Movie Review: Skyfall (James Bond)
It’s hard to believe that fifty years have passed since we first met James Bond in his 1962 debut, Dr. No.
Accordingly, inheritors of the spymaster’s enduring cinematic legacy and global marketing empire understood that this anniversary chapter had to be more innovative than the rest.
This time, movie audiences had every right to expect a sequel that tied up some loose ends between past and present, answering lingering questions about how the young Bond came to be the old Bond. And given the first-rate director and stellar cast assembled for the 24th film treatment of the most famous spy of all-time, one might have even expected the serial to embark in an entirely new direction, enticing yet another generation of future filmgoers to cheer for the union jack and MI6, regardless of nationality.
Indeed, James Bond endears as the universal superhero. While there are not many things where the citizens of London, or Mumbai, or Tokyo, or Kuala Lumpur, or Los Angeles, or Sao Paolo agree on politically or culturally speaking, everyone loves 007. Young and old, male and female, black and white, rich and poor — everyone wants James Bond to kick the bad guy’s ass, and do it with style.
And so, a stellar cast and an Oscar-winning director were tapped for what should have been a slam-dunk monster hit. From the early box office receipts and critics’ reviews, the franchise appears to have succeeded. But profitability aside, is the latest chapter in the Ian Fleming saga really worth seeing?
Skyfall, released in November 2012 is a disappointment. And given what filmmakers had to work with in terms of budget and talent, that’s unforgivable. No doubt, all the pieces were perfectly in place for what should have been a masterpiece — “the best Bond film ever,” as we were promised. But ultimately, this film is ruined by its star’s lack of charisma, and arguably one of the least-interesting scripts of any in the lengthy James Bond franchise.
What a waste of $200 million.
Of course, Skyfall will earn much more in profit, which is all that seems to matter to Barbara Broccoli, who inherited the James Bond empire from her late father, Albert Broccoli after he passed away. Sure, making a profit is important — even essential. And making lots of money is even better. But clever marketing and riding the coattails of international brand loyalty doesn’t make for a good film. We’ll get back to Barbara Broccoli later.
Make no mistake — I very much wanted to like and enjoy Skyfall. I read the reviews in advance, most of which were positive. Strange. They must have been watching a different movie. The Skyfall I experienced lacked any of the wit that made most of the great James Bond films of the 1960s and early 1970’s instant classics.
The problem starts with hopelessly miscast Daniel Craig, now into his third reincarnation as the spook superhero. To be fair, every actor who tries to fill cinema’s most challenging shoes inevitably gets compared to the original gold standard, personified in Sean Connery. Let’s face it. Everyone wanted to either be Connery or sleep with Connery. Whatever it is, Connery had it multiplied by seven. Aided by some excellent scripts (Live and Let Die, Moonraker) follow-up Roger Moore made a nice “honorable mention” in the coveted role. But no one will ever match Connery’s natural charisma and charm as the only true 007.
While it’s unfair to compare a living film legend like Connery to Daniel Craig, the bottom line is — the modern-day reincarnation lacks any cinematic appeal. Onscreen, he comes across as terribly insensitive. Remaining stone-faced pretty much the entire doesn’t allow audiences to make any emotional connection to the man we’re supposed to be rooting for. Whether he’s gunning down the bad guys, exchanging dialogue with the villain, gambling in a casino, or pursuing his latest sexual tryst, Craig’s expression always seems the same.
Part of Craig’s problem in this role rests in the lame writing and one-dimensional dialogue, which should have been easy fodder for the latest chapter of memorable movie quotes. Recall that in most Connery and Moore films, the superhero always had something witty to say when things looked the bleakest. The punch line was usually delivered after overcoming impossible odds. There’s none of that in this film. While the Bond story succeeded because it provided just the right mix of suspense, humor, and charm — swooning movie audiences for nearly five decades — the traditional recipe is now in ashes.
Skyfall begins with great potential, the outcome of which won’t be revealed here. But we never learn how Bond managed to do what seemed impossible. The audience is left hanging and guessing. Over the course of two hours, several plot lines are tied together, intertwined with the core conflict between good and evil. The two lead characters — Daniel Craig as “James Bond 007” and Judi Dench, once again cast as his superior “M” — face the very real possibility that their days as spymasters are coming to a close. Perhaps it’s even time for both to retire. Again, this is the perfect setup for what should be a gritty emotionally-satisfying thrill ride.
More on the two lead characters: Poor Dench certainly looks as though she’s been through a ringer or two. Perhaps her time has indeed come. But what are we to make of a 42-year-old Daniel Craig, who looks like he’s going on 60?
Then, there’s Ralph Fiennes, inexplicably cast in a throwaway role as a doddering bureaucrat. Why an actor of Feinnes caliber would accept such a poorly defined, utterly boring role is a complete mystery. Perhaps the lure of a fat paycheck was simply too enticing to pass.
Then, there’s another Oscar-nominee Albert Finney, who is almost unrecognizable in the film’s final few scenes. Another waste of talent.
If there’s any reason to see Skyfall, it’s for an excellent performance by Javier Bardem. The Spaniard has made quite a career of playing fascinating villains, and this character — a former MI6 agent has gone bad — is no different. Bardem gnaws on every line like a tiger, playing a whacked-out homosexual with but two ambitions in life — to ruin the United Kingdom and to exact revenge on “M” (Dench) for her perceived act of betrayal. To the film’s credit, Bardem is a nice addition to a long litany of mesmerizing bad guys with funny personality quirks. Too bad they didn’t just shoot a movie with Bardem as the star. It would have been much more interesting. As it turns out, we’re supposed to cheer for the superhero with the personality of an insurance salesman over a far more charismatic villain.
Finally, there is one scene in Skyfall that is positively grotesque. How the scene made it through the dailies and past the editing room is baffling. There’s a minor spoiler here, so be advised. One of the so-called Bond girls is Asian. We meet her in a Macau casino. Bond interrogates her in a bar scene, during which time we learn she was once sold off in the notorious sex trade. Moments later, the Asian woman is shown in the nude, taking a shower. Utterly dismissive of the troubling conversation that took place about the woman being forced into prostitution, James Bond suddenly appears nude in the shower and the two happy lovebirds engage in the predictable. This scene wasn’t just uncomfortable. It was slimy. Even if one accepts the premise that Bond is irresistible to women, there’s still an underlying suspicion that this Asian woman sleeps with Bond because she’s desperate for help. The final indignity of the relationship is shown when the Asian woman meets her fate, and Bond doesn’t even wince. I suppose it would have been asking too much to see Daniel Craig show any emotional reaction.
So, who ultimately bears the responsibility for tarnishing Bond’s legacy with yet another instantly forgettable film? There’s plenty of blame to go around — from director Sam Mendes to Daniel Craig to the screenwriters. But the real booby prize goes to Barbara Broccoli, who has yet to make a good film over the past twenty years, despite her access to the unlimited resources and best talent in the movie industry.
Poor Albert Broccoli. I feel sorry for him. How disappointed he would likely be to see what’s become of the Bond global empire. After making so many wonderful films like Thunderball, Diamonds are Forever, and You Only Live Twice — one of the world’s most recognizable characters in fiction has been reduced to appearing in television commercials to pimp beer. Daughter Broccoli doesn’t seem to care about art, creativity, or a once-proud legacy established by her father. She’s smiling all the way to the bank.
Here’s an interesting idea — let’s make Barbara Broccoli the next Bond villain. She’s far more dangerous to MI6 and 007 than Javier Bardem.
Rating: 3 STARS OUT OF TEN