A highly personal opinion on my least favourite Bond movie.
(Warning — Contains strong language)
The opening shot is insipid, murky, pointless and ugly. That can mean only one thing, folks — it’s a Sam Mendes film shot by Roger ‘Urinal Yellow’ Deakins!
‘Skyfall’ gives Bond fans exactly what they want — no gun-barrel and a sense of total confusion as to what’s going on. Is that James Bond? A bad guy? Is the camera operator short-sighted? It doesn’t matter because it’s artsy even if it’s meaningless and conveying no information other than that the film has started. Plus I think Mendes is out to prove something, although I have no idea what.
Turns out the fuzzy blob is 007 who, along with Moneypenny, is in Istanbul looking for a bad guy called Patrice who has stolen the plot device for ‘Mission: Impossible’ (1996). Yet Bond is rumbled and a high-octane chase ensues. Indeed, it’s such an exciting chase that the whole thing needs to be micromanaged by MI6 back in London because Bond is obviously a baby who needs to be told what to do all the time. And as we all know, nothing helps keep the momentum of a chase sequence going more than micromanagement. Or is it because we don’t know what the hell is going on so need to be fed exposition on the hoof by the writers who have mistaken this device for legitimate excitement?
Moneypenny almost gets killed by some product placement as the Bond theme is crow-barred in and Daniel Craig does that little Bond flourish of adjusting his cuff that use to be endearing in the sixties and seventies but now just comes across as the sign of an arsehole who is more concerned with his vanity in a fire-fight than the innocent people around him or actually doing his job. Meanwhile M is ordering Moneypenny to “Take the shot” to stop Patrice escaping although M’s worried that Moneypenny might accidentally hit Bond for some unfathomable reason as even if she did accidentally blow his brains out right there on the screen we all know he’ll be back straight after the credits rendering this entire opening sequence TOTALLY FUCKING POINTLESS.
Adele then sings a song with a plaintive tone, possibly because she’s desperately in need of a decent melody consisting of more than 3 notes, whilst setting the template (bafflingly) for all Bond themes to be funeral dirges from here on. It’s repetitive, uninspired and with a melodic line as flat as a dying M’s cardiogram readings.
After the credits we find M pointlessly writing Bond’s obituary (yeah, right) when she is called into work to be told she’s to be fired by her obvious successor even if M is more concerned by the fact someone is hacking into MI5’s secret porn stash and leaving dated GIF animations before, somehow, blowing up her computer… via the internet? Can you email explosives?
We cut back to find that — SHOCK/HORROR — Bond alive, something even the films makers know won’t surprise us in the slightest because the overriding atmosphere is one of intense apathy with Bond, despite being an experienced operative at this point, not being back in London happy and relieved to be alive but instead drinking Heinekin and annoying some insects; I guess we all have our ways of dealing with trauma, although personally I’d have returned to London and seen a therapist. But why is Bond so depressed? He got a flesh wound and fell off a bridge! He’s been through way worse than that and shrugged it off with a quip and a shag: he’s been blown up in a volcano then immediately started fucking in a dingy; he’s parachuted off a cliff after several orgasms and with a presumably still wet cock; he’s escaped near fatal drowning, been fed to sharks (multiple times); had his gonads crushed flat, covered in scolding hot radioactive waste, beaten senseless (multiple times); tortured, bereaved, almost castrated by a laser beam, fed to alligators, trapped in countless exploding vehicles, attacked by killer underwater robots and almost blown up with a cake by a 70’s homosexual stereotype. But falling off a bridge? This, THIS, is what tips him over the edge and chuck it all in?! You see, this is what happens when Bond takes himself way too seriously and the film, and we, suffer as a result. Nobody wants to see a sad Bond and especially not for this reason. And I don’t buy he’s pissed at M for a minute as the reason; he would know she had to make a call and that this is what agents have to accept. Who’d be stupid enough to make an entire movie about a disgruntled spy out for petty revenge anyway… twice?
Anyway, we then cut to a highly offensive shot of coffins draped with British flags which makes me both recoil at the thought of using dead soldiers to legitimise our sad feelings for an unlikeable fictional character because the screenwriters weren’t able to do the job properly for us before making me annoyed that the filmmakers would assume I’d feel any sense of patriotism just because a fucking Union Jack has been thrust in my face. This is story telling at a deeply shallow and cynical level… and we’re not even thirty mins in.
Bond then breaks into M’s house to tell her pissed at her for doing her job (this version of Bond might be the most unlikable) when M finally talks some sense into him which he accepts meaning the previous 27 minutes have been TOTALLY FUCKING POINTLESS as this has all been cleared up in a couple of sentences and Bond understanding how being a spy works before the idiot is driven to the new MI6 headquarters to the strains of music so generic it could be from the De Wolf Spy and Espionage library. These new headquarters are very special as it used to be Winston Churchill’s WWII bunker and I feel my gag reflex kicking in again as Mendes slides the shaft of British Imperialism forcibly down my throat, even throwing in a Union Jack bulldog in a desperate attempt to reach climax and bruise my soft palette.
Anyway, it is then discovered than Bond is a wreck of an agent. He’s worn out, falling apart, can’t shoot, can’t do pull ups and… hang on!, this is only Daniel Craig’s third Bond film! How can he be a clapped-out shell already? By this stage Connery and Moore were hitting their stride. Didn’t we just do a reboot? I think it must be an attempt to add character depth but it only adds to the monotony and my suspicion the writers are working for SPECTRE and attempting to bring Bond down from within.
Bond passes his physical examinations and is declared fit for active duty meaning, once again, that the previous 40 minutes have been TOTALLY FUCKING IRRELEVANT! I’m not kidding; you could’ve started this movie right here and now and hardly anything would be missed. The only information of value we have learned so far is that a man called Patrice has the MacGuffin to the first ‘Mission: Impossible’ movie in his possession and is in Shanghai and that’s it.
Bond is sent to meet Q in an art gallery, for some reason but I have the suspicion it’s a pretentious one, where they have a shallow, snarky, badly written argument before Bond is informed that Q branch don’t really go in for “exploding pens” anymore more which kinda feels like a kick in the teeth to an entire franchise that became successful BECAUSE of exploding gadgets. Not only that but Q goes back on his word in the next film and kits Bond out with an exploding watch because he and EON productions had suddenly forgotten that the one of the reasons people love James Bond films are the gadgets making both us and them look foolish. So why include that “We don’t really go in for that sort of thing anymore” other than insincere, disingenuous posturing?
We then cut to Shanghai where Bond is going for a swim at night because Roger Deakins thinks that swimming pools look cool filmed in the dark and because I can’t think of another reason for this scene existing. Sure, the cinematography in ‘Skyfall’ is technically impressive but doesn’t necessarily mean it’s aesthetically appealing to look at, meaning for me the same criteria used to judge Deakins’ cinematography can be applied to hipsters who ride unicycles in top hats, both of which holding my interest for exactly the same period of time, i.e. — a period measureable in nanoseconds and the suspicion they might be attention seeking twats.
Bond follows Patrice to the top of a skyscraper where he er… simply sits and waits for a man to be murdered in front of him? Possibly outraged by his own incompetence a fight between Bond and Patrice ensues in what might be the most visually annoying fight-sequence put to film. This fight, this exact fight represents everything about Roger Deakins’ shooting style I detest as it is so over-stylised, so excessive in use of contrast I find myself fighting against the film’s cinematography simply to become immersed in what is going on, let alone being able to actually figure out what the hell is meant to be going on.
Anyway, Bond demonstrates his incompetence again by allowing Patrice to fall to his death having extracted zero information out of him leaving Bond screwed. Luckily Bond discovers amongst Patrice’s belongings what seems to be a magical coin instructing Bond where to go next. Thank god for that and it’s good to know all that expert training we had to endure in the first 45 mins of this movie wasn’t in vain and that we’re dealing with a world class spy here who isn’t a fucking infant who needs spoon-feeding.
Moneypenny then pops up in Shanghai to shave Bond by way of apologising for almost killing him which would be fine if it wasn’t for the fact these two have as much sexually combustible chemistry as two noble gases futilely dry-humping in a test-tube, whilst meanwhile back in London M realises dozens of agents are now at risk because of a video with zero views has been uploaded to youtube and MI6 has no power AT ALL over this new fangled computer stuff despite being what seems to be the most powerful surveillance operation in living history but which is also understandable as, after all, it seems their computer and internet services keep spontaneously exploding.
We cut to Macau where Bond is on a boat entering a casino whilst adopting, for the benefit of nobody in particular to see other than the voices and secret audience obviously living inside Bond’s own head, a… power stance? What is Daniel Craig’s Bond’s obsession with the power stance? He’s does it every chance he gets! He’s power stancing on boats (twice in this film alone), power stancing in casinos, power stancing on rooftops, power stancing at the opera and, I presume, power stancing down the shops and when he’s alone in his flat and no one is watching apart from the voices and secret audience living inside his head. The result not only makes him come across as mentally ill but that he’s also speaking at a Conservative Party conference circa 2017 which, admittedly, are pretty much the same thing (remember when I said this might be the most unlikable Bond ever?).
After a fight with some komodo dragons, which Bond unfortunately wins, Bond then sexually forces himself on a survivor of childhood abuse called Severine thus endearing this guy even more to our hearts, and discovers by doing so that the big baddie is some guy called Silva who lives on a secret island and is either running an IT business or a high-end branch of PC World, it’s still not clear which. Fortunately M informs us that Silva comes from the same place as Bond — i.e. from the shadows (whether or not they played bass or rhythm guitar for Hank Marvin is, again, unclear).
Bond and Severine both immediately power stance their way to Silva’s island where Bond is captured straight away (exciting, eh?) followed by Silva telling Bond a not very subtle analogy about rats before sexually hitting on him with all the subtlety of a 70’s homosexual stereotype and it is at this point, this exact moment in ‘Skyfall’, and especially after what Bond’s just done to Severine, that I always wish Silva would bend Bond over one of his buzzing internet servers and brutally bugger him for thirty minutes or more until Bond was screaming that he’d quit being 007 and go back to annoying insects. Without that scene Bond is, and always will be, a sexual hypocrite. Poor Severine. Oh, well, at least being used as a piece of meat simply for information is the worst that can happen to her.
So Bond demonstrates his ineptness again as he stands by and watches Severine getting shot in the head whilst doing absolutely nothing to stop it. Maybe there were too many bad guys for him to step in, but the thing is he DOES step in and kill them all once she is dead so why couldn’t he do that before? It just feels in bad taste, especially when the soundtrack plays the Bond theme cue, you know the one — the one usually reserved for moments when Bond does something cool or HEROIC — only a minute after she gets her brains blown out. It’s the most offensive, tasteless music cue in cinema.
However, it turns out Bond isn’t the only hypocrite at MI6 as Q is too because Bond does have a gadget on him after all. It’s a rather large miniaturised radio meaning either Q branch were completely right to stop making gadgets if this is their result of miniaturising spy-ware or that Silva’s men can’t search anyone for toffee.
However, it is here something vitally important happens plot-wise as we discover that Sam Mendes would, once again, rather be making The Dark Knight than an actual Bond film as Silva is captured on purpose as part of his larger “plan” (I’m not kidding; this guy doesn’t actually have a plan. He’s winging it and improvising and should be booked for Who’s Line is It Anyway). Silva escapes by a carefully and meticulously pre-planned series of random events and coincidences before fucking up his OWN plan by missing an easy target after years of scheming meaning that the whole hour and a half has, once again, been TOTALLY FUCKING IRRELEVENT and nothing, by either side, has been achieved!
There’s then talk of bunting and patriotism making me wonder if Enoch Powell wrote the script before we discover the reason for Silva’s revenge — he wants to kill M and is being driven out of… spite and resentment? I can’t understand why spite seems to be a thing for recent Bond writers as it’s the same motivational factor driving Blofeld in ‘Spectre’. It’s a shallow and ultimately boring reason. World domination might be silly and daft but it’s fun and understandable and less childish.
Bond rescues M from the danger of Silva’s ineptitude or in case Silva kills her by accident and drives her up to Scotland so the two of them can power stance in the gloaming but not before Bond instructs Q to let Silva know where they are so, once again, we can wave a fond farewell to any sense of dynamic tension or suspense at what might happen in this film. The good news is a Scottish cliché is waiting to help them, a Scottish cliché that is a games-keeper who says ‘Welcome to Scotland’ after shooting someone furthering the stereotype that the Scots are violent but also exist in a subservient role to the English master and by now I am convinced this film is played at Conservative and pro-Union conferences and on a fucking loop.
And so we wait as Bond and M recreate ‘Home Alone’ (a highly unoriginal observation I know) whilst outside Silva and his men re-enact ‘Witness’ and ‘Apocalypse Now’ leading me to wonder whether or not Mendes is directing from an actual shooting script or simply filming the entire Internet Movie Data Base in random order. The good news is that Silva has brought an attack helicopter equipped with miniguns to destroy what is, essentially, a bothy so this should be over quick… only it seems Silva is a REALLY inept baddie as nearly all his men are killed and his attack copter blown up by household objects and some kitchen utensils. So I guess all that hubristic rock music he had blasting out his gunship only a minute ago was a bit overly confident then, eh? And Silva thought having semi-dissolved teeth made him look stupid.
Luckily Bond and M are able to escape into a tunnel which leads them straight into Roger Deakins’ head and imagination, a land where it is constantly night and lit by orange and yellow fire and where it is almost impossible to see what is happening but no one can complain because it, apparently, looks stylish and cool. I think Bond falls through some ice at some point but the light levels were exactly the same above and below the water so was almost impossible to tell.
Ultimately M is killed by Silva and you know what — good! This might sound controversial but I don’t give a flying fuck about M. Sure, she’s played by Judy Dench who is a beloved actor but the character of M herself is distinctly unlikable and quite possibly deserves to die or to have never have lived at all. Think about it — she’s more than likely a rabid right-winger, possibly voted for Brexit and being head of the secret service has obviously issued the murdered of countless people across the globe and is more than likely a bigger, more vicious asshole than Bond will ever be. So I mean this with all respect but fuck M and violent, jingoistic attitudes she stands for and I hope her death was a slow and painful one.
Thankfully this means the film is over although Bond is now devastated by the death of M and grieves for her in the only way he knows how… by power stancing on top of her office.
God, I can’t stand ‘Skyfall’. It’s not that it isn’t technically well made by expert professionals but I find it turgid, pretentious, derivative and, worst of all, deathly dull. It lumbers under its own sense of self-importance, never able to take flight the way Bond films should.
Of course there is one Bond film which doesn’t take itself seriously in the slightest, sticks to Bond’s unique style and convictions, is rammed with action and as a result is spectacularly entertaining and takes flight so high you could almost say it Bond is in orbit… but that’s the Bond film I’ll be covering next time.
So, as they say, James Bond will return in ‘Moonraker’.