Saturday, November 17, 2012

Fail after Fail: Thoughts on Skyfall upon a second viewing.

Spoiler Warning is in place, but my non-spoiler review is HERE...

For reasons mostly involving time and other responsibilities, before last night I hadn't seen a film twice in theaters since June 2008.  Even that last occasion was merely a matter of happenstance, as my father was in town and he hadn't seen Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull yet.  I grew up with the Lucasfilm universe, so it seemed only appropriate, and a good time was had.  Anyway, last night I saw Skyfall for a second time, as my wife was unable to attend last month's press screening and we had a free evening (it was also about trying out a new theater, but that's the next essay).  Unfortunately a second viewing only heightened the film's major flaws.  Even my wife, who hadn't read my review yet, whispered to me around thirty-minutes in and said "We get it, Bond is *old*!" after which we proceeded to take a pretend shot every time someone made a reference to age or old vs. new.  By the hour mark, we both had pretend alcohol poisoning.

The text is blazingly unsubtle to the detriment of the picture, and the film makes the inexplicable mistake of treating Silva as seemingly the first super villain ever to use computers to do his evil work.  The gender issues I noted on Monday were ever more apparent.  Note how Bond takes the wheel from Eve during the opening chase and 'shows her how to do it'.  And Silva's initial monologuing (save the great 'two rats' speech) felt even more like a dumbed-down version of Sean Bean's ranting in GoldenEye.  On the plus side the final action sequence at Bond's former childhood home felt better paced and less dragged out, although I still hate the cheap joke ("I've always hated this place!") Bond makes before blowing up his house, as it sacrifices drama and pathos for a punchline.  But the biggest problem with the film, something I didn't want to discuss in my initial review, involves the entire arc for James Bond.  In short, the film posits that an entire film full of complete and total failure constitutes a spiritual cleansing that restores 007 to his former luster.

The film operates as the third straight "and here is how James Bond became *JAMES BOND*" entry, never mind that Casino Royale was supposed to be that story six years ago.  Each Craig film ends on a 'ok, now he's the 007 we know and love!' before having the next entry screams 'No wait, he's not there yet."  But the problem this time around, the reason why Bond's arc in Skyfall is frankly less satisfying than even Quantum of Solace is that it operates on a false premise.  The idea is that somehow James Bond failing at each and every one of his goals throughout the film's 143 minute running time constitutes a spiritual cleansing that returns to us the 'classic 007' most associated with the Sean Connery/Roger Moore years.  During the film, James fails to retrieve the 'not-NOC List', which results in the deaths of at least five fellow agents.  James fails to stop that same assassin from murdering three people in Shanghai and accidentally causes his death prior to interrogation.  James fails to save Sévérine from Silva's wrath, and we can debate whether her death is caused by Bond's incompetence or whether Bond merely callously sent her to her death as a means to an end (either way makes him an asshole).

Bond does capture Silva with the help of Q's radio (yes, as expected, my wife was quite fond of Ben Whishaw and his Cillian Murphy meets Matthew Gray Gubler visage), but his lone triumph turns out to merely be a part of Silva's ultimate plan.  Speaking of which, why exactly did Silva go through such elaborate lengths to merely dress up like a cop and shoot at people in a government hearing?  No one knew who he was or what he looked like, so he could have just bought a ticket to London and gone about whatever evil business he had in store.  The film was trying to make Silva into the 007-equivalent of The Joker while forgetting that The Joker had not a specific plan but a Choose Your Own Adventure mindset.  But I digress, following Silva's escape, James Bond fails to catch him, refusing to take the kill shot even when he has Silva cornered, which in turn allows the crashing of a commuter subway (a stunning act of terrorism that is never mentioned after the fact), the murder of several cops and government employees at a government inquiry, and the eventual death of M herself.

Oh yes, the death of M.  Her eventual demise comes off not as the climax of a logical arc for her and Bond, but rather because someone somewhere arbitrarily decided that M should die at the end of the picture.  Had she died in the courthouse, which in turn motivated Bond to act decisively for the remainder of the picture, that would have been both a shocking twist and a logical plot turn.  But to place the entire third act's plot around her survival in the face of Silva's onslaught only to have her die from a random wound inflicted by a random henchman, and only after Bond had killed all of the bad guys, made what should have been a major moment into an anticlimactic reveal that instantly negates the core story being told.  Yes Silva dies thinking he failed and perhaps the idea is that both 'rats' have failed at their goals, but that only negates the 'the world still needs James Bond' theme that the entire film is based around.

In the end, we've watched James Bond fail again and again, leaving dozens of innocent people dead in his wake, even failing to save the very person he spent the entire film protecting and defending, yet we're now supposed to believe that A) the world really does need James Bond after all and B) Bond himself has been reborn anew, able, ready, and willing to become the classic super spy we grew up with.  This isn't Raiders of the Lost Ark, where Indiana Jones basically doesn't change the outcome of the film once he's saved Marion in the first act.  This isn't The Dark Knight where Batman wins the battle (catching The Joker and saving the innocents on the ferry boats) but perhaps loses the war (he fails to save Harvey and must sacrifice himself for the greater good).  Skyfall posits that 007 failing again and again while showing callous disregard for the people he is supposed to protect is in fact a spiritual cleansing that restores Commander Bond to his former luster.  It doesn't make sense and it doesn't work.  Skyfall amuses and entertains on the second time, but it is even more clear that it fails as a coherent and logical character drama because it negates its own arc for the sake of 'death by committee'.

Scott Mendelson


corysims said...

You and the tentpole films of this year are just not getting along, are you Scott? First, Spider-Man, then Rises, and now Skyfall. I shutter to think what a second viewing of Avengers might bring (hint: doesn't get better).

I will say this, from a character perspective, this isn't the third film of the "Bond Begins" arc. He's already Bond in this film. It's the Bond universe of the past that gets the final set.

Not disagreeing with your assessment of the film but after a second viewing, I looked at the character arc in this way; this film is about whether or not Bond has a love for the job and accepts it. Remember, Casino Royale set up the idea that, while Bond maybe great at this job, he doesn't particularly like the job.

Even with him failing through out the film, Bond comes to terms with the job. He finally accepts that this is what he's meant to do.

The third act at his childhood home doesn't really have any bearing on the narrative whatsoever. That's Mendes going meta on the 50 year history of the Bond franchise.

Scott Mendelson said...

I actually liked The Avengers more on the second viewing, as I realized that I was a little nit-picky in certain areas (RDJ making the sacrifice play makes sense for example). It doesn't feel very large on Blu Ray, but it absolutely delivers in a crowd-pleasing fashion that too few would-be blockbusters do.

corysims said...

Complete opposite for me on Avengers, I guess. For me, there's no point of view when it should've been easily the point of view of Thor and Rogers, considering its the direct sequel to their two films. It just feels like Iron Man and the Avengers because he's the only one who's arc goes through a transformation, which shouldn't be the case. His films don't relate to Avengers at all.

How many times have you seen Rises? I just got the Blu-ray via import and I'm just not seeing the problems a lot of people have with it. While, yes, it's structurally looser on the back end of the film, Rises kills even more on Blu-ray. It's unrelenting in its tone and the stakes. It's an out and out character piece that earns its ending.

LY said...

doesn't make sense.

1) why bother to steal the agency information to just walk and kill M? Seems rather complicated.

2) a plot to get captured by bond only to escape? Even for a brilliant mastermind sounds very risky.

3) Walks into the hearing with only handguns and pistols and somehow managers to attack government officials? even after the bombing of a train?

4) The only way to stop the master terrorist is to go to scotland? btw how is Bonds' family so rich?

5) True movie style. deploy 15 henchmen, walk from outside and lose them all. Then fly your helicopter in. After that, deploy another 15 henchman. I'm sure you can sneak a attack helicopter into Scotland.

6) Lights in tunnel stay on after massive explosion.

7) Falls into freezing water without getting cold.

8) Bond trys to save M but loses M in the end. Would have been easier if she died first.

9) I don't understand how tracking an assassin leads to the mastermind?


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