martin. He also tools around in M’s Jag. That one I could pick off. The model you ask? Black, clearly. Oh OK Jaguar XJ. And then the classic Goldfinger Aston Martin DB5 shows up complete with the front shooters, the eject button, and original theme music.
Bond Timepiece: According to the Omega website Bond sports the Planet Ocean 600 M Omega Co-Axial 42 mm in Skyfall however I don’t recall seeing his watch in the film.
Other Notable Bond Accessories: The classic hits keep coming, the trusty Welther PPK S 9mm short is the sidearm of choice. And I must ask, did he not look like the most badass chauffeur in the history of hacks waiting for Patrice in Shanghai? Finally, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, no one, not even Clooney, can wear the shit out of a suit like Craig. As the late, great Warren Zevon once sang “Uhhh, I’d like to meet his tailor. Ahhhhhoooooooooooo”
Number of Drinks 007 Consumes: We have had rum soaked adventures in the past have we not Mr. Bond but this, old drinking buddy of mine, this takes the cake… and scars the liver. I can’t say definitively and at some point I will go back and count all the bottles of beer on the wall from each film but if I had to guess, this is the booziest of them all. And not just the drink this time as noted by the good doctor at MI6, “alcohol and substance addiction indicated.” Ohhh James. The first time we see Bond post “official” death he’s lying in a shack on the beach, one arm around a sleep brunette and the other clutching a half finished bottle of something. This being the beach, lets call it rum. I don’t know what he’s drinking at the bar but its clear and packs a punch. Not that it stops him from reach behind the bar for another when the sun comes up. Fear and Loathing in Las Bond continues at chez M where 007 confronts Dench with a bottle of the bosses Bourbon strengthening his resolve. He also looks like stir fried shit finally answering Ebert’s question; does James Bond ever get hangovers? Bond’s time with Severine is bookend by to belts of booze. When he first meets her at the casino bar it’s a shaken martini while right before her untimely demise on Silva’s island it’s a gulp of Scotch, a 50 year old McClain, a favorite of Bond’s or so Silva is told. The 1962 on the Scotch label stands out as a not so subtitle nod to the first time a Bond, a Scott named Sean, graced the big screen. Finally, we don’t see it but do you think Bond was sitting in that cold dark house waiting to get shot at by Silva without a little liquid courage? For his sake I hope not.
Bond’s Gambling Winnings: Here is where I want more information. I love that Patrice was paid for the Shanghai job in a single chip and Bond’s the one who shows up to cash it. Talk about gambling! Then, he later encourages Moneypenny to put the full 4 million Euro all on red. Awesome. What I don’t know, and maybe someone can help me out, is what game is Bond playing when he gets up from the table at the casino?
List of Locations: The end credits inform us that Skyfall was filmed at Pinewood and Longcross Studios London and on location in Turkey, China, Japan, Scotland and England. They save the best for last because if anyone, or anything, is the star of this film, it’s the UK. I’ve pretty much hammered this home at this point but Mendes had made a love letter to his home country, and in doing so makes Bond and England one, not unlike Richard Donner did with his first two Superman films, making the flying alien a surrogate of everything we want America to be. It was just four short months before this film that James Bond, not Daniel Craig, but Bond, had the honor of escorting The Queen to her Royal box for the ultimate show case of Great Britain, her people, and her culture, The London Olympic Games. So when Bond is bleeding, battered, and all together lost and purposeless, so is England. As a New Yorker, I spot bullshit in films that are “supposed” to be in NYC a mile away and as someone who’s never been to London, I know for a fact it’s a true London film. The double decker red busses maybe on tourist postcards, those who know London know the tube is the way to go, and so it is here. Not for nothing is the new MI6 in Churchill’s old bunker. And when we finally do leave the stony confines of the old city, we wind up a mountain road, not unlike the opening shots of the Shining (1980), in the most iconic Bond-mobile to ancient Scottish ground, where Bond will be reborn once again. The film ends not in the dark, fog covered church where M breaths her last breath but on a London rooftop, where Bond watches the sun rise of a new dawn for England, her people, and Bond himself.
Bonds Special Abilities Displayed: I love me trains. Spend a lot time on em and maybe as much time waiting for em. Most of time I read a book, or play games on my phone, or watch the rats scurry along the tracks avoiding the third rail. But sometime I just zone out and thinking about the trains. One of my long running fantasies that I return to often occurs when I find myself swiping my metro card and going through the turnstile as the doors close on my train and it begins to pull out of the station. I envision myself running beside the train, keeping pace at first but then it starts to accelerate and pull out of the station at a much quicker speed. I continue to run, inching my way closer to the yellow line on the platforms edge. As the final car pulls past me, I take a flying leap off the platform and grab the chains the run across the back door of the train and hold on for dear life as I pull myself up onto the little ledge, open the door, walk on the last car as even jaded New Yorkers look on slack-jawed, and I take my set as if nothing has happened. I can’t be the only rail commuter who’s had this thought, right? Well dear reader, no one less then James Bond himself had a similar idea and in this film he lived out my most extravagant subway fantasy. Got to love this guy.
Final Thoughts: Lets call it the three-year rule. When EON waits three or more years between Bond films … zang, lightning in a bottle. The Spy Who Loved Me (1977), GoldenEye (1995), Casino Royale (2006) and now Skyfall (2012) are the only four films with more then two years between them and their predecessor. Obviously these aren’t the only great Bond films but with the larger then two year lead-time EON is batting 4 for 4. I understand demands of the marketplace, keeping talent in house, etc. but there does seem to be diminishing returns the further EON goes on with the two every year count. I guess what I’m saying is, slow it down man, great things to those who wait. In Craig’s third film he pulls of the trick he failed in his first. The idea back then was to get back to basics with Bond, reinvent him as a person with a soul AKA a double 0 for aughts. Casino got three quarters of the way but ultimately failed on this score thanks to the weak love interest Vesper. The five-story building sinking with her into the canals of Venice helped no one. Yes, we have Bond running out of an exploding building that sinks into the swamp here, but that building means something and the love interest he fails to save here, M, packs a punch Vesper never could. So when Bond comes out the other side, reporting to a new M behind the old/new desk, he is truly a changed man. Just as important, the Bond beats are back. Abandon in the interest of reinvention were many of the wonderful things that make Bond Bond and here they are reimagined, old new again, proving just how durable the backbone of this mythology is. A full 50 years and 23 films later the Bond formula can still be fresh and faithful at the same time. I missed the quipping, confident Bond and here he is. I had less fun with Moneypenny on hiatus and now that she’s back, along with Q, flawed as he maybe, something seams right. And then there is the stuff that goes beyond what we have done before. Skyfall explores Bond’s past in way we’ve never seen, 007 finally goes rouge in a way that works, he is given a lady to save who is worth saving, on and on and on. Mendes did all this and more, giving us a thinking, surreal, lovely film with a head and a heart. And yet, upon its release last November, all of this somehow seamed to be lost among a group of folks who fancy themselves fans but in fact are anything but. I’m of course referring to articles like this one and there are many more, meaner ones where that came from. The whole idea of film criticism as I understand it is to take a look at what works in a movie and what doesn’t, give it some context, and try to figure out why things turned out the way they did. The idea is to learn something. These people are not criticizing Skyfall, they are, as the Brits say, taking the piss. To quibble over things like how did Silvia know Bond would be in that train station at that time to blow the hole and have the 6:43 to Kings Cross come down on 007’s head is missing the forest for love of snark. Why does it matter? This is a Bond film, so of course it happened. And please don’t every forget, this film was dead in the water two years ago and what Mendes and crew deliver from the ashes is nothing short of a Bond film ranking in the top five of all time. Does it have problems? Some big ones in fact, but that’s Bond. Does the Fort Knox plot of Goldfinger hold up under any scrutiny? Hell and no but 48 years later is that what we remember? Hell and no. We talk about Jill Masterson’s death by gold paint and Oddjob’s hat and Goldfinger’s crotch laser and Pussy Galore’s flying circus and the Aston Martin and tuxedos under wetsuit and on and on and on. Even one of the greatest albums of all time, Dylan’s Blond on Blond, has problems. But do you let that ruin the entire record? Hell and no. Every fan of the bard knows exactly how handle “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35;” simply pretend it doesn’t exist and free yourself to fall in love with everything else.