James Bond has never been more human than in Skyfall. He’s no longer the one-dimensional libidobot powered by Win-Dolls v0.0.7. of yore. Now he bleeds and sweats and even grows a mean five-o-clock shadow. Yes, he needs to shave. Wrap your head around that.
This is the latest movie to follow the recent trend in the franchise of what I think can accurately be called “Acid Bond” or, perhaps, “Revisionist Bond,” which purports to break apart the familiar characteristics of the series and turn them upside-down, while still maintaining the general Bond-ness of it all. Even the choice of actor to portray the protagonist seems rooted in deconstruction. Daniel Craig looks more like a weathered, sunburnt day laborer than the kind of smooth-skinned, classically handsome actor that’s been known to portray Bond in the old days. Actually, I don’t even know how women can be attracted to the guy. He looks like a melted marshmallow.
The movie has recently opened in the UK and other international markets, and since I live in one of those “other markets,” I have already watched it, so Americans reading this piece will be glad to know that you can and should get stoked in these two weeks before the movie gets there, because, I assure you, it rocks balls pretty hard.
Not as hard as Casino Royale, granted. This movie gets dangerously close to perfect, but it has very annoying shortcomings that aren’t major deal breakers but still hinder its path to greatness. Don’t take that to mean that those balls are having anywhere near a pleasant time, though, believe me. They’re being viciously rocked all right, the poor things.
So Bond has finally gotten over all that Vesper Lynd business and just when he is all ready to face the future with a new perspective on life, he gets plugged in the shoulder and is thrown from a moving train into the sea.
The MI6 moves on from his apparent demise, but the fact that Bond got his ass dead before he could recover a list of undercover agents working inside terrorist organizations around the world that was stolen from the Agency reflects poorly on M (Judi Dench), his boss, who is then third-degreed by the new head honcho of British spookdom, and has her ass on a sling. It is then thrown into a bigger sling when someone is able to hack MI6’s computer system and blow up the HQ. The nature of those attacks hints to a personal link to M’s past.
Bond, we then discover, has actually survived his predicament, and is currently enjoying the high life of boning ladies and bingeing on alcohol in a tropical paradise island somewhere in whatever the hell that is. When he gets the dope on the new developments back home from Wolf Blitzer in the TV of a local bar, though, he decides to end his convenient vacation and again lend his help to the secret service of Her Majesty. Back to work, he goes on a journey to discover the mind behind all these attacks, and finds out he’s up against the most fearsome gay guy (Javier Bardem) this world has seen since Buffalo Bill poodlerized innocent high school girls in his pit of horror, and eventually ends up more personally involved in a mission than ever before.
One proof of James’ new fallible nature is that the events that led him to be presumed dead have an actual toll not only on his body but also on his psyche. When going through the cursory exams to evaluate if he’s fit to go back to field work, we find out that no, he’s not fit, because he can’t complete the physical tests, can’t shoot straight and has a couple of screws loose in the noodle. He’s a wreck, to put it bluntly.
Desperate, though, M decides to send him into action anyway.
What follows is balls-to-the-wall action that, unlike the predecessor in the franchise, Quantum of Solace, actually lets up at certain points, giving us opportunity to catch our breaths and also providing efficient contrast that empowers the more exciting moments.
This new film is helmed by Sam Mendes, and it’s very much a Sam Mendes joint. It’s deliberately paced, slowly rising in momentum into the epic final act, which makes it much akin to other works of his like Road to Perdition and Jarhead. There are plenty of quiet moments throughout, devoid of any dialogue, that progress the plot and provide characterization purely with actions and not words.
It could be a masterpiece, a Bond movie to end all Bond movies, but, as I said, it has very annoying shortcomings, and they can be summed up as “too much silliness”.
I’m not saying the story, or the movie itself, are silly. There’s still the approximation of realism that’s been developed since Casino Royale, and even a good helping of politics thrown in the mix, but there are several silly moments, meant to provide comic relief, that instead dilute the emotional impact of the thing.
For one thing, there’s Javier Bardem’s character, the villain. I don’t know if gays should be offended by him. You watch and let me know. But one thing’s for sure: he’s pretty stereotypical. His monotone soft-spokeness is like a drill bit to the ear, on fire, and his flamboyant demeanor occasionally diminishes the perceived threat he poses.
Oh, he’s a psychopath all right, and he may be one of the most competent Bond villains to date. He’s a master computer hacker, physically fit and brutally efficient, a flawless strategist. He’s also tragic and has a strong motivation behind him. He comes close to being ominous and powerfully imposing, but that overt fruitiness is always there, like a kid prodding your seat behind you in the airplane, turning him almost into a parody.
Aside from that, there are many other goofy moments, involving almost every character. It’s like I was having a great meal at a restaurant, but they were having Larry The Cable Guy do his routine on stage, and I just couldn’t ignore it.
This may be an attempt by the movie to be a deconstruction while still harkening back to the old traditions of James Bond. Some familiar tropes and characters are back, including Mr. Chekhov’s gun himself: Q – Or Quartermaster, as he’s called here, and he’s one of the silliest characters. He’s not dispensing invisible cars and laser watches like he usually did — He even quips about it at one time – but, like the villain is a stereotypical gay guy, Q is a stereotypical nerdoid. Though he’s a British nerdoid, so, instead of Mountain Dew, he drinks Earl Grey.
All in all, though, the movie is lavishly poured with plentiful awesome sauce, culminating in one of the best third-act showdowns of all year. It’s very much worth watching.