I’ll admit to enjoying the spectacle of an action film but sometimes it feels the intellectual equivalent of downing a large Coke – all sugar and caffeine with no substance to keep you going after the hollow initial high. I really dig the Bourne movies since they manage to provide stunning reality-based action while still providing a plot you can remember and think about later. While both prior Daniel Craig Bond movies did deliver the action, I felt the plots were weak – an unfortunate trait for a majority of Bond films through the years. So would this latest Bond movie be just another dumb action movie with great visuals or would it be more Bourne like?
The answer is definitely more Bourne like. The villain actually seemed like a bad-ass and not just a cartoon character. Oh, Bardem’s Silva was an outsize character to be sure and a megalomaniac in the grand Bond tradition but my quiet laughter when the character was on the screen was out of enjoyment, not derision. The action was a little more reality-based than even prior Bond movies but probably still appropriately a little absurd, again, in the grand tradition of Bond.
I always like when Bond is not entirely solo on his missions (I liked Halle Berry’s agent in Die Another Day and Michelle’s Yeoh’s agent in Tomorrow Never Dies) so Naomie Harris as a fellow field agent Eve seemed like a great set up for a future recurring character. You also have to give credit to Judi Dench for making such a memorable incarnation of “M” and to the new “Q” for making the role nerdy but able to stand his own with Bond. Great locations too – Istanbul, Shanghai, Macau, subterranean London, and an abandoned industrial island.
And yet, the movie still managed to disappoint. First, Sévérine was killed too early in the movie. I suppose her execution helped define Silva’s character, but it felt too cold for Bond and for a role which provided such an intense introduction in the casino bar, going out without a word seemed too abrupt.
I thought Eve was going to end up as a recurring agent associate of Bond but she turned into desk jockey Moneypenny. The idea that she was trained a field agent and decided to get out of field work seems to make her overqualified for pushing the button on her desk to let “M” know that 007 has arrived. I always imagined Moneypenny’s backstory being more about her rise through the ranks of assistants rather than a field agent who could drive a car through crowded Istanbul streets and had weapons training. So to me, this reveal is a somewhat corrupting act.
The biggest problem is that the movie probably was about one quarter too long. The shootout during the public inquiry seemed like the right time to start the end of the movie. I liked that Gareth, Eve, and Bond all worked together to save M and the others in that room. But for that to have only been a setup for a country showdown that ran another half hour seemed silly. Instead, I think after Silva escaped the public inquiry and was driving in the getaway car, Bond should have chased him. M, who would have been wounded in that fight would have rallied and used her knowledge of Silva to figure out his next move so that she knew where the car chase would end, ultimately helping Bond kill Silva and then, yes, dying from her injury. Effectively, it would have been the same net result without helicopters, a country estate inexplicably named Skyfall, and Kincade. I’m a fan of Albert Finney, but really? A member of the Bond estate’s staff has stuck around for years and somehow this one guy barely blinks when he finds out he is going to be pressed into service as a soldier even though he doesn’t know what Bond actually does for work? If you really needed a knife in the back of Silva to happen in a chapel, that could have been where the car chase I described above ended and that whole scene would have been the same – just without Kincade removing his hat.
And I suppose a corollary issue is Bond’s backstory. I actually don’t mind learning about Bond’s backstory, but I think the script has it wrong. If I understand what I learned in the movie, Bond’s parents died long ago, perhaps before he was an adult and they were wealthy enough to have an estate with a staff. Now, all these years later, the property is still owned by some Bond legal entity and they now only employ one guy whose role at the property was not clear. (Wikipedia says he was a gamekeeper. Okay.) None of this seemed consistent with the backstory I had imagined for Bond. You could have told me that he was born poor in the city or that perhaps he was just from normal suburbia but wasn’t a normal kid, etc.. But coming from a wealthy family with an estate and and senior staff member who mentors him sounds too much like Batman and therefore too much like a superhero origin story and not enough like a proper Bond backstory.
Rating: 7 (out of 10)