Hey, I went to the movies! Second time this year! I miss it.
* Skyfall was good. I enjoyed it. I don’t understand the contention that it’s the best Bond movie ever. I’ve seen very few Bond movies but I can tell you that I enjoyed GoldenEye and Casino Royale and very probably Quantum of Solace more at the times I saw them in the theater than I enjoyed Skyfall yesterday.
* It reminded me an awful lot of the experience of watching The Avengers, which was the last time I actually went to a movie theater and bought a ticket and watched a movie, in that it was a good time overall with strong action sequences punctuating long boring stretches. Now, Skyfall‘s long boring stretches weren’t nearly as long or as boring as The Avengers. This movie’s non-battle character interactions were actually capable of making me laugh more than twice, and it was more accomplished as filmmaking on nearly every conceivable level, up to and including simply giving you lovely things to look at as often as it could, even when what was going on was otherwise a bit on the dull side, so in fact “boring” may be overstating the case. But yes, same overall pattern.
* The dullness was particularly dull in the long first third of the movie, following the opening sequence in which Bond appears to have fallen to his death. Since it’s unlikely that the rest of the film was going to play out in flashback, we knew he was still alive; since it’s a James Bond movie, we knew he’d be back on the job. Everything that led up to his resurrection and reinstatement, therefore, was just playing out the clock. You can get away with an awful lot when you have a set of strong, visually magnetic actors being all authoritative at one another, but that’s only papering over the lack of dramatic drive during this section.
* Kind of felt like a James Bond-fronted Christopher Nolan Batman movie cover band, didn’t? Numerous plot points and even specific mechanics and images were ported nearly wholesale from The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises. I don’t know enough about the film’s production history to tell if this was deliberate or a coincidence, and frankly don’t care enough to go look it up, but man was it striking. Javier Bardem playing the Joker made it all the more so. So did the identical “he let himself be captured” scenes, the calm supervillain in the isolated jail cell, two students of the same master, etc etc etc.
* What was up with the Evil Homosexual vibes from Silva in that one scene, by the way? I almost couldn’t believe my ears and eyes, it was so flagrant and anachronistic. Sure, it gave the movie a chance to imply that Bond has had homosexual experiences too, but that’s not really enough, is it. Also hinky: We’re not to think any less of M for handing Silva over to be tortured to death. It’s on him for not understanding!
* I’ve spent a lot of time giving everything from the Nolan Batman movies to Homeland the business for their ludicrous plot holes, so I’d like to point out to everyone that I’m not going to say a word about any of that here. The reason why is because this is a James Bond movie, and even if it’s in the more serious Daniel Craig mode, and even if fancy-pants director Sam Mendes is in charge, no one here has any delusions about what that means. Contrast it with Homeland, allegedly conceived as a sort of penance for its creators’ stint writing terrorists as supervillains and torturers as hard-man heroes on 24 yet increasingly driven by supervillainy and soap-operatic sloppiness itself; or with Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, which despite the marvelous villain performances and skyline photography in its final two installments spent so much time cultivating itself as an “adult” take on the superhero genre that it did nothing to enrich its inch-deep dorm-room philosophizing and a titular protagonist who’s frequently incidental to the advancement and resolution of the action. Live by Serious Business, die by Serious Business. This movie never did, to its great credit, and so there’s no need to put the boot in for how all of Silva’s fake/rogue cops know exactly which subway station he’ll be fleeing into and out of at every moment.
* What a pretty, painterly film! Again, the fact that it’s a James Bond movie cuts against the pretension of, say, having not one but two explicit homages to Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog. I haven’t seen a Sam Mendes film in a long long time, deliberately, but I must say I’m impressed by his use of all those lovely lovely rectangles of imagery. Bond overlooking the London skyline, the Romantic/Byronic Wanderer in the urban wilderness. Bond bound, his back to us, framed by row upon row of jerry-rigged computer mainframes. Bond in the mouth of the dragon. The Bond Girl forced to live out the William Tell routine against a backdrop of crumbled totalitarian sculpture. Fighting in silhouette against a backdrop of LED signage. You never knew what the next juicy morsel of eye candy would be, and that helped propel you through the slow spots. The use of silhouettes in particular also helped compensate for what I assume was Mendes’s inexperience in shooting action, not that you’d necessarily know it from watching the shootout in the hearing room or the opening motorcycle chase or the showdown at Skyfall.
* Komodo dragons! I love love love that they didn’t limit Bond’s “you gotta be kidding me” look to a single shot — he kept looking at the thing incredulously for several seconds, even when busy getting flipped upside-down by his opponent.
* Ben Whishaw as Q: They’re casting roles in blockbuster franchises directly for Tumblr at this point, aren’t they?
* Extremely good-looking people are almost like aliens. Daniel Craig as Bond is one of the most iconic examples of ugly-pretty’s male division since Jagger; the man wears a suit impossibly well, and hell, the movie was basically built around how he looks much older than he is. Clever of them to leave that just-graying stubble intact for so much of the movie as well. And Berenice Marlohe as his ill-fated entry point into Silva’s world — when they’re having that conversation in the casino, her features were so perfectly, oddly symmetrical and striking she seemed like a special effect. Which of course is how Bond Girls are employed, historically, but seeing the two of them together like that really brought it home.
* Her beauty is less unusual or otherworldly, but I also thought this was the best I’ve ever seen Naomie Harris look. Making Moneypenny a genuine peer of Bond’s does a lot to right the ship.
* I didn’t feel at all cheated by the climactic battle sequence, which is almost unheard of in the major franchises these days. With the possible exception of the out-of-nowhere sudden paramount importance of Bond’s gamekeeper, which I didn’t mind because it was Albert Finney with a beard and a shotgun, everything was properly weighted from a dramatic perspective as well as cohesive and coherent and intelligible as action. Nice work, gang.
* Silva pretty much won, right? He killed M. He died not knowing it, though, and I suppose that’s what matters.
* How nice to watch a big action movie in which details of framing, editing, and sound design matter. Proper superspy storytelling requires its leads to be aware of the people on their periphery, the sounds beneath the sounds, the corner you’ll turn two corners from now; proper superspy filmmaking requires the same, and the deft touch necessary to nudge the audience in the direction its characters are headed, just a couple paces behind. Simple things like Bond asking Séverine about her “friends,” and then oh look, a couple of goons are standing out-of-focus over her shoulder in the distance — so deeply pleasurable to me. Bond is nothing if not a cinema of pleasure.
* PS: This is as good an excuse as any to direct you to my review of the three Matt Damon Bourne movies and the previous two Daniel Craig Bond movies, probably my single favorite piece of film writing I’ve done for this blog. Hope you dig it.