By now we’re hoping you’ve all seen James Bond’s latest outing, Skyfall. If so, read on. If not, please stop now because this post is just one huge spoiler after another.
Still with us? Okay, then lets dive in.
Skyfall has been a phenomenal success at the box office and rightly so. Many have called it the best Bond film ever made. We can’t go that far but it is certainly the best looking (the cinematography, particularly in the scenes set in China is Oscar-worthy), the best acted (Fiennes, Bardem and Finney deliver standout performances and in so doing push Craig to new heights) and the best written (the dialogue, particularly the repartee between Bond and Silva, Moneypenny and Q, is the most consistently entertaining in the series.)
Despite all of that, there are three things about the film that bothered us as we left the cinema and have been eating away at us ever since.
Craig’s suits look almost painted on to to his muscle-clad frame.
Let’s kick off with the smallest but no less irritating niggle. Even though we confess that our taste tends towards the classic, we’re not complete and utter luddites here at the Guide. We’re well aware that the fashion is currently for shorter jackets and more tightly-fitting suits. But costume designer Jany Temime and fashion designer Tom Ford have taken this to comical extremes in Skyfall.
Whereas he looked fantastic in Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace, in Skyfall, Craig’s suits look almost painted on to to his muscle-clad frame. They look painful and constricting enough in the quieter scenes but in the action sequences, you get the impression that he’s going to burst out of them at any moment, Bruce Banner style. During the chase sequence across London following Silva’s escape, we watched with increasing concern for Bond. Not because we thought Silva was likely to do him any harm but rather that his suit was going to rip open at any moment. When he did finally arrive at M’s committee hearing, we were certain it would be wearing nothing but the tattered remains of his jacket and trousers.
Skyfall breaks the rules of the Bond franchise.
Not fussed about the suits? Just us then. Well, here’s something much more important: Skyfall breaks the rules of the Bond franchise.
We’re accustomed to suspending disbelief in a Bond film – and happy to do so. It’s part of the deal. The filmmakers deliver two hours of exotic, exhilarating escapism and in return the audience agrees to overlook the more, er, unrealistic plot points. That’s fine; we’ve been doing that in Bond movies for 50 years and it’s a deal we’re happy to honour.
But Skyfall breaks its own rules. It asks its audience to turn a blind eye to at least three glaring holes in its plot.
The first hole is the fact that Bond is shot twice during the pre-credit sequence. He’s hit first as he’s at the control of the digger on the train and again when Moneypenny misses the villain and knocks him off the train. And yet for the rest of the film – despite a number of shots of Bond topless and one of him actually pulling a bullet out of his wound – we never see the second bullet hole. No reference is made to it and we’re expected to simply forget it ever happened.
The second hole is Silva’s plan. Even by grandiose, lunatic Bond villain standards, Silva’s plot for revenge on M – more specifically the ‘getting captured and then escaping’ element – makes absolutely no sense at all and depends far too much on coincidence and blind luck to work. Lets overlook the fact that his plan demands prior knowledge of where MI6 would re-locate to, where he’d be held and how Q would try to break into his laptop. Lets overlook too the fact that this little plot ‘surprise’ has been used far too often recently – most notably by the Joker in 2008’s The Dark Knight and last year by Loki in The Avengers – to be effective on the audience. The real problem is what follows. With Bond now chasing him, Silva sets off an explosion that drops an Underground train designed to kill any pursuers. Wait. What? Has Silva rigged the entire Underground network so he could set off explosions at any given moment? And why did he need to be captured and then escape anyway? And if he posses the seemingly magical ability to set off explosions at the exact time and place that his circumstances demand, why not simply set off an explosion in the committee hearing in which M is appearing? Why does he have to get himself across London so he can barge in himself and shoot her? Sorry Skyfall producers, this is way beyond unrealistic, it’s completely nonsensical.
Thirdly – and most irritating of all to us – it breaks its own timeline. When the producers rebooted the franchise with such panache in 2009’s brilliant Casino Royale, they found a wonderful way of reintroducing Bond’s iconic Aston Martin DB5. Since the film is set in the 21st century, it made no sense to give Bond a DB5 as a company car. Instead, they have him win it from a particularly unlikeable chap during a poker game in the Bahamas. Clever.
But Skyfall completely ignores this new timeline. When Bond takes M to his storage facility in London and fires up the DB5, we’re delighted to see the old girl. But as the film progresses, it turns out that this is not the car from Casino Royale (which, for those of you really paying attention had Bahamian number plates and was left-hand drive) but rather Sean Connery’s DB5 from Goldfinger, a car which – according to Casino Royale – now belongs in an alternate continuity. The first clue is that it’s right-hand drive. Then, M tells us it’s fitted with an ejector seat (“Go ahead, eject me. See if I care” she quips to Bond during their drive to Scotland) and, finally, we get to see the hidden machine guns being used in the final showdown with Silva. Asking your audience to go along with a reboot (while keeping some of the existing actors, most notably Judy Dench) is a stretch. The producers managed to pull it off because Casino Royale was so thoroughly fresh and entertaining. Subsequently going back and breaking the new timeline you’ve established is a slap in the audience’s face.
Bond is given three missions during the course of Skyfall and he cocks each one of them up in turn.
Perhaps the biggest issue we had with Skyfall though is Bond’s complete and utter failure to do anything right in this film. Having him make a few mistakes is one thing. After all, it’s exciting to see Bond get into trouble then use his wits and training to get out of it and come out on top. The problem with Skyfall is that you never get that rewarding payoff. At no point do you feel Bond actually wins.
Think about it – Bond is given three missions during the course of Skyfall and he cocks each one of them up in turn.
In mission one, during the pre-credit sequence, he’s given one simple task: recover the stolen drive “containing the identity of every agent embedded in terrorist organizations across the globe.” This is the sort of thing that he shouldn’t have to break a sweat over. Instead, after a clumsy pursuit, not only does he lose the drive and let the culprit get away but he gets himself shot by his own teammate and – the ultimate insult – is consigned to drinking Heineken in a beach hut somewhere rather less than glamorous. What a loser.
In mission two, he’s sent to find Silva. After Silva’s deliciously entertaining grand entrance in the island’s computer room, we’re taken outside where Bond is put in a classic tight-spot: forced into a sadistic shooting competition with Sévérine’s life in the balance. We can’t see how Bond can possibly get out of this. But that’s the joy of Bond movies: wondering how he’s going to overcome the odds of seemingly impossible situations and then marveling as he does so. How will he save the girl, humiliate the villain and return home victorious? Oh that’s right, he doesn’t. At first, he’s completely powerless to stop Silva killing Sévérine and yet, moments later, he disarms all the henchmen and captures Silva with the help of an MI6 back-up team (a radio beacon, that old trick.) Couldn’t he have done that five minutes earlier when Sévérine was, you know, still alive? Oh well, at least he captures Silva, right? Wrong. Because getting captured is exactly what Silva wants. So, Bond lets the girl die and actually facilitates the villain’s plan. What a loser.
In mission three, he has one single objective: keep M alive. Not hard for a man of Bond’s training, surely? Wrong. Bond takes M to a completely remote location and puts Father Christmas in charge of protecting her while he wastes time shooting at henchmen. What’s that? Oh, you’re right, it’s not Father Christmas. Behind the comedy beard is Albert Finney as Kincade, the Bonds’ faithful groundskeeper (so faithful in fact that he hangs around the Bond family home for years when there’s no sign whatsoever that Bond is ever coming back – but we digress.) While initially portrayed as a valuable ally, dishing out wisdom and showing himself to be handy with a shotgun, Kincade then has something of a lobotomy and starts switching on torches which attracts Silva’s attention and leaving the room at precisely the moment he is needed most. End result? Yes, predictably, M is not kept alive at all. Quite the opposite. Bond lets his boss die at the hands of a frankly rather effeminate villain. What a loser.
Back to Bond basics
Hey look, we’re being picky and we know it. We started this post by telling you how good Skyfall is and it is. Overall, it’s a great ride and a very worthy addition to the Bond canon. What makes it really important though – beyond the cinematography, acting and script – is how the film sets up the series to reach even greater heights in the future.
Since the Brosnan era, Bond has seemed slightly ill at ease, lumbered with a guilty conscience. The producers clearly felt that Bond had no place in the modern world. So with Goldeneye they made a number of changes, the most notable of which was introducing Judy Dench as the new M. How clever they thought they were: give Bond a female boss and have her deliver lines like “I think you’re a sexist, misogynist dinosaur. A relic of the Cold War.” How knowing, how self-deprecating.
The problem is it never worked. M has been the weakest thing about the Bond series ever since. We know this flies in the face of almost every other opinion on the subject but we’ve never liked Dench’s portrayal of M. She always seemed weak, never convincing. It just never ever felt right for Bond to be bossed around by this frumpy old woman. It always seemed like he was taking his mother along for the ride. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the opening sequence of Skyfall. As Bond and Eve are in pursuit of the stolen drive, having Judy Dench bark the likes of “Bond! Where are you Bond? We’ve lost your location!” into his ear just seemed ludicrous. She wasn’t helping but just distracting and getting in the way. No, M should be a man and preferably a military man, who can relate to Bond and – just as Bernard Lee used to do – begrudgingly admire his methods and philandering ways.
No excuses, no guilt just the unadulterated pleasure of seeing our favourite “sexist, misogynist dinosaur” back where he belongs.
So, the one huge thing that Skyfall got right was killing off Judy Dench’s M, replacing her with the brilliant Ralph Fiennes and, in so doing, taking Bond back to basics.
As the film draws to a close, we leave Bond exactly where we look forward to seeing him next time: in what looks like a carbon copy of Bernard Lee’s office from the Connery era with its leather-panelled inner door and Moneypenny typing loyally away outside just waiting to be flirted with. No excuses, no guilt just the unadulterated pleasure of seeing our favourite “sexist, misogynist dinosaur” back where he belongs. We can’t wait for Bond 24.
The three things wrong with Skyfall
Skyfall has been a phenomenal success at the box office and rightly so. Many have called it the best Bond film ever made. Perhaps it is but, despite that, there are three things about the film that bothered us as we left the cinema and have been eating away at us ever since.
Our founder and publisher, the self-proclaimed "greatest wit, raconteur and bon vivant of our age", borders on delusional. Over the years, The Fool has squandered more money on fast cars, Swiss watches and electronic gadgetry of all kinds than he – or his bank manager – cares to remember. Come nightfall, he can invariably be found stumbling out of Dukes mumbling “just one more Martini; I could have handled just one mmmmm… [thud!]”
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