Movies

A Waste of Good Scotch

Skyfall

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.

Javier Bardem as Silva

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.

James Bond in Skyfall

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 bettera few of them absolutely are not.

12 thoughts on “A Waste of Good Scotch

  1. I think it is a movie which you can recommend, it delivers some action, shows that Bond is more than an empty shell and that he’s vulnerable and enough little things linking it to previous films to keep Bond fans happy.

    • Oh, don’t get me wrong, I loved the movie for all that you said and more. So I DO recommend it…just with the caveat that there’s this one brutally stupid scene you’ll have to swallow to enjoy the rest of what is a truly excellent film.

  2. Simply put, good review and we share the SAME gripe. That line was so damn unnecessary. Being detached enough to do what it takes…I get that. But that was just a poorly placed quip. Bond came off like a dick out of nowhere. And then what happened almost immediately after made me go “wtf? They show up just a few seconds after that? Do they value Bond’s random (and in my opinion out of character as far as this film is concerned) asshole moments more than other people’s lives?

    • Exactly. Maybe they came up with the line first, and then tried to work a scene around it? Or there’s some quota for “dick moves” in a Bond film and they had to have him say that to meet it? I don’t know. It was just damn strange.

  3. Just want to say that I took his comment about the scotch as an (effective) attempt to ‘disarm’ the thugs surrounding him. On a second viewing, they did all stop and drop their guns for a moment, looking at him like “HUH?!” giving him enough time to take them out. As someone who used to be in the film industry, I can say I don’t think there is anyway that quip got past Mendes, who is ardently feminist. He said it to throw off the thugs. Why did he take so long to shoot? Because he knew no matter what he did, she was going to die. He truly had no play there.

    • Well, I’ll just have to trust that Mendes didn’t mean it to come off the way it came off. But considering that Severine was barely more than a damsel in distress that Bond nailed on the way to her eventual execution, feminist ideals aren’t readily apparent. I think even a moment of reflection on her death would have put the scene more in the light you describe. Perhaps that’s on a cutting room floor somewhere.

    • Who Bond “is” in that movie (and in the rebooted Craig-helmed franchise in general) was a person who gave a damn about fellow human beings. I don’t understand that scene because at the beginning of the film, he protests over an agent being left behind to die, gets left to die himself, and despite that moves heaven and earth to save the woman responsible for both those things. I can’t argue that the scene would fit right in with Connery, Moore, or even Brosnan’s Bond, but it does NOT fit with the current interpretation of the character, and more importantly: it did not fit the portrayal of the character in Skyfall.

  4. As someone who encountered sex trafficking on his tours, that scene ruined the movie for me, for my gf as well… to swallow it and enjoy the rest of the movie, just doesnt work for me, in a same manner you wont really enjoy your meal after discovering a worm in it… Was unnecessary and beyond tasteless IMO….

  5. It’s sad that Severine just dies, but I think you guys missed important things – Severine’s death underscores 007’s limits, and those limits are a recurring theme – in the prior films Bond leaves dead women in his wake; and M points it out to him. The line you misunderstand – it’s not callousness, it’s a pose – Bond is standing in the middle of deadly enemies and he wants them to know they can’t get to him. We’ve seen him take a similar stance in his psych evaluation, and in dealing with the loss of the love of his life.

    I agree that Severine’s death doesn’t fit well in the larger-than-life stance of the film. It’s almost like a poetic PSA stuck in the middle of a Bond film. What I love is that Bond never judges her, respects her, wants to free her, and his inability to do so underscores the reality of human trafficking.

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