CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: SKYFALL (2012)
By Michael Arruda & Nick Cato
(The Scene: On top of a moving train, MICHAEL ARRUDA is fighting with a thug. On a hill in the distance, NICK CATO aims a high powered rifle at them.)
NICK CATO (speaking into a headset): I don’t have a clear shot.
L.L. SOARES’ voice on other end of the headset: Take the shot.
NC: But I might hit Michael!
MICHAEL ARRUDA (hearing conversation on his headset): So??? Gee, thanks a lot! You want a clear shot? Here, you’ve got one! (MA stops fighting, pastes a large bull’s-eye on the thug’s chest and steps away from him.) There you go. He’s all yours.
(Thug drops to his stomach.)
MA: What the—?
(Train enters tunnel, and a standing MA hits the top of the tunnel, which knocks him off train into the water below.)
NC: Oops! That’s not good.
LS: What happened? Did you shoot anyone?
LS: Any blood and gore involved?
LS: Then it’s all too tame for me. I’m leaving. Catch you guys later.
(NC takes off his headset, just as MA appears in dry clothing.)
NC: Weren’t you just in the water?
MA: It’s amazing how quickly one dries off in Cinema Knife Fight land. It’s like being in a movie with bad continuity. Ready to review today’s movie?
NC: Sure. And I apologize for shooting you, but I was just following L.L.’s orders.
MA: No problem. Today we’re reviewing SKYFALL (2012) the latest James Bond movie and the third one featuring Daniel Craig as Agent 007.
SKYFALL opens with James Bond (Daniel Craig) chasing a bad guy who has in his possession a computer drive of extreme value. They end up fighting on top of a train, while another agent, Eve (Naomie Harris), tries to shoot the villain, but hesitates because she doesn’t have a clear shot and worries she might hit Bond. M (Judi Dench) orders her to take the shot, and she does, hitting Bond in the process, and he plunges into the water below, presumed dead.
NC: At first I thought a train-top fight was a bit cliché to open a Bond film with, but director Mendes really made this one work.
MA: Yeah, it’s a pretty intense scene.
Anyway, since this is a James Bond movie, he’s not dead, and after lying low for a while, he returns to MI6 to help his boss deal with the latest threat to national security. The stolen computer drive contained the names of agents working in some very dangerous places, and so now their identities have been compromised. It’s Bond’s job to locate the computer drive and also find out who’s responsible for stealing it.
It turns out the villain is a man named Silva (Javier Bardem), a former agent of M’s who wants nothing more than to get back at her, because he feels her ruthlessness left him for dead, similar to what we saw happen with Bond in the movie’s opening segment. So, Silva releases the names of several of the agents to the public, and promises to continue to do this on a regular basis, putting them in harm’s way, all in an effort to humiliate M.
Silva also plans an elaborate scheme to kill M, and of course, it’s up to James Bond to stop him.
NC: I thought Bardem did a fine job as Silva, and his homoerotic taunting of 007 gave him a dimension we haven’t seen in a Bond film before.
MA: Yep, that was an excellent scene! Some people squirmed, others laughed out loud. Very effective.
NC: But, at the same time, I think early reviews painting him as one of the best Bond villains ever is a bit of a stretch.
MA: That’s definitely a stretch.
NC: Silva’s on a personal vendetta against, M, not so much on a mission to destroy the globe like a classic Bond enemy. (That said, the sequence of MI6 headquarters being blown up was quite intense). He’s off his rocker, that’s for sure, but to me he wasn’t half as threatening as most of the goons Bond has gone up against over the years.
SKYFALL is being touted in some circles as “the best Bond movie ever,” and while I liked this movie, it’s certainly not the best Bond ever. I wouldn’t even call it my favorite Daniel Craig Bond film. While I liked it, I also had some problems with it.
NC: I can’t stand early reviews that label things the “best ever.” Regardless, I still went in with an open mind and was surprised at just how much of the film I found myself…bored with.
MA: One thing I’ve always liked about the Daniel Craig Bond movies is the way they’ve reinvented the franchise. Since Daniel Craig has come on board, the films have showcased a darker, more realistic Bond, and the results have been similar to what Christopher Nolan did for Batman in THE DARK KNIGHT trilogy.
Speaking of which, I was reminded a few times of THE DARK KNIGHT while watching SKYFALL. We learn more about Bond’s past, how he’s an orphan and how he lost his parents at a young age, a la Bruce Wayne, and when he returns home he even finds a faithful servant Kincade (Albert Finney) still living there. Can anyone say “Alfred”?
NC: I have a love/hate relationship with what little we’ve learned about Bond this time, from his parents’ early death to his alcoholism. They’ve made Bond a more “real” character since Craig has taken the lead, and while it has been refreshing at times, I still find myself yearning for that suave, in-control, “man-up” Bond of yesteryear.
MA: Also, at times, the villain Silva reminded me of the Joker in THE DARK KNIGHT as it seemed to be his plan to cause utter chaos, and in fact, one of his ploys, to get captured on purpose, comes right out of the Joker’s playbook. But Silva’s nowhere near as interesting as the Joker, and I have to say, SKYFALL, as good as it is, is no DARK KNIGHT.
The cast is solid, and on paper, it’s an excellent cast. Daniel Craig is a natural as James Bond, and I liked him immediately in the role in CASINO ROYALE (2006). That being said, he seems to have aged here, which is part of the plot, I guess. CASINO ROYALE opens with him making his first professional kills, hence beginning his 00 status, meaning he now has a license to kill. Here, in SKYFALL, he’s close to retirement, and his abilities constantly come into question. Again, there were shadows of THE DARK KNIGHT series here, which went on to feature an older, beat up Batman. With that in mind, I found Craig’s performance less satisfying here. It seemed to be lacking that efficient edge he held the first two times around, when he came off like a killing machine. Here, he’s like a killing machine in need of an oil change. He seems to be missing a step.
NC: Agreed. And while I’m a big fan of M as played by Judi Dench (who, by the way, is absolutely fantastic here), Bond seems to be a bit too close to her this time, following her around like a lost puppy. Of course, her life is in danger and Bond gives his all to protect her (especially during the way too long finale), but that little bit of rebellion 007 always had going on is lost in the shuffle here. He comes off as just another agent within MI6’s arsenal, but if the ending is any indication, things look like he may be getting back to business in the next film.
MA: Yes, once again, Judi Dench is great as M, and she seems to have more screen time in each successive Bond movie. She first played M back in GOLDENEYE (1995), Pierce Brosnan’s first foray into the series. Her M is certainly more integral to the plots of these movies than the original M, Bernard Lee, who simply showed up to give Sean Connery and Roger Moore their assignments. That being said, if you go back to those original Connery Bonds, you’ll see some very memorable scenes between Connery’s Bond and Lee’s M where M was continually frustrated with how much Bond seemed to know about every subject on the planet. It was a running gag in that series.
NC: And part of my problem with the Craig series is M doesn’t seem to see that in Bond. Perhaps they want us to understand that 007 is only human (hence the “realism” of the latest films)? Either way it’s little nuances like this that seem to be making Bond less of a super spy and more of a typical agent. Some are enjoying it. I’m still on the fence and hoping we’ll again see the fine balance that was displayed in CASINO ROYALE (2006).
MA: Javier Bardem as Silva makes for a very colorful villain, but he’s nowhere near as memorable as he was in his Oscar winning performance as the hit man in NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN (2007). And while I liked Silva as a villain, he seems a little out of place here. Again, these Daniel Craig Bond films are a gritty, realistic lot, and the villains in the first two movies were also dark and realistic. Silva is two steps shy of the Joker, missing only some facial make-up. Not exactly the most realistic fellow for Bond to lock horns with.
NC: Silva’s mission to destroy MI6 and M herself is surely a different thing for Bond to deal with. But when Bond villains aim their sights low, the films lose their epic feel. Look at 1989’s LICENSE TO KILL, where Bond (played for the second and last time by Timothy Dalton) goes after drug kingpin Sanchez (Robert Davi) after he kills two of his personal friends. While the film wasn’t as bad as many claim, Davi wasn’t after anything other than making money with a new way to transport cocaine, hence making him one of the more forgettable Bond villains. I feel Silva’s personal mission to wipe out MI6 (in years to come) won’t be as memorable as many are giving it credit for. As goofy as Hugo Drax (from 1979’s MOONRAKER) appeared, his hell-bent goal to attack the world’s cities with chemical bombs from space isn’t something one easily forgets. Silva has a creepy laugh (and a nifty, hidden facial disfiguration), but he left me quite underwhelmed.
MA (cringing): Not Hugo Drax! But you’re right, at least he had an ambitious goal, worthy of a supervillain.
MA: Naomie Harris is okay as the latest Bond girl Eve, and I really enjoyed Ben Whishaw (most recently in CLOUD ATLAS) as a new young Q. Rory Kinnear also reprises his role as Tanner, M’s assistant from the last movie, and does a nice job. Kinnear is the son of late actor Roy Kinnear, who appeared in so many British movies over the years before his untimely death on the set of THE RETURN OF THE MUSKETEERS (1989) in 1988.
Ralph Fiennes is also on hand as Gareth Mallory, the man who’s put in the position of telling M her days on job are numbered and she should retire, and he makes the most of his scenes. Rounding out the cast is veteran Albert Finney who does a nice job as Alfred—er, Kincade.
NC: I enjoyed Bérénice Lim Marlohe as Severine, who gives the film that classic touch of Bond-girl mystique and sophistication. She’s a real treat for the eyes, although her screen time here is a bit limited. I thought Ben Whishaw was good as the new Q, too, but I’m hoping future films will contain more classic “gadget” segments. Q tells Bond (after handing him a gun and a small radio), “Were you expecting an exploding pen? We don’t do that anymore.” I hope the kid was just joking.
(Q appears and approaches them.)
Q: I never joke about my work.
NC: Bring back the cool gadgets!
Q: You’ll have to talk to the screenwriters about that one. (Exits).
NC: As a tease, when Bond manages to get M away from danger, he takes her to a hidden MI6 garage and pulls out in the classic Aston Martin DB5, first seen in GOLDFINGER (1964), which caused 007 geeks like myself to squeal aloud in super-nerd glee.
MA: SKYFALL was directed by Sam Mendes. This one looks great with some very impressive foreign locales, but I thought it was short on action. I liked the film’s opening pre-credit chase scene, which culminates on the top of the moving train, as I thought it was amazing and intense, but other than this, the actions scenes were few and far between.
NC: Most Bond films are sprinkled with sections of non-action, but usually they’re interesting. After SKYFALL’s spectacular opening train fight, the film goes to sleep for far too long, and the ending shoot-out (that reminded me of a typical Western, only with better firepower) became way too tedious.
MA: I did like the chase in the subway, and the attack on M in London was very suspenseful, but like you, I thought the finale, the armed assault on Bond’s family home, was anticlimactic.
The screenplay was written by Bond veterans Neal Purvis and Robert Wade. This is the fifth Bond film they’ve written, the first being the Pierce Brosnan film THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH (1999). They’ve written every one since. The third writer in the credits is John Logan, who has written a wide variety of movies, including HUGO (2011).
I was hot and cold on the script. The story itself—a crazed former agent out to kill M— I thought was just OK. At times it works, but more often than not it wasn’t all that exciting. I wanted more of a threat to the world, not just M.
MA: One scene I did like was M’s speech, where she talks about the changing threats the world faces today, how today’s threats aren’t on a map. They’re in the shadows, and you don’t always know who your enemies are. Too bad in this one they knew exactly who their enemy was.
NC: M’s speech reminded me a bit of President Bush’s speech shortly after 9/11, which I guess the screenwriters figured would give the series modern relevance.
MA: Thomas Newman’s music score was very effective. I thought I would miss the music of David Arnold, who’s been doing a phenomenal job scoring these films since TOMORROW NEVER DIES (1997), but I didn’t.
NC: It was great to hear the classic Bond theme when the Aston Martin came into play, though. And while I’m not a fan of the title song, I have to admit Adele nails that classic 60s-style Bond feel with her opening track.
MA: Yes, that opening track, which I also heard from folks as the best James Bond theme song ever! What is up with all this “best of” stuff? I think fans were really in need of their James Bond fix this time around! For the record, I wasn’t that impressed with the song.
There were also some good uses of humor, such as one scene involving Bond, M, and the ejector seat.
In general, I like how the Daniel Craig films are more modern, fit in better with current times, and are nowhere near as unbelievable as the Pierce Brosnan films ultimately became.
NC: Hey! The Brosnan films did get a bit silly, but man was GOLDENEYE (1995) great!
MA: But somehow, SKYFALL has less of an edge than the previous two Daniel Craig Bond movies. The plot’s not as good or as tight, and the majority of the scenes simply aren’t as intense. I definitely wanted the villain Silva to do more. I mean, all this planning—years of planning, they say in the movie— just to get back at M? Why not just shoot her and be done with it? If you’re going to concoct this elaborate scheme, why not come up with something more ambitious?
NC: And this is exactly what Mike Myers made fun of in his AUSTIN POWERS films: if you’re going to make the series more “modern,” knock it off with the bad guys’ intricate planning and just get down to business.
(AUSTIN POWERS zips by in a motor boat.)
AUSTIN POWERS: Oh, be-have, baby! Be-have!
MA: And this ultimately is what SKYFALL is missing: something grand and ambitious. Silva should have been planning the ultimate terrorist attack, and it should have been up to 007 to thwart him.
NC: Silva reminded me a bit of Jonathan Price’s far more threatening cyber terrorist Elliot Carver, from 1997’s TOMORROW NEVER DIES, only working on a much smaller scale.
MA: I liked SKYFALL, but it’s not the best Bond ever, not by a long shot. I give it three knives.
NC: SKYFALL has its moments, but overall I was disappointed. The scenery (especially during a silhouetted fight on the top floor of a Shanghai tower) is often excellent, and much of the cinematography is very well done (such as the aforementioned train-attack scene). Regardless, I found this to be the slowest moving Bond caper since 1985’s A VIEW TO A KILL and far from the best film in the series. CASINO ROYALE (2006) is still easily Craig’s best turn as 007.
I give it two knives.
MA: Well, I guess you were more disappointed with it than I was. In spite of its shortcomings, I still enjoyed seeing Daniel Craig as James Bond on the big screen. It’s just that after all the hype, I expected it to be even better.
Well, that about wraps things up here. Want a ride back to town?
(MA & NC approach a parked Aston Martin. MA tosses NC the keys.)
MA: Why don’t you drive?
(They drive away in the Aston Martin as James Bond theme plays.)
NC: Hey, what’s this button?
MA: That’s the— (screams) Ejector seat!!! (flies into the sky.)
(MA lands back in the water.)
NC: There’s something symmetrical about all this.
© Copyright 2012 by Michael Arruda and Nick Cato
Michael Arruda gives SKYFALL ~ three knives!
Nick Cato gives SKYFALL ~two knives.