Thursday, August 27, 2015

Skyfall [2012]

At long last, here we are, on the verge of being caught up!  Very exciting.  I wish I'd been able to find a way to get these reviews out in a more expedient fashion, but, alas, I failed to do so.  Be that as it may, the time to shout Skyfall is here at last.
  
When last we visited the Bond series, it was via Quantum of Solace, a film that divides Bond fans to this day.  A great many people consider it to be woefully inadequate when standing side-to-side with its predecessor, Casino Royale.  I can't claim to be entirely exempt from those feelings; I don't think Quantum is as good as Casino Royale.  Despite that, I think Quantum of Solace is a very good Bond film.
  
And whether it is or it isn't, here's an important fact to keep in mind: it was just as big a hit as Casino Royale was.  It made about three million dollars less at the worldwide box-office, which is so slim a dropoff as to be statistically nonexistent.  
  
You Only Blog Twice is not focused on the commercial aspects of the series, necessarily; but I do think it's important to remind people that Quantum was a worldwide success.  As such, it set Skyfall up for even greater success, as did the release date: late in the year 2012, which just so happened to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the Bond film series.  The occasion was marked with a great deal of hullabaloo, and why not?  No series of films -- somebody correct me if I'm wrong about this -- had ever gotten to be fifty before.
  
One big part of that celebration was James Bond's appearance in a short film that was broadcast to the world as part of the 2012 Summer Olympics, held in London.  In this short film, Bond escorts his most notable leading lady ever to the event:
  
  

It isn't just any character who is chosen to appear on film with the Queen of England.  This was an enormous moment for both Daniel Craig the actor and James Bond the character, and if one was of a mind to do so, I think one could make a persuasive argument that this was the single most important moment in the history of the series.
  
None of that has anything to do with Skyfall, of course, except as one bit of explanation for why it went on to become the top-grossing film in the entire history of the series.  It seemed well worth a mention, though, and if anyone wants to have a conversation about whether this short film is canon within the Bond series, I'll happy to oblige in the comments.
  
  
This US one-sheet is not one of the more inspired posters in the franchise's history.
  
Skyfall, in some ways even moreso than Quantum of Solace, is a film that tends to make old-school Bond fans turn up their noses.  Let's find out what You Only Blog Twice makes of it.



(1)  Bond ... James Bond

You Only Blog Twice is of the opinion that the single best performance an actor has ever given as James Bond is the one Daniel Craig gives in Casino Royale.  He was only a hair's-breadth less good in Quantum of Solace, and I'd say Craig's Skyfall performance lands somewhere in the middle of the two.
  
A great deal of the movie revolves around the idea that Bond is not quite at his best; he's been in self-imposed exile for several months, during which time he has been presumed dead as the result of an injury sustained on a mission in Istanbul.  Bond in North Korean prison looks more dignified than he looks in that Turkish dive bar.  There are complicated reasons for this: they involve M ordering him to allow a fellow agent to die, as well as her willingness to risk Bond's own life (and, more importantly, her unwillingness to allow him to finish the job without getting his backup involved).
  
We don't talk much about Ian Fleming in these reviews.  There's a reason for that: I want to, as much as I can manage, view the films as their own entities; divorcing them from Fleming is a tactic that helps make that an easier task to manage.  Also, I plan to return to the novels and write extensive reviews of them once this initial round of film reviews has ended.  (Which will be at some point after the release of Spectre, once I've had an opportunity to review it.)  So be aware that there are reasons for the distinct lack of Fleming talk on this blog, and know also that the lack has nothing to do with being disinterested in Fleming or disdainful of his work.  Quite the opposite, in fact.
  
I mention that as a setup to mention this: Bond's malaise in Skyfall comes almost directly from Ian Fleming.  Indeed, director Sam Mendes mentions on his Blu-ray commentary track that it is specifically Fleming's final trilogy of novels that served as direct inspiration for this aspect of Skyfall.  If you want to read a bit more about this subject (Bond's "accidie," or sloth), then here is a terrific blog post somebody else wrote about it.
  
When I first read the Fleming novels, it was Bond's occasional bouts with spiritual tiredness and the desire to quit his job that made a big impression on me.  Part of that was simply that it was like nothing the movies had ever shown me; the only hint of it in the films comes in On Her Majesty's Secret Service, when Bond tries to resign in a furor.  Otherwise?  Nothing.  That changed somewhat when The Living Daylights came out; toward the beginning, Timothy Dalton indicates that if M doesn't like the way he's handled something, he can fire him.  I got very excited when I saw that movie, because it seemed like Dalton was playing the Bond that Ian Fleming had written.  I'd read the books only a short time beforehand, and it seemed a bit as if the next movie had been made with me in mind.  I love remembering that!
  
Years later, in Skyfall, we got an entire movie that dealt with this side of Bond's personality, and in some ways the character arc that Bond goes through is one of passing all the way through this accidia and emerging on the other side of it.  This is the sort of acting opportunity that has never been afforded any of the other Bond actors in their Bond films; some of them might not have even been capable of pulling it off.
  
  
Many a Bond fan was perturbed by the Heineken bottle in Bond's hand.  Those fans almost certainly watch Bond films for different reasons than I do.



Is this the worst James Bond has ever looked?  I think so.  And for good reason...AND to good effect.
  
Daniel Craig was certainly capable of it, however.  He begins the film in typical Bond fashion, as a man of action; he proceeds to a state of profound malaise; he enters a state of anger that is compounded by his being out of shape and somewhat haggard; he finds a means of forcing himself to be invested in his pursuit of Silva, whose plot against M in some ways mirrors Bond's own feelings about his commander; he embraces (at least to some degree) his past in the course of protecting M, and in so doing comes to peace with her orders in the beginning of the film; and, in the end, he is reinvigorated.  Watching Craig proceed through these phases is a joy.
  
The counter-argument is this: do we watch James Bond movies to observe 007 going through complex interior psychological development?  Is that really what we want from a Bond movie?  A decent number of people have answered "no," at least if one is to believe various messageboards and comments sections.  As for me, I will say that I wouldn't necessarily want every Bond film to be one of that nature.  But I'm thrilled that this particular one is, and I'm even more thrilled that it happened during the fiftieth anniversary of the films; the time was right for this sort of exploration.
  
And anyways, it's not like 007 isn't a badass in this movie.  Boy, is he!  Here is an abbreviated list of the badass things Daniel Craig's Bond does in Skyfall:
  • He uses a construction digger to tear into the back of a train, which then -- thanks to the fact that the car the digger is on has been uncoupled and is falling behind -- removes the entire back section.  As this is happening, Bond is running down the arm of the digger, and as the rear wall is torn away, he leaps into the train car; as he lands, he straightens his shirt's cuffs and proceeds about his business.  This is handily one of the 007iest things 007 has ever done.  (I'd planned to extensively screencap that moment, but it didn't really come off in single-image mode.)
  • He leaps from the floor onto a stanchion and then from the stanchion into the air, grabbing onto the bottom of an elevator so that he can ride it and pursue his quarry without being detected.
  • He raises his martini in a toast to the guards who he knows will soon be attacking him; he knows what they are there for, and doesn't mind in the slightest letting them know that he knows that they know.  
  



  • When Silva begins flirting with Bond in order to throw him off his stride, Bond plays it cool.  "Well," says Silva, "first time for everything."  Bond replies, "What makes you think this is my first time?"  He's just as seductive in this moment as he's ever been with any woman.  This dude is cool as they they come.

I'm a firm believer in the idea that James Bond is a heterosexual male, and that that should never change.  I suspect many Bond fans agree, many of them with a much more vehement stance than mine.  With that in mind, a question: would we be okay with Bond having sex with a man in the course of his mission?  I would have thought I'd answer that with "no," but this scene in Skyfall changed my mind.  Not only do I think it would work, I think it would be totally in keeping with Bond's character.  Pay attention to how totally disinterested he is in Severine's fate; she means NOTHING to him.  If the situation called for it, I have no doubt that he could do just as capable a job of seducing a man as he has done of seducing women.  I suspect we are still years away from seeing such a thing happen, but when and if it does, I'll be fine with it, especially if it is handled as well as this brief moment in Skyfall is handled.

  • In the attack on Skyfall, when his father's rifle runs out of ammunition Bond casts it aside, and uses his foot to kick a fallen enemy's assault rifle into the air and into his hands.  This happens quickly, and I can imagine some people not even noticing it.  It's about as badass a thing as Bond has ever done.
  • When he is running away from Skyfall and toward the chapel, Bond comes up from behind on one of Silva's goons.  He uses some sort of object --a boulder, perhaps, or a tree stump -- to jump off of, and he kicks the goon in the face just as he is turning to hear what the noise is.  That goon goes down like a sack of rocks.
  • When another goon -- or possibly the same one, I don't know for sure -- has an assault rifle trained on him while Silva is talking, Bond grabs the goon's weapon, causing him to fire reflexively and send the two of them through the frozen ice and into the lake.  Thus, Bond escapes from Silva, and gives himself a chance at subduing the goon.  BAD ASS.

If I can get a list of badassery like that AND an effective and meaningful character arc, then there's nothing here for me not to love.



Points awarded: 007/007.  Easily one of the all-time best Bond performances, which means that Craig is three-for-three so far in that regard.


(2)  SPECTRE

Main Villain:

One of the complaints about Skyfall is that Silva's master plan is too masterful, that it does not make sense that a man could be that good a planner.  I'm going to talk about that more later on, but for now, let it suffice to say that while I agree with the sentiment, I don't entirely care.

Silva -- née Tiago Rodriguez (Rodrigues?) -- is, in my opinion, handily one of the very best of all the Bond villains.  I'd put him in the top three, alongside Goldfinger and Le Chiffre (probably coming in third).  For a fifty-year-old franchise to be able to pull this off -- and for the second time in recent memory -- is astonishing.  By any sensible standard, you'd have figured that the series ought to have run out of gas permanently by at least the mid-seventies.  And, depending on your viewpoint, for a while there it seemed like that might have been the case.

A strange thing has happened this millennium, however: in at least half of the Bond movies made since, the producers have hired major-award-worthy actors to play the villains, and have gotten quality screenplays out of their writers.  As it turns out, this combination -- especially when compounded by the hiring of a major-league talent as director -- can result in something terrific.  And there's no need to change the formula at all to make this happen!

I think I've said it before, but it's worth emphasizing again: formula is not all bad when it comes to art.  As it turns out, working with a formula is a lot like playing jazz: you start from a base, and then you play the changes.  If the player is talented, magic is possible.

Javier Bardem as Silva is magic.  He'd be one of my all-time-high Bond villains if only for the way he says the phrase "psychological evaluation -- fail!"  Like almost everyone else who saw the movie, I was a huge fan of his performance in No Country For Old Men, and the next thing he did after that which captured my imagination was The Dark Tower for director Ron Howard.  Yeah, sure, I know: the movie never got made.  But I can see Bardem playing Stephen King's character -- Roland, the last Gunslinger -- in my mental movie-theatre, and it is a fine, fine thing.  While that possibility was actively on the table, Bardem was cast to be the new Bond villain, which also got me excited.

I stayed excited until I saw a spy photo of Bardem in the role, with his crazy blond hair, dressed as a policeman.  He looked ridiculous, and my heart sunk a bit.  This, folks, is why you shouldn't pay that much attention to spy photos.  (I say "spy photo" not in the MI5 sense of the word "spy," but meaning unauthorized on-set photo taken by someone spying on a film production.)  In the context of the movie, any reservations I had about Bardem's look vanished like a fart in a tornado.




One notable thing about Silva is how long it takes him to show up.  Assuming we don't count a silhouetted appearance in the opening-title sequence (and I don't, since it is debatably not part of the plot), we are seventy minutes into the movie before he finally arrives.  I believe that is the longest delay in series history for a villain's introduction.  A few others come close or exceed it, but are eliminated for one reason or another: we don't see Dr. No's face for almost ninety minutes in Dr. No, but the character does make a few appearances of other sorts (voice, hands, etc.); same goes for Blofeld in You Only Live Twice.

The closest competition is likely Blofeld in On Her Majesty's Secret Service, who does not show up until about fifty-five minutes in.  The two characters are alike in that while their on-screen appearance might be delayed, the entire movie leading up to that arrival has been spent talking about them.  This gives their eventual appearance a weight and heft that it would not otherwise have had.  Is it a coincidence that this happens in what are arguably the two Bond movies that put the most focus on Bond's character development?  Maybe; maybe not.

A key difference between the two films is that whereas in Majesty's we -- and Bond -- already know who Blofeld is, in Skyfall we are completely in the dark as to who Silva is.  This lasts right up until the moment he steps out of the elevator and begins monologuing.  In some movies, the temptation might have existed to assume whoever showed up to be revealed as the baddie would be a plot-twist character from a past film.  (Not a bad idea, that; imagine how cool it might have been for a different version of this movie to feature a rogue double-oh agent, one whom we'd met in previous films and assumed was dead.  Not bad at all.)  Maybe some people who watched the movie expected just that.  Most of us Bond fans, however, knew that it was going to be Javier Bardem.

Let's talk about his introductory scene.  Director Sam Mendes filmed it as a single-take shot, and then had the genius idea to stage it so that Bond, tied to a chair for the umpteenth time in his career, would be filmed from behind, facing Silva as he emerged from an elevator and slowly walked down the row of servers toward 007, talking the entire way.


"Hello, James; welcome!  Do you like the island?  My grandmother had an island.  Nothing to boast of; you could walk around it in an hour.  But still, it was a paradise for us.

One summer we went for a visit and discovered the place had been infested with rats.  They'd come on a fishing boat and gorged themselves on coconut.

So how do you get rats off an island?  Hmm?  My grandmother showed me.  We buried an oil drum, unhinged the lid; then we wired coconut to the lid as bait, and the rats would come for the coconut and they would fall into the drum.

And after a month, it trapped all the rats.  But what do you do then?  Throw the drum into the ocean?  Burn it?  No.  You just leave it...and they begin to get hungry.

And one by one they start eating each other until there are only two left: the two survivors.  And then what?  Do you kill them?  No.  You take them and release them into the trees.  But now they don't eat coconut anymore.

Now they only eat rat.  You have changed their nature, the two survivors."

When I think of great James Bond scenes, I think of: Bond killing Professor Dent; Bond and Red Grant fighting on the Orient Express; Goldfinger threatening Bond with a laser beam; Le Chiffre beating Bond's nuts with the rope knot; Bond and Tracy on honeymoon; Bond kicking Locque's car off a cliff; Bond popping the balloon that says "Smiert Spionem"; Corinne being hunted by dogs; and so forth.

This two-minute monologue might be the best of them all, though.  I think I'd still go with the Bond-on-Goldfinger's-table scene, but not by much.  And in time, I think I'll give Silva's introduction the go-ahead.  It's just terrific, not merely from a staging and a dialogue standpoint, but also from a performance standpoint.  I mean, sure, the dialogue is great; put that in a novel, and it's still one of the standout scenes.  But put those words into the mouth of a great actor like Javier Bardem, and what do you have?

That's right: you have magic.  Bardem adds such wonderful shadings to the words, puts such distinctive emphases, throws in such complementary additions (such as miming rat-like chewing at one point).  Give this scene independently to a hundred different actors before Skyfall came out, and I bet that not a single one of them would have done it the way Bardem did it.

Bardem pulls off tricks like this throughout the film.  As his introductory scene progresses, he has even more great moments, such as his maybe-flirtation with Bond (his faux-startled "Oh, Mr. Bond" is priceless).

Two of my favorite such scenes:

"Did you really die that day?" he taunts Bond when Bond is seemingly unable to pull the trigger during the shooting-game in which Severine's life is at stake.  "Is there any -- any -- of the old 007 left?"

"You see what comes of all this running around, Mr. Bond?" he mocks while he has Bond prisoner on the frozen lake.  (During his introduction scene, he'd given Bond a brief lecture about how preferable it was to use computers to do your damage, as opposed to being a physical presence in the field.)  "All this jumping and fighting . . . it's exhausting."

In these moments, and many others, Bardem is wonderful.  He walks right up to the line of campiness, and then pulls back on the throttle before crossing over.  I think I'd say Goldfinger and Le Chiffre are better villains overall, but I do think Javier Bardem in Skyfall gives the series' best performance among lead villains.  He earned a BAFTA nomination for the role, and should have earned an Oscar nomination, too.

Points awarded (Main Villain):  007/007.  Silva earns perfect marks despite some of the plot contrivances; and not merely for the character or the performance, but also for how much a part of the movie he manages to be before even showing up.  The threat of his competence hangs over the first hour like a cloud.
 
Henchmen:

Properly speaking, the movie has no henchmen.  I suppose one could consider Patrice to be a henchman, but in actual fact he is a paid assassin.  I guess the goons in Silva's employ count, but really they are goons and not henchmen.

This presents us with a dilemma, because of two factors:

(1)  If I score the subcategory based on Patrice and the goons, they are going to earn a relatively low score that will skew the overall category score downward more than is probably fair.

(2)  If I award an n/a, then I am being inconsistent with the way in which I've handled similar situations in the past.  For example, in For Your Eyes Only, I considered Locque to be the primary henchman, and then also considered the goons (including Charles Dance).  In Casino Royale, there is no proper henchman (except arguably for Valenka), but instead there is a collection of secondary villains.  In the case of both Thunderball and On Her Majesty's Secret Service, I actually deducted a point for the inefficacy of the faceless goons.

I think that the best solution is to assess a grade, but to consider what impact the decisions made for the secondary villains -- aka the "henchmen" (I'm definitely changing this subcategory when revision time for this blog rolls around) -- has on the overall film.




Patrice is played by Ola Rapace, who has precisely zero lines of dialogue and who comes off as being rather bland and unmemorable.  I don't blame Rapace for this; he's given very little to do.  However, I don't think it's a demerit for the film; instead, I think it's a purposeful decision on the part of Sam Mendes and the screenwriters, who put the focus on other aspects of the film.  If Patrice was a stronger presence, especially in the pre-titles sequence, it would take away from the nearly-subliminal idea that Bond is having to play catch-up in order to get to this guy at all.  If that's Jaws or Oddjob, then their power puts Bond at a natural disadvantage, and you accept him being a bit behind.  The fact that he's just (relatively speaking) an ordinary guy causes the scene to play more as the result of Bond stopping to try to render aid to Ronson; or even as the result of Bond becoming old and worn out.  This causes later scenes that deal with the question of whether Bond is or isn't obsolete to have greater impact; and that aids the movie overall.

When Patrice reappears, his slightly-unremarkable nature helps to keep the focus on Silva (or, more precisely, on the shadowy figure whose identity we have not yet learned).  Again, if you had a stronger presence in this role it would run the risk of diluting the power and mystery behind Silva.

Similarly, do we really want Silva's goons to be individuated in any way?  Having them be effectively faceless and uniform in terms of their actions reinforces the idea that Silva has perfect control over them, and wields them as weapons.  There may not be much about that that is realistic, but, again, we do not come to Bond movies for realism; we come for the illusion of realism (if that!), and this choice makes Silva himself a stronger and more interesting villain.

So with that mind, what would a fair score be?

Points awarded (Henchmen): 005/007.  I could make a case for going higher; since I've made the assessment that Silva is a top-marks bad-guy, it's logical to say that the choices made with his underlings deserve a similar score, especially if I'm of the mind that they enhance Silva.  However, I've opted to be a bit conservative.  After all, you could make the counter-argument that a way might have been found to make at least Patrice more interesting without sacrificing anything of Silva's impact.  I'd argue that something similar to that happens in Licence to Kill, for example.  But I am sticking with a 005/007.
 
Total points awarded (S.P.E.C.T.R.E.):  006/007

(3)  The Bond Girls

Main Bond Girl:

This is a tough one.

In traditional terms, Skyfall has no main Bond girl.  It's the only film of the series about which that can be said, which means that it breaks the Double-0 Rating System (copyright pending).  Clearly, the only score which can be assessed in this sub-category is n/a.  However, once again, doing so would result in a lowered score for the film, and a score that genuinely might not be reflective of the quality of the film.  The Double-0 Rating system was conceived prior to Skyfall's release, and when I created it, I did so under the assumption that the formula of the movies would always be more or less the same.

To be clear, I have zero problems with the fact that Skyfall has proven to be a formula-shaker in some regards.  And I don't want my scores here to penalize the movie for taking creative steps that defy my own (admittedly silly and not-entirely-successful) grading system.

The solution seems clear to me: I have to restructure the math somewhat.  It's a one-time fix, but I think the correct solution is to decide what element Skyfall pushes to the foreground at the expense of having a traditional romantic lead, and to then substitute the grade for that element in the place of Main Bond Girl here.

Before I decide what that is going to be (and yes, I'm still trying to make up my mind even as I type this explanation), let me address a few concerns.  There actually are three women who could be considered to be the Main Bond Girl for our purposes: (1) Severine; (2) Eve Moneypenny; and (3) M.  The arguments for each would go something like this:

(1)  Bond has sex with her, making her undeniably a Bond girl.

(2)  Bond maybe has sex with her; he certainly flirts with her.  And since she is still alive at the end of the movie, Eve has a decent claim.

(3)  M is present throughout the entire movie, and the entire plot revolves around her relationship with Bond.  This is not a sexual or romantic relationship; but is that the only criteria we're allowed to use?  After all, Bond never sleeps with Camille in Quantum of Solace, and apart from his ill-judged attempt to kiss her at the end of the movie, there is no hint of the movie even trying to make us think it's in the stars even as potential.  We think of Camille as a Bond girl because Olga Kurylenko is hot, and because of the Bond formula; and that is all.  So Judi Dench is disqualified why, again?  Based purely on her lack of attractiveness (assuming one has that opinion; one might well not)?

By the way, lest anyone be offended by my assessment of Judi Dench's allure circa 2012, mea culpa: I must plead guilty to the charge of not finding elderly women to be sexually attractive.  This is not a problem with Judi Dench, it is a problem with me.  I suspect I will still have that problem when I am an elderly man, and I'll do us all the courtesy of not lying about it now or then.

So as to provide a very odd apology to Judi Dench, here are a couple of photos of her as a younger women, when she was -- to my way of thinking -- a bit of a crumpet:





Those eyes!  Yessir, young Judi Dench gets an official You Only Blog Twice thumbs-up.  Also, an apology for the fact that this topic came up at all.

But, see, that's my point.  In discussing Bond girls, the topic HAS to come up, even if only by implication.  The films have been encouraging sex appeal of that sort for over fifty years now!  And hey, I don't fault them for that.  I've said this before, and I firmly believe it: the movies became popular partially due to the fact that it allows us all to voyeuristically watch attractive people for an extended period of time without causing in us the need to turn our eyes away lest we be caught and considered to be perverts of some sort.  This doesn't have to be a sexual thing, and it often isn't.  but just as often it is, and the Bond films have exploited that audience desire in mostly an artful manner for decades.

In no way does the film seek to do so with Judi Dench as M.  If it did, I'd say unequivocally that she was the Bond girl; but it doesn't, and without some element of that, I can't call her the Bond girl.

As for Eve, I'll speak more about her in the next sub-category; Severine, as well.

So, if Skyfall has no Main Bond Girl, what does it have instead?

Well, duh:




That's right!  We're going to talk about M anyways.  However, we're going to do so under the guise of discussing Bond's Allies, as it is this element of the film that seems to have most benefited from there being no proper female lead.  So:

Bond's Allies:

Never in the history of the Bond series has it made as much use of its MI6 ensemble as it makes here.  This is enabled not merely by the lack of a romantic lead, but also by the fact that the bad guy doesn't show up for well over an hour.  Skyfall does not squander those opportunities; it puts them to cracking good use.  There are five characters on Bond's side who get a good amount of screen time.  One of them, Eve, will be discussed in the Secondary Bond Girls subcategory, so let's talk about the remaining four:




Clearly, it is M herself who leads the way.  For the entire history of the series -- except, arguably, for some of the years in which Roger Moore's age had advanced into grandfather-range -- M has been a sort of paternal figure to Bond.  This element has been pushed to the forefront during the Craig era, and the only way it could possibly have been more pronounced in Skyfall is if the screenwriters had decided to reveal that she actually was Bond's mother.

Thankfully, we are spared any such nonsense, and instead the relationship is allowed to psychologically explore some of the same ground from a remove.  The implication is that M has been at her current post for quite some time, and perhaps long enough to have personally been involved in selecting both Bond and Rodriguez/Silva to become government agents.

If so, then that would confirm what I've felt all along: that despite the fact that the same actor plays the role[s], the M of the Pierce Brosnan era and the M of the Daniel Craig era are not, in fact, the same woman.  There is some wiggle room to argue that that's the case based on existing evidence: in Raymond Benson's novels (which might be said to take place during the Brosnan era, given that Benson wrote a trio of Brosnan-film novelizations), the new M's given name is Barbara Mawdsley.  In the end of Skyfall, if you zoom in closely enough -- as this blogger did -- then you see that the bulldog left by M's will to Bond comes from the estate of Olivia Mansfield.

Sorry!  I sidetracked us into a canon-fight.

Whatever your feelings on that matter, there's no doubt that M, in her role as symbolic surrogate parent to Bond (and Rodriguez), motivates this entire plot.  And Judi Dench is fantastic.  No surprise there; she's been fantastic as M in each of her films.  And in the Craig era, the writers finally cracked the code of how to turn her into a proper character, one who has enough to do to justify taking up months of the time of an Oscar-winning actor of Dench's calibre.

So much so that in choosing a replacement M, the producers were obliged to hire another heavy-hitter:




That's Ralph Fiennes, playing Gareth Mallory.  One of my biggest complaints about Skyfall is that the writers didn't just name him Miles Messervy.  I guess they might have figured that if they did, some members of the audience would figure out that he was going to become the new M by the end of the movie.  But anyone paying the slightest bit of attention would have picked that up from his being named "Mallory," anyways, so it seems like a moot point in my book.

Fiennes plays Mallory with a delicate mix of imperiousness, snobbishness, and caginess that is gradually revealed over the course of the film to not be what you thought it was going to be.  He seems like a prick, but you realize that he's actually being cautious and sensible; and once he is involved in the various situations, he makes all the right choices.

Fiennes is terrific, and I can only hope that these movies continue to do a good job of finding things for the character to do without becoming silly.


"Were you expecting an exploding pen?" asks Q when Bond seems dissatisfied with his equipment.  "We don't really go in for that anymore."



This is Ben Wishaw, who plays Q.  Now, as we know, "Q" is a designate referring to "quartermaster," which means that there is no need to assume this Q is meant to be a version of the same Q from the previous series of films (i.e., Major Boothroyd).  We are given no name, so there's no way to know.  (Personally, I'd get a kick out of it if they decided to call him "Horace"; anyone who has read my James Bond Jr posts will understand why.)

Q doesn't have a huge amount of screentime in Skyfall, but what's there is solid, and goes beyond the simplistic giving-Bond-whatever-Macguffin-he-needs-to-have-for-later-in-the-plot nature of previous films.  That's good; what's great is that the producers have wisely opted not to try to replicate the grumpy Q perfect by Desmond Llewelyn, who seems contemptuous of Bond and oblivious to the danger field agents live in.  Instead, this Q seems to be only mildly disdainful of field agents, but in the same way superior-yet-enlightened nerds are only mildly disdainful of jocks that they like.  This Q feels not that he's better than Bond, but that he's simply a different type of being altogether.  That's my take on it, at least; I could be misreading things.

Whatever the case, Bond returns the favor, and looks down on this Q as a youngster with no experience, no practicality, and no clue.  It doesn't last long, though, and when the pair have their second scene -- in which Bond chases Silva and Q helps him track the escaped villain -- it plays almost more as an "odd couple" sort of relationship.

It all works for me, and I'm looking forward to seeing where this Q goes in subsequent films.  Will we ever see him with a test lab full of experimenting flunkies?  I sort of doubt it, but you never know.

By the way, it's worth mentioning that Q and Silva seem to be of much the same mind-set when it comes to computerized warfare; Q tells Bond that he could do more damage in his pajamas at home than Bond could do in the field, and Silva later makes a rather similar argument.  Interesting; until I realized this, it hadn't occurred to me that Silva is actually representative of the forces of the new.




Rory Kinnear plays Bill Tanner, M's chief of staff.  Kinnear gets several of the big exposition scenes, and while he doesn't get much to do in his own right as a character, Tanner is nevertheless an important presence.  Kinnear plays him very capably, and the most important element he brings to the role is that you immediately feel that he is competent and intelligent and that while we aren't seeing him do a whole lot, he could be doing plenty, if the circumstances were right.  In other words, Tanner feels less like a plot/exposition device (which is what he is) and more like a real person.  This helps the world of MI6 feel more genuine, and therefore grounds the whole movie more than might have been the case if the producers had hired somebody less talented for the part.

Kinnear also played Tanner in Quantum of Solace, and will appear in Spectre, as well.

One final ally bears mention:




Albert Finney plays Kincade, the groundskeeper of Skyfall whom Bond has not (apparently) seen in quite some time.

Let's get this out of the way first: there can simply be no question that at some point in the process, somebody wanted this role to be played by Sean Connery.  The screenwriters have even given him the line of dialogue "Welcome to Scotland!" after he murders somebody.  I mean, come on.

And I have to say, once this idea -- not my own, but that of any number of Internet commenters -- entered my brain, it is impossible to remove it.  It's a shame it never came to fruition, as this would have served as extremely tasty icing on an already-delightful 50th-anniversary cake, one which was already focused heavily on themes of looking backward as a means of moving forward.

All of which does a disservice to the fine performance given by Albert Finney.  He's very good, and in a perfect world that would be enough.  Instead, now, he's saddled with not being Sean Connery, and in what universe is that fair to anyone?  Not this one.

Points awarded (Main Bond Girl): n/a  Points awarded (Bond's Allies): 007/007.  What's key with Tanner is key for Bond's allies overall in this movie; they feel like real people, and that makes the movie much more realistic as a result.  That in turn makes Bond seem like a stronger character than he has ever seemed before.  I'm long past my need for all Bond films to be realistic, but I do insist that if they are going to aim for realism, they achieve it.  M, Mallory, Q, and Tanner all serve as vital parts of that process, and they earn the highest marks from me as a result.

Secondary Bond Girls:

I struggled briefly with the question of whether to include Naomie Harris's Eve as a Bond girl or as an ally.  Ultimately, I decided that she WAS a Bond girl in this movie, and that that meant my decision had been made for me.

The facts as I see them: (1) the movie unequivocally asks us to see her as a romantic interest for Bond; (2) the publicity for the film sold Berenice Lim Marlohe and Naomie Harris as the Bond girls of Skyfall; and (3) the revelation that Eve is actually Moneypenny is intended as a final-moments plot twist.
  
  




 
The question on everyone's mind: did they or didn't they?  I think they didn't.  I think Moneypenny here is a shameless flirt, and that she is being so flirty partially because she knows Bond's reputation and wants to give him a bit of hell by putting one in his "L" column.  Skyfall refuses to answer the question for us either way; it is a matter purely of personal preference, and I choose to believe that Eve declined to provide the nooky.

The question for me is: where does the relationship go from here?  I suspect you hire a less talented actor if you intend only to strand Moneypenny at a desk outside M's office for the next three or four movies.  If something crazy were to happen and Bond and Eve were to become an actual item in Spectre, or whatever comes after it, then I'd probably revise my stance on her and bump her up to Main Bond Girl status here.  If, on the other hand, she and Bond continue merely to flirt a bit once or twice a movie, then she'll get recategorized as an ally in those next films.  We shall see!



"Can you kill him" Severine asks Bond of Silva.  "Someone usually dies," replies Bond.  How right he is.  Knowing her fate, Severine's scenes play very differently on rewatch.




Severine is played by Berenice Lim Marlohe, who is obviously gorgeous.  She brings more to the role than that, however.  She plays a sort of dragon-lady-type seductress, or at least that what Severine is on the surface; it takes Bond only a few moments to figure out that what she actually is is damaged beyond all hope of repair, and so afraid for her life that he hands shake when she realizes that Bond has seen through her facade.

Marlohe plays Severine with a mix of confidence and vulnerability that I'm not sure I've ever seen on screen before.  I think the movie is trying to convince us that she is going to end up becoming the main Bond girl, so that her death, when it comes, is all the more shocking.  I certainly remember being surprised when she was killed during my first viewing.  "Holy shit!" I thought.  "This movie just killed the Bond girl!"  I don't remember what I thought after that, but the shock certainly played for me initially.

Points awarded (Secondary Bond Girls):  006/007.  I like Harris and Marlohe a lot.  Eve seems like the sort of character who could provide interesting material for several films to come, whereas Severine is a Bond girl unlike any other I can think of seeing before.

Total points awarded (Bond's Allies/The Bond Girls):  006.50/007.  For those of you watching the math, you will note that my decision to enact a one-time subcategory replacement will have added 0.50 points to the overall score; which, when divided by the seven that represents the seven distinct main categories, means the overall Double-0 Rating will heave been increased by . . . 0.07 points.  This unintended arithmetical pun tells me that I have made the correct choice.
 
(4)  "Oh, James..."

Action/Stunts:

The action scenes in Skyfall are relatively low-key by Bond standards, so much so that I failed to screencap anything to illustrate them.  That doesn't mean they aren't good, though; it only means that they aren't huge focal points the way they have been in some of the films.  Nobody skies off a mountain or anything like that.

Still, there are some great bits, which I am going to simply put into a list:


  • The motorcycle chase across the rooftops of Istanbul is really cool, especially when Patrice goes crashing through a window into a bazaar.  Some people have complained about the CGI face-replacement; it doesn't bother me much.
  • Bond's fight with Patrice atop the train is killer.  The series has obviously done this before (in Octopussy), but this one is different enough that it feels fresh.  Anyways, as we've discussed with other elements, this stuff is a bit like jazz: doing different versions of the same thing can be very rewarding.
  • The fistfight with Patrice in Shanghai is terrific, and while I'd argue that this is more because of the cinematography than the fight choreography, the fact is that the end result is a fight scene unlike any ever seen in a Bond film before.  For a fifty-year-old series, that's an achievement worth praising.
  • Bond's quick and thorough takedown of Silva's goons after Silva  kills Severine is a great moment, not just because it's badass, but also because it's unexpected; we've been trained by the film to believe that Bond is a bit washed up, but in this moment he comes roaring back to life.  It's too late to save Severine, alas.
  • Silva's assault on Skyfall is impressive.


Points awarded (Action/Stunts): 006/007.  It doesn't have the centerpiece stunt that many of the films have, but I don't see that as a demerit.

Editing:

Stuart Baird returned to the editor's booth after having previously worked on Casino Royale, and his work here is even stronger.  As is par for the course on this blog, I didn't take any notes to prove how good I think the editing is.  So let's just take my word for it.

Points awarded (Editing): 007/007

Costumes/Makeup:

I managed to take only a single screencap intended to show off the wardrobe and/or makeup:




However, you've seen other screencaps which get the job done.  Pretty much everything everyone wears is great; I even love Mallory's wardrobe.  Ralph Fiennes seems delighted to be wearing suspenders, which is odd, but true.

On the makeup side of things, it can't be emhasized enough how subtly great a job that department did in two areas: (1) making Daniel Craig look haggard and (2) making Javier Bardem look flamboyant with making him into a cartoon.  They also pulled off some subtle work with his mouth to make it seem just enough off that when Silva reveals the damage that the cyanide did to him, it mentally clicks into place for us.

Points awarded (Costumes/Makeup): 007/007

Locations:

As always, Bond does a fair bit of globe-hopping in Skyfall.  He goes to Turkey, which looks great (although -- notice a theme here? -- I failed to take any illustrative screencaps).  I did better when it comes to London:





James is on his home court here, but that doesn't mean it doesn't count, and Sam Mendes makes it look marvelous.  Speaking of home courts...







A huge chunk of the film is spent in Scotland, and it looks great.  The colors seem to have been deliberately dialed back so as to reflect the somberness of mood that Bond is in, but it doesn't matter; those highlands still look like someplace I'd like to go.  And I hate going places!

Shanghai also comes off rather well:





Finally, there is Silva's dead island, and the ocean surrounding it:






I don't know where the ocean is; it's obviously intended to be off the Chinese shores somewhere, but I think it may actually have been off the shores of Turkey.

As for the island, it is based on the Japanese island Hashima, which has been abandoned for decades.  None of the filming was conducted there, however; some of the establishing shots are apparently based on plates of the island filmed for that purpose, but the whole thing is otherwise a set.  Nevertheless, it merited mention here.

Points awarded (Locations):  006/007

Overall points awarded ("Oh, James..."):  006.50/007
 
(5)  Q Branch

Normally we would kick off this category with an assessment of Bond's Allies, but we've already done so elsewhere.  The math for this section will therefore be adjusted accordingly; the sum of the remaining six categories will be divided evenly.

Direction:

Hiring Sam Mendes to direct Skyfall proved to be a stroke of genius.  It's impossible to quantitatively say that Mendes is the best director ever to helm a James Bond film, but it is certainly possible to point toward a fact: he's the only Bond director who has an Oscar under his belt (he won it for 1999's American Beauty).  Oscars are not 100% reliable as a barometer of excellence, of course, but the bottom line for me is that Mendes was (even at the time of his hiring) a bona fide A-list director.  The Bond series had never taken that particular step before.

I would say that the gamble paid off.  I think this is the best-directed film in the Bond series, and there are only two or three competitors I'd even be willing to consider for a podium at that particular debate.

From the beginning of the film to the end, you sense that Mendes not only knows exactly what he wants, he knows precisely how to accomplish it.  His collaborators deserve plenty of credit, but Mendes is seemingly pushing them to the best work they can give.

I also think he gets the tone of the film just right.  It's a very serious movie, but it's also very funny, and the humor grows out of the seriousness; it never cheapens or demeans it, nor does the seriousness ever seem oppressive.  It seems well-earned, and it seems somehow integral.

Additionally, the movie just plain looks fantastic.  You've got to credit other people with a great deal of that, but Mendes gets credit for some of it, especially the shot selections, which are superb.  Here come some screencaps:


Does Mendes get credit for the adorable little bulldog figurine?  I don't know, but he certainly gets credit for how it is foregrounded, and how the recurring use of it pays off in the end.  the first time we see it, we probably think it's just an amusing curio in M's office.

The second time we see it, it gets to serve as a punchline for a joke Bond makes; and we think, "Ah, that's why we saw that in the first scene!  It's so Bond can joke about it!"  (Bond says, "The whole office goes up in smoke and that bloody thing survives...?"  To which M drolly responds, "Your interior-decorating tips have always been appreciated, 007.")

When it returns in the coda, left to Bond in M's will, it carries genuine emotional heft.  This is aided my Mendes's framing, which almost suggests that the poor bulldog is dead and lying in its casket.  You never got any moments like this in Diamonds Are Forever, that's for sure.

Mendes uses a recurring motif involving two people facing -- or, in some instances, not facing -- each other.  Does that mean anything special?  Probably not.  But then again, it might.




Given that the film more or less ends on one of these shots, I don't think you can say it means nothing.

I love the short scene in which a drunken Bond sits at a Turkish bar after the sun has already risen.  Do you suppose Bond does this every day?  Do you suppose that he's asked the bartender to always have the tv tuned to CNN so that he can monitor world events, just in case MI6 might need him to return?  I kind of like not knowing for sure; but if I had to bet, I'd bet yes.




Earlier in this post, there is a similar screencap of M in a car.



One of my favorite moments in the movie comes when Bond, having tailed Patrice to a high-rise in Shaghai, is keeping an eye on him from his car.  He sees Patrice kill the lobby security guard, and  Mendes films this from Bond's point of view: it is seen from a distance, with the sound of the killing only barely audible.  We've rarely seen a subjective shot like that in a Bond movie, which is good enough; the fact that it's from Bond's POV means that for those moments we are Bond.








One additional moment I wanted to mention is one that is not screencappable.  During the cold-open, after Bond is shot by Eve and goes plunging to his (probable) death, we cut back to London and see M turn and angrily stare out the window.  It is raining outside, and the camera pushes in slowly as the moment sinks in.  The sound of the rain grows louder as the camera moves, and turns into the sound of a rushing river as the scene shifts back to Turkey, where Bond's body washes under the water.

Guys...this is a great movie.

Points awarded (Direction): 008/007.  You did not read that incorrectly.  And I'll go ahead and tell you now, there's going to be one more of them coming up very soon.  Lest you think that this is a cheat, let me justify the decision.  When I began working on this blog, and the daffy scoring system it employs, I got all the way through For Your Eyes Only before Skyfall was released.  That's a good ways into the series, and by that point I had already awarded several 007/007 scores for direction (to From Russia With Love, Goldfinger, Thunderball, and On Her Majesty's Secret Service).  Now, as you know, I love all of those movies, and . . . well, I think I personally still prefer all of them to Skyfall in at least some ways.  However, there is no way I would agree that any of them is better-directed than Skyfall is.  Nosir, uh-uh, no way.  With that in mind, how can I merely score Skyfall the same in this category?  Answer: I can't.  So call it a cheat if you like; I'm calling an audible.

Cinematography:

Roger Deakins, amazingly, has STILL not won an Oscar.  This is a shameful fact.

I have nothing to say about how great his work here is.  Just gaze upon some screencaps:





In case I forget to mention it during the discussion of the movie's effects, let me mention it here: this was not filmed in Shanghai.  It was filmed on set in London, and Shanghai was added in later.

If this is what shanghai actually looks like, I want to go there tonight and just drive around pretending I'm in a James Bond movie.  Or in Blade Runner.



I'm a sucker for reflections, and this movie has a lot of them.

Anything I could say about this sequence in the high-rise would be insufficient, so I'm going to say nothing except this: it is not only the best-looking scene in the Bond series, it might be the best-looking scene in any movie ever.  These screencaps do not even vaguely do it justice.






Oh, by the way...this wasn't filmed in Shanghai, either.  Nope; that's a set.  A marvelous one.






In case I forget to mention this later, here's another beaut of a set.






Apparently certain parts of the climax were filmed on-set, also.  You'd never know it, and about 100% of that is due to the phenomenal lighting by Deakins.

Deakins lost the Oscar to Claudio Miranda for Life of Pi.  I didn't see that movie; no way it looked as good as this movie.




Points awarded (Cinematography): 008/007.  I considered giving it a 009.

Art Direction:

We've already touched on some of the production design and art direction excellence on display here courtesy of Dennis Gassner.  It's exceptional work, but it's a little bit difficult to assess when standing side by side with Ken Adam and Peter Lamont work such as You Only Live Twice or Die Another Day.  Those movies exist on a heightened level of reality, whereas Skyfall is a more grounded piece of work.  Should Gassner's efforts be considered to be lesser simply because he didn't get to build a working centrifuge or imagine what the inside of Fort Knox must look like?

I'll leave that for a sharper mind than mine to figure out.  Those are top-notch efforts, and so is this, just in a somewhat different way.


The temporary headquarters of MI6 look great, but in a way that does nothing to undermine the idea that this is a place they've gone on an emergency basis.

If I ever go to a casino in Macau, it had better have great big dragon heads like this.

Not a bit of this is a location; it's all on the studio backlot (and is aided by seamless visual effects from the CGI department).



I don't think I believe there would be such a high-tech prison in the temporary MI6 headquarters, but so what?  I'll roll with that.  Remember that time we were supposed to think Bond looked Japanese?  Yeah, I can live with this, easily.




I could be wrong, but I believe this house was constructed by the production team.  It's probably just a facade, and it's a beaut.


Points awarded (Art Direction): 007/007

Special Effects:

I've mentioned the effects several time already, and I don't have a great deal to add.


This scorpion works for me 100%.

This casino in Macau works for me 95%.  (No such casino exists, and I can kind of tell, but only kind of, and not enough to worry me.)

This komodo dragon did not work for me at all when I first saw the movie, in IMAX.  But on Blu-ray, it looks better; I wonder if the effect was not quite finished for the theatrical release and has since been finished.  Either way, the CGI komodo dragon is a serious sticking point for some people, on account of the fact that Bond jumping onto its back is a direct homage to the crocodile-jump in Live and Let Die, which was achieved by a real person and real crocs.  (Or was it gators?  I can't remember.)  To some degree, I feel the same.  Not that I want anyone to have to try to jump onto and then off of the back of a fucking komodo dragon; I don't.  So maybe you just do something else instead?  That said, I don't think the scene suffers for it; the goon being dragged away looks very good, and I think the emphasis is on the gun not working for him more than it is on Bond jumping onto the other dragon.


Points awarded (Special Effects): 006/007.  Given how much the effects aided the production design in key places, that might be too low.  But I'm going to throw a bone to the people who are super-bothered by the motorcycle face-replacement and the CGI komodo dragons.

Gadgets:

Q is introduced into the new series in this film, but the gadgetry remains restrained.  The two biggest ones are the palm-encoded pistol Bond uses, and the miniature transistor radio which comes in handy at a key moment.




However, it's worth pointing out that other sorts of gadgets are all over the film.  In fact, Silva's plot is enacted by them.  It's just that in a lot of ways, we don't think of gadgets as being gadgets anymore.




They are, though.  They aren't exploding pens or magnetized wristwatches, true...

Points awarded (Gadgets):  005/007

Opening-Title Sequence:

Daniel Kleinman returned to the Bond team after being absent from Quantum of Solace, and the results are one of the best opening-title sequences in Bond history.










Points awarded (Opening-Title Sequence): 007/007.  If I had my way, Kleinman would keep doing these for the next hundred years.

Overall points awarded (Q Branch):  006.83/007
 
(6)  Mission Briefing

As I've done in the past on occasion, I'm mostly going to resort to including my notes via bullet-point to discuss the screenplay and story by John Logan and Neil Purvis & Robert Wade.


  • Does the plot point of Bond going into a false-death hiding make sense for his character?  I think it does.  Fleming writes occasionally of Bond’s desire to escape the Secret Service, and it makes sense to me that he would allow himself to fall into a funk by telling himself that if M didn’t trust him more than she seemed to during his last mission, he might as well give it up.
  • Bond is able to find the villains super-easily by analyzing the bullet fragments he digs out of himself.  That’s fairly lazy screenwriting, but let’s be honest: do we mind?  I mean, on the one hand, if I were a villain I would use bullets that couldn’t be traced back to me.  But on the other hand, we STILL don’t actually care about realism in a Bond movie; we care about the illusion of reality, but that’s hardly the same.
  • When Q sits down to make contact with Bond in the gallery, Bond is mildly annoyed, and it seems as if the idea that this young whippersnapper might be the man he’s there to meet seemingly never crosses his mind.  Why not?  I suppose the idea is that he -- and we -- will be expecting some silver-haired old fellow to stroll in and say, "Alright, pay attention, 007..."
  • Eve: “A cut-throat razor…how traditional.”  Bond: “Well, I like to do some things the old-fashioned way.”  There is a lot in this movie hinting toward the idea that Bond is old, washed-up, out of step with modern times, and otherwise past his sell-by date.  Strictly-speaking, this doesn’t work.  After all, Daniel Craig's Bond is a relatively new agent, right?  Fair point.  However, I think the movie is playing a meta-fictional game here, one dealing with the fact that Bond is (at the time of the film's release) in his fiftieth year of being a cinematic presence.  The screenplay is addressing the idea that Bond, as a franchise, ought to be put out to pasture.  It gets more interesting when you consider the idea that the movie allows this to happen in surrogate form through the eventual death of M.  However, this version of M is also a stand-in for the modern James Bond, and her death paves the way for a resurgence of significance for the Bond character via returning to certain aspects of the films as they existed at the very beginning!  Rebirth is certainly a recurring theme of the new films, and Bond even states in this one that one of his hobbies is “resurrection.”  This is more subtext than one typically finds in a Bond film.  “Sometimes the old ways are the best,” replies the new Moneypenny.
  • “Don’t touch your ear,” Bond instructs Eve in the casino.  Guess she didn’t see Casino Royale.
  • Does Severine’s story about Silva’s island (he allegedly made the inhabitants think there was a gas leak) make any sense?  I’mma say no.  Why would it look so devastated?  Would nobody ever come back to check on the chemical leak?  Let’s rationalize it by speculating that Silva has simply lied to Severine; that it’s some deserted island from a defunct war, and that Silva told her something just for the sake of being disingenuous.
  • Does Silva’s plan make sense?  As I understand it, it is this: destroy part of MI6, forcing retreat to underground location; get self captured, along with Trojan Horse laptop; escape once Q Branch inadvertently triggers door-release; proceed to kill M.  All of that works, except for questions about certain aspects of the timing.  How could he know M would be in a hearing during his escape?  This is a point at which movies like this either break down for you or you are able to make an intuitive leap: if you can do that, you say – often subconsciously – to yourself, “Well, it worked because it worked; the specifics don’t matter.”  
  • From there, can it be rationalized?  I think it can.  Simple: he can’t know M would be in a hearing, and didn’t know.  He always planned to escape in the disguise of a policeman, but had other associates monitoring both his location and M’s location, and his plan would then have been to find her at the first available opportunity.  He may even have hoped he would get to hunt her for a while, so that she would be frightened (and therefore more tormented).  However, an opportunity coincidentally presented itself immediately, and he decided to take it.  That works for me.  
  • But what about him blowing up the tunnel?  How could he know Bond (or some other agent) would follow him?  This is shakier, but I suppose I’d say it’s partially coincidence; he had the explosives rigged so as to create a distraction, possibly moreso above the surface than below; Bond’s presence was merely a coincidence.  This stuff is almost certainly the movie’s biggest flaw, but I think if you get too hung up on it, you’re probably not much of a Bond fan, as the movies have been guilty of far worse many times over the years.
  • What do we think about Bond having an ejector seat in his Aston Martin?  What does this mean for canon?  Are we to think that the events of Goldfinger transpired between Quantum of Solace and Skyfall?  More likely: we're merely supposed to laugh at a throwaway joke.  And I did laugh, but I also take matters of canon seriously, so the joke's on YOU, movie.  Sort of.
  • Given the Tiago Rodriguez / Silva situation, I was afraid that this movie was going to canonize the idea that “James Bond” is merely a codename.  However, the Skyfall sequence makes it abundantly clear that this cannot be the case.  James was born of parents named "Bond," which means that his true name IS James Bond.
  • M: “I fucked this up, didn’t I?”  An eff-bomb in a Bond movie!





Points awarded: 006/007.  Elements of Silva's master plan do not make sense, but otherwise, this is excellent, emotionally involving stuff.  Real tempted to go to 007/007, but I'm going to restrain myself.

(07)  The Music

Title Song:  

Speaking of being tempted, I'm VERY tempted to say Adele's "Skyfall" is the best Bond song of all time.  I think I'm going to stick with "Diamonds Are Forever" as my top Bond song, but you might recall from the post on that movie that the mix of the song used in the movie is woefully inferior to the album version of the song.  Which means that in terms of its presentation in the film, I'm of the opinion that "Skyfall" takes the cake.  Yes, better than "Goldfinger"; yes, better than "For Your Eyes Only."  And it turns out that somebody DOES do it better than "Nobody Does It Better," at least as far as this blogger is concerned.




Points awarded (Title Song):  007/007.  Quite an achievement, and it earned the writers a well-earned Oscar.

The Score:

I was very worried by the hiring of Thomas Newman to write the score.  Not that I haven't loved Newman's work (such as Finding Nemo and The Shawshank Redemption) in the past; I have.  But I felt like I'd never heard anything from him that suggested the ability to write what I thought of as a "Bondian score."  Also, I fretted that the producers were continuing to marginalize David Arnold, who had done terrific work for them over the years and has not been given some of the title-song opportunities he clearly deserves.

However, as it turns out, not only is Thomas Newman very capable of doing a Bondian score, he's very capable of doing one that bears more than a passing resemblance to a David Arnold score.  This means that aurally, Skyfall is a much more apt companion to Casino and Quantum than it might have turned out to be.

There are moments where the action writing is a bit on the bland side, but there are just as many moments when it isn't, and Newman provides at least one master stroke: early on, during the scene in which Mallory tells M that her retirement planning has commenced, Newman introduces a dirge-like motif.  He brings that motif back at key point during the film, including -- especially -- for M's death.  This theme ties much of the movie together, which is what film music does when it is at its best.




Points awarded (The Score): 006/007

Total points awarded (The Music):  006.50/007






Double-0 Rating for Skyfall:  006.48/007, which means that we -- barely -- have a new #1.

A word about that.  the previous #1 was On Her Majesty's Service, which earned a 006.47.  The way I've done the math for these scores is, when division is involved and produces a fractional number, I have rounded up to two places.  So, for example, the final score for Skyfall was actually 006.475714285714286, which rounds up to 006.48.  The final score for Majesty's, however, was a flat 006.47, with no rounding necessary.
  
Which means that while it IS quite a narrow victory, it is a legitimate victory.
  
And that means I am officially saying it: Skyfall is the best James Bond film of them all.

The tally so far:

006.48 -- Skyfall
006.47 -- On Her Majesty's Secret Service
006.40 -- Casino Royale
006.37 -- Thunderball
006.23 -- From Russia With Love
006.03 -- Goldfinger
005.58 -- The Living Daylights
004.84 -- Moonraker
004.76 -- Dr. No
004.42 -- For Your Eyes Only
004.41 -- Quantum of Solace
004.39 -- Live and Let Die
001.43 -- Never Say Never Again
001.02 -- James Bond Jr
    
You Only Blog Twice will return in . . . Fleming: The Man Who Would Be Bond.  Assuming I can find a copy -- it doesn't appear to be available on disc except in editions which are from Thailand or Denmark.  The jury is out on whether those will play on my player.  I suppose I could always resort to illicit means, but what sort of example would that be setting.  So maybe Fleming will be next on the docket.  If not, then...
  
You Only Blog Twice will return in . . . Spectre.
  
But before either of those things happens, I have a lot of leftover images.  First up, screencaps I did not use:
  
  









The painting is "Woman with a Fan," by Modigliani.  This painting was stolen from the National Gallery a few years ago.  That makes Skyfall (at least) the second Bond film to include a cameo by a stolen painting: Dr. No was the first.



I totally forgot to mention this during the special effects section.  I think the CGI is maybe a bit too extreme, but otherwise, this works pretty well for me.  It's certainly horrifying, and explains a lot about Silva.






guys, I love the movie, but you have GOT to get the fucking gunbarrel sequence back at the beginnings of these movies again.  Quick fucking around and just do it.

You're damn right he will.

"Tank Dong" may bbe the single best name I have ever heard.  He played the guy who go et by the komodo dragon, by the way.

  
Next up: behind-the-scenes photos by Greg Williams, most (if not all) of which came from http://gregwilliams.com/photos/reportage/skyfall-on-set-3/.
  
  







The fellow on the end is Amir Boutros, who played one of the crewmen on the boat.  If I have to tell you who the other two are, get out.











That's producer Michael G. Wilson alongside Judi Dench.























  
  
And, finally, more behind the scenes shots which may or may not have been the work of Greg Williams:
  
  
Sam Mendes directing Judi Dench




  
  
See ya!

46 comments:

  1. Great write-up! I've been waiting for this one, BB. I loved this movie. I loved how it played with the Bond Formula and that it was a love letter to Bond fans and to England. I could go on and on, but maybe it's easier if you just read this; http://teeritz.blogspot.com.au/2012/11/skyfall-review-third-times-charm-mr.html

    Regarding the Fleming mini-series, lower your expectations, sir. But try to see it before "SPECTRE".
    You'll want this Bond year to end on a high, after all.

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    1. I'd heard nothing good about "Fleming," and I can't say I'm looking forward to seeing it. But I feel obliged.

      Your review is great, and it makes one terrific point that I failed to put together for myself: that "Skyfall" succeeds in the loving-homage department where "Die Another Day" failed so miserably. I love that!

      You also make a great point about it being a love letter to England. I'm sure the movie does play rather differently for you folks than for us, your rebellious children.

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    2. If this "Fleming" series had been about somebody named Norman Wadsworth or Allan Huntington-Smythe (I've aimed for two names from both ends of the British class system), it would play out like some routine WWII spy drama. It STILL is a routine WWII spy drama, but the only thing making it watchable is that it's (supposedly) about Fleming's wartime exploits. Either way, not much really happens. I said, shortly after I saw it, that I'd much rather have seen a drama about Fleming's life beginning with his writing of the Bond books, the sale of the film rights, the Thunderball legal battles and the toll that it all took on both his marriage and his health.

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    3. Having read a biography of Fleming, I'd say there's plenty there to have made a perfectly good movie (or miniseries) from. But for some reason, people have gotten hung up on this idea that "Fleming WAS Bond," which he decidedly was not. It's a very unimaginative -- not to mention unrealistic -- way to approach a telling of the man's life.

      I kind of knew the jig was up with that one when they cast Dominic Cooper. Good actor; bad choice for Fleming.

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    4. I'd have to say that virtually anybody born in the first decade of the 20th Century would have led an amazing life.
      I still think showing Fleming's life in Jamaica in the '50s and '60s would have been a nice "White Mischief" kind of tale. All the drinking and extra-marital affairs masked by a veil of English genteelity. Is that a word? Hell, the entire filming of "Dr No" would have been great to see. Ursula Andress, Terence Young and Connery lunching with the Flemings at Goldeneye. Ahh well.

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    5. I think the word is gentility, so you were pretty close!

      "I'd have to say that virtually anybody born in the first decade of the 20th Century would have led an amazing life." -- At bare minimum, they saw a lot of things change and happen. I suspect the same thing is going to end up being true of people born during the first decade of this century, too, and probably not in a good way.

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    6. Agreed. I personally think living through a World War, Prohibition and The Great Depression would make you more resilient than living through nine seasons of "Keeping Up With The Kardashians" and six versions of an iPhone.
      Full disclosure- I had to Google to find out how many seasons were made, lest anyone think I'm a fan of the show.

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    7. Noted! I'm not one to talk down to anyone for not being resilient -- the hardest thing I've ever had to deal with in life is still pretty cushy compared to what people of those earlier generations lived through -- but good lord, these kids today. Somebody PLEASE keep 'em off my lawn. By which I mean their phones in my movies.

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  2. 1) Bond... James Bond 7/7, making Craig three-for-three - I couldn't agree more.

    SPECTRE 2a) Man, Bardem as Roland still needs to happen. I think you could boil all 7 books down to a trilogy of films if you had to. If a TV show was off the table.

    Count me in on the "Silva's plan is too masterful" side, but... this is a proud tradition in James Bond lore, so how can you argue? And like you say, everything is magic all around. Great villain, great performance. Overconfidence always blinds the enemies of Bond and proves their downfall.

    Looking forward to those Fleming book reviews by the way.

    "One of my biggest complaints about Skyfall is that the writers didn't just name him Miles Messervy." - Yeah, that's true, isn't it! They totally should have.

    Whatever else you can say about it, British filmmaking is the world's best for filming-at-home-and-making-it-look-like-any-and-everywhere. I can't believe Deakins hasn't won an Oscar yet, either. That's unpardonable. And to lose it to The Life of Pi, which should have been nominated for Best Animated Picture (not because I think it was of Best Film caliber, but on account of the Animation) is still more unpardonable.

    (Obviously Skyfall has a good bit of CGI as its own. I don't know what the tipping point is for me or where the line exactly is, but I see The Life of Pi on being on the other side of it.)

    Myself, I'm glad they didn't get Connery (or Moore or Dalton or anyone - maybe the ghost of Barry Nelson, MAYBE) to play Groundskeeper Willie. I can imagine where seeing one Bond interacting with another Bond in a Bond film might be fun, but this isn't Star Trek.

    Excellent point on Q's gadgetry being all over the film - as with M being the Bond Girl of the piece, the film manages to subvert its own formula even while adhering to it. Subvert is the wrong word, I guess, as it dismantles nothing, merely serves it up in a different way. Which is great so long as they do it compellingly. And Skyfall is a grand slam - beautifully made all around. I think I agree that I prefer other Bond films to it, but I couldn't in good conscience vote any differently than you have here for most of these categories.

    That picture of the little girl with the movie promotional stand-up is grand.

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    1. Isn't it? I found that somewhere when doing an image-search for the posters and said, "Well, THAT is making the post for sure." The little girl looks a bit like my niece, too, so it's even funnier for me.

      I hear what you're saying regarding being glad that Connery isn't in the movie. I guess that probably could have proven to be a distraction for a lot of people. I think it would have been cool, though, if only to make for another piece of evidence against the Bond-name-as-legacy argument. I am definitely glad they didn't try it with Moore or anyone else.

      Yeah, man, "The Life of Pi" was (from the bits of it I saw at work) a lovely movie. But I saw nothing to convince me it held a candle to "Skyfall." That was a major for for ol' Oscar. But he misses majorly in about three of every four categories on an annual basis, so it no shock. I mean, jeez, the score for "Superman" lost to Giorgio Moroder. MORODER!!!

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  3. The thing that always gets me about Skyfall is just how much happens without the movie every feeling bloated or getting off-track.

    Personally, I have watched the entire movie through just to experience the sequence when M is reciting “Ulysses” as Bond is sprinting to try and reach the hearing before Silva. I get chills every single time.

    I was genuinely surprised you didn’t talk more about that final action sequence at Skyfall. It’s a highlight of the film, for me, and it also works on the whole death/rebirth angle: The house burning, the destruction of the vintage Bond car, and M’s death all draw impact from that fifty-year pedigree, while simultaneously stripping away the “old” parts of Bond’s life.

    Speaking of the car, how the Hell was that not in the gadgets section?! Nor did you mention the phenomenal music cue when James first starts driving it! It’s almost like you expect me to write my own review if I want those things pointed out.

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    1. XB, I'm with you regarding the M-reciting-Ulysses-while-Bond-runs-down-the-street scene. That moment, for me, captures the very essence of what James Bond is all about. Just one man, doing whatever it takes to get the job done, and relying on his own steam. He didn't commandeer a DHL van, motorcycle, or Segway (Moore would've). Nope, in this film, Bond just ran. My adrenalin levels spike whenever I watch that scene.

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    2. Xann, you make some excellent points, especially about the movie not feeling bloated. It really doesn't at all, and it's pushing two and a half hours. That's down to the editing, so I should probably have mentioned that there! I'd have had to think of it first though, and didn't. This is why I love my commenters.

      I wanted to talk about the "Ulysses" scene during my discussion of both M and the Thomas Newman score, but failed to do so, despite having marked it in my notes that I needed to! Well, let's call it a first draft.

      The Skyfall attack certainly does reinforce the death/rebirth angle, doesn't it? Heck, Bond even emerges from a tunnel!

      I didn't count the car as a gadget because . . . uh, well, I didn't think of it. Derp! Now, as for the music, you are 100% correct that it is awesome. However, it -- and I probably should have mentioned this just on the basis of it being good trivia -- was not composed for "Skyfall." It is actually a tracked-in piece of music from the end of "Casino Royale."

      Teeritz, you make a great point about that scene being an adrenaline spike. And oh, if only the Segway HAD existed during the Roger Moore era...! It would have been capable of flight, possibly into orbit.

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  4. CHILLS. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ptqoSZgh7q8

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    1. The association has permanently changed for me now, but when I first saw the movie, I flashed back briefly to a "Babylon 5" episode where some of the same lines of the poem are quoted. It worked there, but it KILLS here.

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  5. This probably is the best Bond movie. It's not my favorite (that would be Goldfinger) but man, this is great stuff. A grand slam on all counts.

    Ralph Fiennes is a genius. I've been singing his praises for decades. He's one of the finest actors of all time, just as talented as Judi Dench (no mean feat) and definitely a man who can get shit done. I look forward to seeing more of his take on M.

    Naomie Harris makes a great Moneypenny. Kudos to the casting director. She was good in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, she was great in 28 Days Later and she's pure gold here. Plus, she's hot as hell and that's just fine with me.

    Rory Kinnear is very good, as well. I'm really enjoying his portrayal as Frankenstein's Monster on the Showtime series Penny Dreadful. If you haven't seen it yet, you owe it to yourself to check it out. Timothy Dalton and Eva Green are the two main characters so there are some Bond alumni there. I hope they keep him around for more. He seems to have taken the place of Colin Salmon, who I liked a lot. Kinnear might be even better.

    And for the love of God, how does Craig get all these insanely hot women in his movies? Movie for movie, none of the other Bonds can compete with Craig's lineup. Berenice Lim Marlohe is hot to a ridiculous degree. I can't take my eyes off her. If she were standing in front of me, my brain would overload and I'd probably just faint. Truly my manliness is without equal.

    Bardem can do no wrong. Every time he shows up on screen, in any movie, he just owns it. This time is no exception. My sentimental favorite will always be Auric Goldfinger, but objectively I think I can say Silva is the best villain of the whole series. He continues the tradition of the physically-scarred Bond villain and manages to up the ante by actually killing a major character in the mythos. I felt as if M were in genuine danger the whole time, which I did not feel for even a moment in The World Is Not Enough. Good writing, good directing, good acting. What's not to love?

    I am forced, reluctantly, to proclaim the Skyfall theme the greatest of the franchise. (Sorry, Goldfinger.) I wasn't too familiar with Adele and I'm still not, but wow, can she sing! If only she had begun her career earlier, it might have been her singing the theme to Titanic. What she could have done with that song (and that kind of exposure).

    I have mixed feelings about Connery as the groundskeeper. Granted, it would have been the most meta moment maybe in movie history but it also might have crossed over into the realm of self-indulgence. (They almost got there with the car.) I'm kinda glad they went with Albert Finney, who is certainly no slouch in the acting department, as he proves here.

    Speaking of the car, shouldn't you have counted the DB5 as a gadget? Its machine guns did manage to take out a bunch of Silva's goons. Just sayin.

    Great blog about a great movie. You have outdone yourself, Master Burnette.

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    1. Thanks, Joe!

      "Plus, she's hot as hell and that's just fine with me." -- Man, she really is! And I didn't mention this in the post, but her name was heavily discussed as being the #1 contender to play Susannah in the "Dark Tower" movies. If that had happened, nearly half the ka-tet would have been "Skyfall" veterans! Toss Ben Whishaw in as Oy, too, maybe.

      Fiennes is one of those guys you can easily have imagined playing Bond earlier in his career. If he had been hired when Craig was, I think he still could have done it. And that's a good way to cast M; almost as a reflection of Bond himself. They've never gone that route, but I think it will work, and yes, I'm looking forward to seeing him in more movies. I had not had that thought prior to seeing "Skyfall," but figured it out during the movie -- and when I did, I got very excited.

      I didn't know Kinnear was in "Penny Dreadful." Or Salmon, for that matter (I like that guy). I have been wanting to see it for the Green/Dalton angle, and this increases my desire significantly. The only other thing I've seen from Kinnear is his episode of "Black Mirror" (it's the only one I've seen, but it was awesome, and he was great).

      Goldfinger is my favorite villain, too, Joe; but yeah, I couldn't argue with anyone who put Silva at the top. Bardem is about 75% of that. And you make a great point about how this does right what "The World Is Not Enough" once did wrong.

      I've been wanting to expose myself to more Adele since "Skyfall." (That sounded wrong, didn't it?) I have seen her perform Burt Bacharach's "Baby, It's You," and she crushed that. So I suspect I would be a big fan. I need to do that!

      That's two votes against Connery, and given who they come from, I can't shrug that off! That's also two votes for the DB5 as a gardget, so ditto. (I love that typo -- "gardget." That's a Cockney gadget, I guess.)

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    2. Colin Salmon isn't in Penny Dreadful. I meant to say that Rory Kinnear (who is) has taken over for Salmon's character in the Bond movies. My bad for not being more clear about that.

      Something I forgot to comment on before: The Bond-Escorting-Her-Majesty absolutely MUST be canon. It's way too cool to be considered otherwise. Frankly, that was genius!

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    3. I was puzzled at how you guys were ranking the Adele song so high - I mean, for me, the suggestion that it's better than "Goldfinger" is insanity. Absolute insanity! So I listened to it again just now - you're right, it's one helluva tune. I then listened to every other theme song and took some notes. I'll have to put the results in at the blog, but "Skyfall" is definitely in my top 10.

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    4. I look forward to reading that post! I'd like to write one of those, too, but I suspect I'll wait until after "Spectre" is out so I can add in Radiohead or Ellie Goulding or Sam Smith or whoever it is they end up using.

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    5. I'm glad you look fwd to it - I'll probably utilize You Only Blog Twice for any/all screencaps. Why reinvent the wheel? I keep meaning to go through these from the beginning and nick a year's worth of facebook cover photos.

      Basically, tho, only one tune from the post-Moore era makes my top 12, and that's "Skyfall." Nothing against the tunes (most of them) of the post-Moore era, some of them I quite enjoy. I just prefer the older tunes/ approach. That's why I like "Skyfall," actually - it's in the older Bond-crooner tradition.

      I had a co-worker who played both Adele's "Rumor Has It" and "Someone Like You" twice or three times a day, everyday, for 6 months. It's a testament to how good "Skyfall" is that I don't hate it just for that!!

      Sure, my present co-workers might be saying the same thing about proximity-to-my-own-workdesk and recent patterns re: "Hysteria" to someone else, some other blog, somewhere other there. So it goes.

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    6. Speaking of screencaps, I've eventually got to go through and do that for the first five movies; I didn't discover the time-draining glory of screencapping until I got to Majesty's, I think.

      Is it too late for Def Leppard to do a Bond song?

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  6. Hm.

    Was sort of hoping the contrarian sense that allotted high grades to Die Another Day would turn against the overwhelming flow of universal acclaim for this movie.

    I knew you'd like Skyfall. But #1?

    I'm a fan of all 22 previous Eon movies. Some are better than others, but each one of them makes me happy to some degree.

    Skyfall is one of the worst movies I've ever seen. Not just the worst bond, one of the worst ever.

    I've been baffled by people's love of this flick ever since its release. Even in this post, you flagrantly disregard your well-honed grading system to give the movie higher marks. I enjoyed reading it, but unlike previous entries I was lost on almost all your points. (Except Deakins, whose work actually deserves 10 out of 7.) Practically everything else should have been a 1.

    Skyfall's awful. As a lifelong Bond fan, its existence makes me sad. It makes me angry. It makes me dread the release of Spectre when I should be doing cartwheels.

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    1. I don't think I could imagine a scenario in which somebody would be able to convince me that the work done here by Sam Mendes, Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Javier Bardem, Dennis Gassner, Daniel Kleinman, and Adele (to name but a few) would deserve marks that low. I mean, look, to each his own, and all that; but I just don't see it. You're more than welcome to try to convince me, but be warned that that is likely to be a Sisyphean task.

      As for my flagrant disregarding of my own rating system, I'd say a few things:

      (1) I don't think it's particularly well-honed. I've been wanting to revise it and refine it for quite some time, but it seemed easier to press forward and finish all the films first. Call it a first-draft and all that. I want to add a few categories (such as sound effects, weapons, and vehicles) and expand some others and then have a second go at all the movies. But that's going to take a while.

      (2) I thought I actually made a pretty good case for the places where I deviated! For example, in the Bond Girls category, is it fair to punish this movie for breaking the formula? I don't think it is, so I did the best I could do in terms of replacing it with what it seemed the movie had replaced that bit of the formula with.

      (3) As for awarding a couple of 008/007 scores, again, I'd say that I feel the work done in those places (director and cinematographer) is on another plane from where previous films were. If Skyfall had come out prior to the creation of the scoring system, I would not have given any of the other directors or cinematographers 007/007 scores; that would have been reserved for this film. Obviously, you're free to disagree, but that's my rationale, and it seems sensible to me.

      But despite the disagreements, I appreciate you taking the time to read your way through this. Feel free to serve as the minority report here; we could probably use one!

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    2. Let me emphatically state that I've enjoyed the hell out of the blog and gotten a lot out of it. Most significantly, it got me to re-watch all four Brosnans and realize they weren't quite as bad as I remembered them being. You've done a great job, and I look forward to reading future entries.

      I'm just ribbing you about the "flagrant disregarding" of your rating system. It was worded to be jokey, sorry if that didn't come across.

      And I would never try to convince you that Skyfall is a bad movie. It's just something I expect people to see for themselves, and I'm constantly surprised to be in the minority on this one. I want to love Skyfall. I even gave it a second viewing recently, convinced I'd come around on it. No such luck.

      Just a few of my own bullet-points:

      Mendes: Takes the Chris Nolan approach of draining any fun out of an established fun-filled franchise to make things broody and self-serious, as if James Bond were Beowulf or Gilgamesh. The approach turns Bond into a commercial instead of a character and I hate it.

      Bardem: Performance is fine, but Silva brags about a few clicks of his computer destroying whole societies and changing the world, then his plan to eliminate M is to charge into a fortified building in broad daylight and engage in a gunfight? Where's the strategy? Also he sends a group of men to kill M at Skyfall, then instructs the second wave not to kill her. Good thing the first wave failed to do so, I guess? Besides that, he's part of a new line of super-villains like the bad guys from the Chris Nolan Batmans and Benedict Cumberbatch's Khan who are more theoretically evil than actually menacing, more an omnipotent screen device than a believable threat. As for his rat speech, I prefer Bardem's monologue about Pedro Negro in Collateral (although I do like the way he pronounces "coconut.")

      Craig's Bond: A complete failure in this film. Gets an agent killed. Gets shot and should be dead. Sits back and watches as Patrice murders Chinese security guards. Doesn't get what he needs from Patrice. Turns up naked behind a traumatized former sex slave in the shower. Lets her get killed when he apparently could have saved her. Makes taunting face to Silva even though he's fallen into his trap/lets him into MI-6/lets him corrupt the computer system and escape. Allows his childhood home go up in flames. Fails to save M. Not once did I think, "Awesome, Bond!" It seems like everything would have turned out better for everybody if Bond simply hadn't shown up.

      Bond girl: Severine isn't unlike previous Bond girls - she's the sacrificial lamb a'la Jill Masterson, Paula Caplan, Aki, Andrea Anders, Corinne Dufour, Paris Carver, etc. The difference is, Bond was in a clear position to save her life and he simply didn't bother! And busting Naomie Harris' character from field agent to personal secretary just because she was following orders is weird if not outright offensive. Bond screws up ten times as much as her, he should be the new Moneypenny!

      Hipster Q: A combination of Silva and Bond - smug about being a computer genius then sets Silva's virus loose into the system. An incompetent failure who should be fired if not put in jail. Also don't appreciate the smug knocking of classic awesome gadgets from the series.

      Reboot of a reboot: What happened to Quantum?? I was genuinely interested in that storyline continuing. They may have tied up the Vesper subplot, but Mr. White, still on the loose? Now we're moving onto Spectre? Just feels like an arrogant reboot, one movie separated from the previous reboot, and I blame Mendes for it, even if it's not fair to.

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    3. I didn't take offense at anything! Sorry if it seemed that way.

      "The approach turns Bond into a commercial instead of a character and I hate it." -- I don't follow you at all there. Seriousness makes for LESS of a character? That does not compute for me. Personally, I don't find the film to be free of fun; it's very fun, from the beginning to the end. It's less dour than "Licence to Kill," for example. Then again, I find Nolan's movies to be fun as well.

      "Also he sends a group of men to kill M at Skyfall, then instructs the second wave not to kill her." -- I don't think he sends those men to kill M; I think he sends them to kill Bond so that M will be all his. Or, more likely, he sends them an as cannon fodder to soften Bond's defenses up a bit.

      "Silva brags about a few clicks of his computer destroying whole societies and changing the world, then his plan to eliminate M is to charge into a fortified building in broad daylight and engage in a gunfight?" -- That's a fair point, I guess. But since he's crazy, I can live with that. And anyways, it makes no less sense than most other Bond-villain plots.

      "Gets an agent killed." -- Who? Ronson? I don't think Jimmy B. should ge tthe blame for that.

      "Gets shot and should be dead." -- This is part of the crux of the movie! He's angry at M for not allowing him to continue to do his job. How is this Bond's fault?

      "Sits back and watches as Patrice murders Chinese security guards." -- His job here is to capture Patrice if at all possible, and saving those guards would not have made that possible. Collateral damage.

      "Turns up naked behind a traumatized former sex slave in the shower." -- More collateral damage. Seems rather Fleming-esque to me. Also seems very Connery-esque; this scene with Craig is less objectionable than the one in "Dr. No" where Bond takes advantage of Miss Taro. To be clear, I don't object to that. She was sending him to his death.

      "The difference is, Bond was in a clear position to save her life and he simply didn't bother! " -- Why should he? Doing so might compromise his mission. Bond, as written by Fleming, isn't a romantic lead, he's a killer.

      "And busting Naomie Harris' character from field agent to personal secretary just because she was following orders is weird if not outright offensive." -- I guess that's fair, although the movie makes it plain that it's a temporary suspension, and later that it's her choice to stay out of field work. I suspect there will be more to this story.

      "A combination of Silva and Bond - smug about being a computer genius then sets Silva's virus loose into the system. An incompetent failure who should be fired if not put in jail." -- I'm assuming that whatever Trojan Horse has been brought in by Silva was designed specifically to evade not merely the normal firewalls and whatnot, but also whatever extra ones might be in place. I assume Silva has been silently monitoring them for years so as to be able to accomplish precisely this. Q certainly seems very surprised that what's happened has happened. I see no reason to assume it's entirely his fault.

      "They may have tied up the Vesper subplot, but Mr. White, still on the loose? Now we're moving onto Spectre?" -- Mr. White is in "Spectre," so I suspect there is more of that plotline to come. At least, I hope so! I'll be very disappointed if there isn't.

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    4. Excellent responses to all complaints. Makes me realize...maybe I don't like the Fleming Bond, per se. Maybe it explains why I ultimately prefer Moore and Dalton to Connery and Craig. But I thought Casino and Quantum did a great job building Craig's Bond so that he's more than just the "blunt instrument" M insists he is. He has no problem icing targets, then his efficiency as a government assassin becomes compromised due to his emotional attachment to Vesper and her subsequent betrayal. After which, he's not only scarred but bent on brutal revenge throughout most of the second movie. But having come through that...I dunno. To me it feels like Skyfall, despite being written by the same guys, tosses all that out the window to present Bond as some hollow cardboard cutout of a character.

      What I mean that he feels like a commercial: a 30-second plug for some product can throw Miss Piggy in there without introducing her or building her up as a character, because we all know the Muppets and don't need any further information. It serves no purpose beyond basic pop cultural identification. "Miss Piggy, got it? Good let's move on." It's actually perfect that you bring up Bond's appearance at the Olympics - brief spots like that lean entirely on pop cultural recognition. In Skyfall, Bond is thrown up on screen with the tux and the theme music, but he's only iconic in therory not in practice. Mendes' idea of making him iconic is to shoot Craig from behind, standing with his legs spread looking out over a location, like Batman.

      In Casino Royale and Quantum, Craig and the writers and filmmakers were successful in establishing Bond as a character. Whereas in Skyfall, Craig's Bond could be literally anybody. He could be Jason Bourne. He could be Wolverine. He could be Vin Diesel in a Fast and Furious movie. Or XXXX from Layer Cake. He and Bardem could swap roles and I don't think it would make much difference. Nothing he does, especially after the titles, distinguishes his Bond-ness beyond the rail-thin caricature of the grizzled action hero. Mendes expects Bond to speak for himself without having to put anything into the character. We know his childhood home has left some kind of psychological scar on him. What is that scar exactly? Doesn't matter - he's an ersatz action hero who's dark and brooding and an orphan, like Batman.

      One could make the argument that 50 years of the character's status as an iconic figure of international cinema supports this. You can make the argument that Craig's excellent performances in the two previous films supports this. But I honestly feel like I could have gone into Casino Royale and thoroughly understood and enjoyed the character even without ever seeing a Bond movie. Skyfall, no way. Just some grumpy gus with a chip on his shoulder for some reason.

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    5. Difficult to explain what I mean by "brooding and self-serious." Obviously the complaint against Dalton is that he was too brooding and self-serious, but the movies he was in reflected that approach. Mendes makes Skyfall unremittingly grim, but at the same time expects us to accept such silliness as Bond getting shot, falling 100 feet and surviving. Nothing wrong with that on its own - it's as ridiculous as tilting an eighteen-wheeler on one side. But in a film with terrorism, uncertain childhood trauma, former child prostitutes, cyanide Phantom of the Operas and Q's wearing parkas who need haircuts and openly mock the concept of exploding pens, I need to see a part of Bond that reflects the movie's inclusion of scorpion drinking games and ravenous komodo dragons. In other words, the FUN. Otherwise, I'm going to start questioning why, when Silva has the drop on Bond who's unarmed and standing on ice, a henchman would come up right behind him so he can conveniently grab his gun and find a way out of the situation. Something I wouldn't even consider in, say, A View to a Kill.

      This is a problem in many Hollywood action movies of recent years, the idea that to be taken seriously the movie has to be thematically self-important, create real-world parallels and phony moral dilemmas. Bigger picture, we won't go into that. I will say this: seriousness DOES make for less character if that's all you got to offer. Sylvester Stallone didn't smile much in all three Expendable movies, what does anyone remember about that character? (Or Denzel Washington in Book of Eli, or Angelina Jolie in Salt, take your pick.)

      I guess we'd be getting into a Man of Steel-type argument when it comes to Bond's responsibility for saving other peoples' lives when it directly conflicts with the Big Picture. Just seems like Moore or Dalton, and probably Brosnan, would have made an effort to save Severine. Or at least felt bad about what happened to her. Or get one last whiff of her hair. In Quantum, Craig maintains a cold demeanor but is clearly effected by both Mathis and Fields' deaths. Heck, even Connery looked sad for 2 seconds after Aki got whacked before resorting to joking around with Tanaka in the following scene! It makes me think of the shot of Michael Caine in Get Carter when the bad guys dump his car in the river with the girl he locked in the trunk still inside. Carter didn't kill that girl, but the shot lingers on his face to show that he doesn't care that she died. Carter is on a quest for vengeance but he's not a hero, he's a sociopath. We're not supposed to root for him. The Carter approach to Bond doesn't work for me. If that's the Fleming Bond, he can choke on his martini for all I care.

      Anyway, I'm venting. Fun to vent. I love your work here and on the King blog, so differing tastes don't really matter. I love Disney's Robin Hood and hate Saving Private Ryan. To each his own!

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    6. Oh, White's in Spectre? That is good news! The remnants of Quantum merge in Spectre, somehow? Interesting. Maybe there's hope...

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    7. I'm assuming "Spectre" will have to deal with Quantum in some way. I just don't see any way around it.

      You make some good points in your other two replies, and you're by no means the only person I've ever heard take "Skyfall" to task for its approaches to these issues. It feels consistent to the Bond that I know, but that's just me.

      Speaking of "Man of Steel," that's a situation where I couldn't reconcile a movie's approach to a character with my own perception of the same character. I cannot for one moment buy into the idea that Clark Kent would allow his adopted father to die in a tornado. No way, nope. It sounds to me like you have a similar inability to reconcile the Bond of "Skyfall" with your idea of Bond. Which means that by connecting those things, I can see where you're coming from.

      But who knows? Maybe "Spectre" will work better for you.

      Gonna let that "Saving Private Ryan" comment go, by the way... ;)

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    8. I speculated on a wristwatch forum (Bond gets mentioned regularly) that it would be nifty if SPECTRE opened with Quantum robbing some huge bank (along the lines of ISIS in Mosul) and the bank tellers pull out weapons and wipe out the Quantum guys. The bank tellers are actually SPECTRE operatives who got to the bank and robbed it first. That would be a nice way to remove the dreadfully-named Quantum (it sounds like a skin-care/cosmetics company) once and for all.
      And I have a bone to pick with actor Jesper Christensen who plays Mr. White. Christensen has mentioned in interviews that he thought the Bond films were pretty crappy. He still managed to cash his paycheck, though, didn't he?

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    9. That would be a very good opening to a Bond movie. Or to any movie, really.

      I don't mind "Quantum" as a name, but it's fairly obvious that they only got it so the movie could have a proper Fleming title. I'd've gone with "Risico," myself.

      I remember reading something from Christensen along those lines and being annoyed by it, too. On the one hand, I don't fault actors for wanting to keep themselves involved in artsy projects, or whatever it is he prefers. If that's your thing, good on ya. But, yes, you're right; don't take the work and THEN decide to have a problem with what you're doing. That's low-class all the way.

      Now that you mention it, though, Christensen's involvement in "Spectre" seems to make it even more likely that Quantum must have some role to play in the movie. The producers would be keenly aware that the actor had said nasty things in the press, so the odds seem very strong that they would only bring him back if his role -- however small or large -- was not absolutely indispensable. That makes me all the more excited to see what they've got cooked up for this time.

      By the way, I'm fascinated by the interest in watches evident on your blog. That's a whole side of Bond fandom that I don't have on a personal level, but which suggests an entire avenue of enjoyment for the films that is obviously a wonderful thing for that subset of fandom. I know the watches are a huge deal for a lot of people, just like the guns and other weapons are for another subset, the drinks and food for another, the fashions for another, and so forth. I know of NO other series that you can say this sort of thing about.

      I love it!

      Those of who who are reading along with these comments, I highly suggest Teeritz's blog:

      http://teeritz.blogspot.com/

      Well worth your time!

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    10. Daww, shucks, Mister. T'weren't nothin'. Just a little ole blog to keep myself amused. Thanks for the shout-out!
      I've avoided all spoilers regarding SPECTRE, but based on the trailer, Mr. White is all scruffy and unshaven and something tells me he's all that's left of Quantum or he's on the run. But don't listen to a word I've said. After all, I thought 'Skyfall' was the name of some failed mission of Bond's. Something like Thunderball or Moonraker.

      As for the wristwatches, I've always been into them and I sold them for over ten years. My humble opinion, every man should have a decent wristwatch and pen. Even in the 21st Century.

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    11. I've been studiously avoiding "Spectre" spoilers, too. Successfully, so far; but that's going to be tough when the movie comes out a bit later in America than elsewhere.

      I'm also determined to do what I've failed to do the past several movies: not hear the theme song until I hear it in the movie. That's going to mean going dark on a bunch of my podcasts, but it's a price I'm willing to pay. I want that experience again of hearing the theme song 100% fresh.

      "My humble opinion, every man should have a decent wristwatch and pen." -- I'm sorry to report that I am a complete failure in that regard. But the idea appeals to me, so maybe one of these days!

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    12. Yeah, the movie opens around mid-November here in Australia, so I'll be maintaining radio silence till then.
      Trying not to hear the theme song will be tricky. Good luck!
      No watch? No pen? Shame on you. Get yourself a Fisher AG-7 Space Pen. Nice ballpoint to start with. Not too pricey in the US, either. I think thirty bucks will snag you one.
      As for a wristwatch, well that's a more slippery slope, I'm afraid. In saying that, though, $150-$200 bucks would get you a nice, rock-solid automatic Seiko dive watch that will run for decades.
      There I go again. You can take the watchseller out of the watch store, but you can't take the watch store out of the watchseller.

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    13. I appreciate the tip on the pen (if you'll pardon that inadvertent pun) -- I will look into that!

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  7. Completely unrelated: when you do get to a "second round" on this, you should consider including a category for the pre-credit cold opening. Obviously you've touched on them under Mission Briefing, but they're such a staple they deserve their own consideration. (Obviously Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker would earn a 007, but I imagine some of the lamer ones like For Your Eyes Only wouldn't fair as well.)

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    1. That's a good idea!

      Now I'm trying to think which one I'd give top marks to. Probably either "The Spy Who Loved Me" or "Moonraker," although I like "The Living Daylights" a lot, too.

      I'll add it to my under-consideration list. Thanks!

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  8. Maybe somebody has already mentioned it and if so I apologize as I haven't read all the comments. Nevertheless, you have never actually added The Living Daylights to your list after you tallied it up. Just an FYI.

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    1. Did I not?!?

      .....

      Sure, enough, that does seem to have been omitted. I appreciate you pointing it out to me! I'll go back in and add it to all the posts.

      Thanks!

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  9. I want to congratulate you on what has been a fascinating and interesting review of the Bond series. Obviously you put a lot of time and effort into the project and the screencaps were excellent. We Bond fans will always have different opinions and favourites but I thought you put your points across in a thoughtful and unbiased way. I agree with you on a lot of things Bond - especially Diamonds are Forever being crap but also our top 5 are not completely dissimilar. Mine is 1. OHMSS. 2. CR. 3. FRWL. 4. LTK. 5. SF. But this can change at any time.
    It's always difficult to find a points system to rank the films in order, I think your system was fair enough. If you do think of a different way to score the films I would be interested to see what changes to your order this will produce.
    SPECTRE soon, I can't wait and I will look forward to see what you make of it.
    Cheers.

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    1. That's a great top five! I'm always thrilled to see somebody else giving a Dalton film some love; and "Licence to Kill" has aged really well, I think. Part of me is glad the history of the series played out the way it did, but another part of me wished Dalton had made a bunch more. He's criminally underrated.

      Thanks for the kind words, Steve!

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  10. Speaking of Bond girls, the female lead is indeed M. But she was not a Bond girl. Skyfall would be unique in that none of the Bond girls were the leading female characters. However, the Bond girl hierarchy is still in place: Eve, who would be considered a Bond girl only in the context of Skyfall, as she have a role similar to Paula Caplan, Manuela, Bianca, and Kimberley Jones, would be the "main" Bond girl by default (and the DVD liner notes made it out like she had a bigger part than she really had), whereas Severine was the typical Bond girl victim. Tonia Sotiropolou's unnamed girl is the pre-titles girl or the girl that Bond dallies with at the beginning of the film pre-mission. She is unique that she didn't said a single word but compensated for it with one of the more graphic sex scenes that we see Bond engaged in.

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    1. I don't recall that scene being particularly graphic. Did I miss something?

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  11. Been sifting through the blog the last few days - absolutely amazing work. I'm very new to Bond but these are all objectively well-written entries.

    I only want to chip in to note that the Godzilla series celebrated it's 50th anniversary in 2014, quite sometime before Bond hit his big '5-0' but I'm quite sure Bond is nonetheless the record-holder for the West, excluding the Universal monsters films, which I don't feel are cohesive enough or continuously-produced enough to consider.

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    1. "Godzilla"! Of course. I remember wondering if he might actually be the record-holder. I probably should have done some research on that.

      Thanks for the kind words, John! I enjoyed writing these posts more than ought to be legal. It's a silly concept; you can't mathematically judge a movie. But I thought it would be fun to find out what happened when you did, and I was right about that.

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