Written by: Kristen Lopez, Editor in Chief
I’m a bit late to the party, but I finally saw Skyfall! In the interest of full disclosure I’ve only seen five James Bond films (including this) with the majority being the Daniel Craig installments. With that being said I didn’t love Skyfall. It’s a superior effort compared to Quantum of Solace, but it’s a far cry from Casino Royale. The plot seems too dry, content to rely on a pasteboard old vs. new traditions conceit, and the villain played by Javier Bardem seems cut from another movie. He’s good, but he’s too campy for this film. I understood what director Sam Mendes and crew were trying to do: kick start Bond after the disastrous Quantum, but open the door to blend in the tropes of the old series, but I think that might be impossible at this point. Skyfall is a good movie, but it’s only a good James Bond movie. ***NOTE I WILL BE SPOILING ELEMENTS OF THIS FILM, SO IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN SKYFALL READ WITH DISCRETION***
After a mission in Turkey ends with James Bond (Craig) shot and left for dead, he must come back to help M (Judi Dench) after MI-6 is attacked. In uncovering the mystery of whose out to get M, Bond comes up against the mysterious Silva (Bardem) who holds a grudge against the head of the 00 program.
I know I mentioned the incompatibility for this series to try to kick start a new direction of Bond movies by relying on what worked in the old series; and that’s probably not the best thing for me to say, considering I haven’t seen nearly enough of the series in its 50 year history. The issue lies in how heavy-handed the script, penned by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, and John Logan, is with this question of new vs. old. Obviously the main crux of the film lies in M being retired from the program by an upstart named Mallory (Ralph Fiennes), but there are other heavy-handed jokes like Bond mentioning the latest technology is radio. The audience knows that not all technology that’s old is not usable. We know that not everything about the Bond series in its 50 year history is stale, but what is the end-game in all of this? The film ends with M’s death, and her replacement being Mallory so you don’t have to change to a new letter.
I have a huge problem with this change in direction as the series seems to be saying “We’re going back to what works.” I get that Quantum wasn’t a huge blockbuster, but I blame that more on the writer’s strike more than anything else. Honestly, why do we need to change directions at all? I know people compare this to the Bourne series, and I did enjoy how Skyfall didn’t have Bond using parkour or acting like a machine. Hell, the entire third act has him rigging a house like he’s Kevin McAllister in Home Alone. Bond’s ingenuity is what’s gotten him this far and I applaud the series for going back to that. I also loved Bond’s one-liners that have been sorely missed from the series. Here, they weren’t too corny but just enough to make you smile.
I’m diverging; let’s get back to why killing M ruins everything. Up until Judi Dench’s arrival as M, first appearing in 1995’s GoldenEye, M had been played by men. For a series that’s taken its jabs for sexualizing women, having a woman run British Intelligence was a huge leap forward. By that same token, Dench’s M was the one woman able to resist Bond’s charms. Skyfall does have her being strong in the first half of the film, but by the second half she’s a defenseless old woman who the audience pities. When she dies, it has the weight of a kindly grandmother dying; not the woman who’s been Bond’s boss for all these years. To replace her with Fiennes is to have the film say “she worked for a time, but men worked better in the original series!” Adding in Naomie Harris as Moneypenny is even more unflattering as she’s so forgettable I didn’t see her as anything more than another of Bond’s sexual conquests. Nice to know that apparently landed her a high-placed job. The other Bond girl in this film is given even shorter shrift.
It’s been written in a few other blogs about the demise of Severine (Berenice Marlohe), Silva’s girlfriend. I found it shocking to actually witness. Severine is revealed to have been a child sex slave from the age of twelve. She’s terrified of Silva and wants Bond to kill him. Of course Bond takes advantage of the situation by sleeping with Severine only to watch her be taken by Silva’s men. In an ode to “William Tell,” Bond has to shoot a glass of Scotch off the top of her head. He thankfully misses, but Silva kills her anyway. Silva asks Bond for last words for her to which Bond retorts it’s a waste of good Scotch. I mentioned praising the return of the one-liners, but it’s beyond poor taste here. If you don’t want me to identify with this girl don’t give her such a tragic back-story. The fact she’s given about 10 minutes of screen time heightens the screenwriters desire for you not to care about her, but you really can’t considering this girl has probably been brutalized her entire life.
I will say Silva saves this movie entirely. Bardem plays the character so crazy and flamboyant he makes Anton Chigurh look like Santa Clause. I’ve never believed that Bond could be sexually assaulted until I saw this film, and boy is that scene fantastic. I did wonder why Silva wasn’t revealed until over an hour into the movie, and by then he’s given maybe about 50 minutes of screen time. He doesn’t have a lot of time to make a presence, and it’s a testament to Bardem’s acting that he makes you remember him. Before his arrival though the film is pretty boring; he livens it up considerably. I did wonder if this marks a return of the campy Bond villain a la GoldFinger or Dr. No? Silva is way over-the-top moving into Joker territory, and he’s so fantastic that you start to wonder if he’s in the wrong movie. Cutting from him talking about “mommy was very bad” to Dench giving an astounding speech in front of the Prime Minister feels like something out of Dark Knight Rises. What I’m trying to say is this need to combine old, camp villains, with real-world issues doesn’t work all that well.
You might say I’m being too harsh, but I had to mourn this new turn of direction. Skyfall truly feels like the end of the Bond franchise as I know it, and I shudder to think where things are going. Director Sam Mendes never makes this film feel like something he’s behind, making me wonder if we’re returning to stock directors churning these out. Bardem makes the film great, but when he’s not around things feel cold and bland.
Author: Kristen Lopez, Editor in Chief
Kristen Lopez is the editor-in-chief of CC2K and a freelance pop culture essayist. Her work has appeared on Roger Ebert, The Hollywood Reporter, and The Daily Beast. When she’s not burning down Film Twitter she runs two podcasts, the female-centric film show Citizen Dame, and the classic film-themed Ticklish Business.