Posted by: dougery | December 11, 2012

Better Late Than Never: Skyfall (2012)

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Spoiler-alert: This ‘review’ will be 90% anecdote and 10% review so don’t say you weren’t warned.

Last year I made it my mission to watch all 22 Bond movies as up until that point I’d seen exactly none. The mission was a success, the movies were, well, all over the quality map, and I was just a few months early in celebrating the 50th anniversary of Film James Bond.

Since then Bond has been trolling my life, a figure in the shadows always popping up when least expected. When my wife and I arrived in Somerville, the local second run theater was playing 4 of the ‘classics’ the weekend we moved in. Then of course there was Skyfall, the 23rd installment of the Bond franchise, due out in late autumn. It had been less than a year since I saw it’s predecessor, the awkwardly named Quantum of Solace, but 4 years since the world had made it the highest selling Bond movie of all time. To think, what would the world have spent on a move that was actually good?

The answer, of course, is what it spent on Skyfall, the final installment of the Craig-Bond trilogy, the runaway highest grossing film in the Bond canon and yes, one of best the series has to offer.

I have to say it was weird going into this thing in ‘real time.’ My brother and I often have differences in opinion when it comes to movies, certainly differences in opinion when it comes to what to see, but we were harassing each other for months before this one came out. I ended up seeing it on the second week of its release after pedaling halfway across Boston on a frigid weekend afternoon. I almost saw it a second time as my in-laws scrambled to hit the theater the day after Thanksgiving, but nearly all of America, to say nothing of southeastern Connecticut, had a similar idea and it was sold out, so we rented Crazy, Stupid, Love (and this is the first and last time that film and Bond have ever been mentioned in the same review).

Turns out Bond improves upon seeing it on the big screen. It doesn’t hurt that Skyfall is such a pretty movie. From the roof-top motorcycle chase near the Hagia Sophia to the devastated abandoned city the main villain has commandeered (reminding me instantly of Magneto’s Genosha, post mutant holocaust) to the gorgeous Scottish moors, the cinematography on this one doesn’t suffer from lack of material. And hey, why not fill the thing up with ringers, acting-wise, as Craig, Dench, Fiennes, Bardem and company make other Bond movie casts look like the Laurel Players (sorry, I’ve been reading a lot of Richard Yates).

Things get trickier if you actually pick at the plot or assess the themes with more than a cursory sweep. I mean yeah, Bond doesn’t really need to exist at this point, that argument has been made many times, and why exactly do Americans (or all non-Brits really) take such pleasure in watching a member of a British spy agency foil the evil plots of terrorists all over the globe in the first place? Anglophile points get doubled when you learn that Skyfall’s primary villain is a former 00-agent, but then again all of these movies are going to be fairly incestuous by now, right?

Yet there are surprises even here. The largest being the fact that Bond isn’t the main character of Skyfall, which is more than a little bit of a relief actually. This one is all about legacies, the climactic scenes take place not only on the Bond family ancestral home but the fucking chapel of said home. How did Bond come to be this way?, what are the costs?, what are the alternatives?, all pretty standard stuff. Bond’s obvious foil, the who-he-could-have-become villain Bardem is an excellent actor and he out-creepys the infamous womanizer Bond by a factor of some magnitude so that’s saying something. The fact that Bardem’s character isn’t a heterosexual is an interesting choice. I’m sure some anti-defamation league somewhere has already written misguided protests as you’re not really supposed to hate Silva but feel sorry for him. It’s that evil system that failed to nurture his better half and turned him (literally) into a monster. Sigh, what could have been if only his mother hadn’t a poison womb.

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To be honest with you I can’t really recall what this film has to do with the two Craig movies that preceded it, but no matter. Both Casino Royale and Skyfall function as stand-alone pieces and I think we’re all the better in ignoring Solace even exists. Where Bond goes from here (Will he be… black? Is Stringer Bell available?, etc) is a mostly dull question. There’s nothing left to reinvent or reboot. It’s the same box of Bond legos.  May as well make something pretty out of the original pieces.

Bond grade (out of 007): 005

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