Skyfall is a great movie and an excellent return to form for the Bond franchise. Unfortunately, one terrible scene and one flippant line mar what is otherwise one of the best Bond films. I’ll get to that.
It has been almost six years since the “Bond Reboot” and the casting of Daniel Craig as 007 in the astonishingly good Casino Royale, and almost four years since the disappointing Quantum of Solace thudded heavily in movie theaters. Owing in large part to MGM’s bankruptcy, the franchise stalled while the parent company got its financial shit together. And so despite Craig only being a Double-Oh Agent for two films leading into Skyfall, the film curiously chooses a “we’re too old for this shit” motif.
The film it most reminds me of is actually Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, for the overall themes of revenge, aging, sacrifice, and rebirth. Instead of the vengeful Khan, we have the vengeful Silva, played with lively malevolence by Javier Bardem. Instead of Admiral (Admiral?!) Kirk, we have James Bond, weary and wounded. And instead of Spock, we have M, whose cold dispassion has brought some very destructive chickens home to roost. Skyfall opens with a quintessential Bond chase scene, overstuffed with explosions and ludicrous stunts that entertain largely because of their defiance of logic. It actually is very impressive – “Fucking A” would be as good a descriptor as any – and brings us back somewhat to that incredible foot-chase that opened Casino Royale.
But while there are still plenty of explosions and cliffhanging to come, the movie actually becomes character-driven, believe it or not. M finds herself embroiled in a bureaucratic upheaval that brings into question not only the relevance of MI6, but her own performance as its leader. Bond is fighting off age and his injuries just as much as he is the random terrorists/bodyguards/henchmen that cross his path. And Silva becomes one of the most textured, complex villains in the history of the franchise even despite his fairly single-minded thirst for revenge.
Even more surprising is where the film ends up: squarely in Bond’s mysterious past, somewhere the movies have never really bothered exploring. There, our heroes eschew gadgets and cell phones and speedboats for sawed-off shotguns and homemade shrapnel grenades and hunting knives. Like Wrath of Khan’s climactic battle, the technology gets stripped away. It’s gritty and dirty and oh-so-personal, which is what made Casino Royale such a revelation, and why Quantum of Solace failed in comparison.
And at the end, Bond, like Kirk, emerges with new energy and new purpose. Where that will take us is anyone’s guess.
Unfortunately, there is still the matter of that one scene. I hate saying too much about it for risk of spoiling parts of the movie, but there is a point where Bond flippantly laments the “waste of good scotch” after a woman is callously murdered by Silva. The scene seems forced overall as it is neither essential to the plot or to anyone’s character. We already know Silva is a murdering, psychotic bastard by that point in the film, so having him gun down an unarmed woman is hardly necessary to illustrate the depths of his cruelty. And while Bond’s woefully misogynist quip might have fit his character just after his betrayal by Vesper Lynd in Casino Royale, it certainly doesn’t fit a man who’d previously been chastising M for devaluing the lives of her agents – himself included.
In the theater, I was able to get past that scene and enjoy the rest of the movie, but now I find myself coming back to it. As much fun as it is to see Bond get his hands dirty and go old-school, the fun gets sucked out when the outmoded attitudes come along for the ride. And I’m not even sure that’s what this is. Yeah, Bond nails anything in a short skirt. Does he have to crack wise over their lifeless bodies, too?
So I’m conflicted. On the one hand, it was otherwise a superior film, and that was a minor scene. Plenty of guys die in the film, and get one-linered by 007. But that minor scene was done so sloppily and ran so counter to the rest of Skyfall‘s theme that it’s simply hard to ignore in hindsight.
I wish I could wholeheartedly recommend Skyfall, because I want to. But while some of the old ways are better, a few of them absolutely are not.