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Sunday, March 03, 2013

I liked SKYFALL more than I thought I would. It is a truly gorgeous picture, from the very first shot where a blurry Bond approaches camera, steps briefly into the light, and then charges off into shadows. The things I remember Bond films for are all the spectacles -- a car doing a 360 twist as it vaults a canal, Bond's Union Jack parachute, the laser cuttings its slow way towards his crotch, the eject button in the Aston Martin, the spaceship-eating-spaceship. But I can't remember seeing a Bond movie before where I thought, wow, that is really a lovely shot.

Which goes to show:  the Oscars did their job in promoting a nominee.

It is still a funny hybrid, this new Bond. The Bond franchise had got really silly and preposterous -- basically the plots were trellises to hang stunts off.

I once heard an interview with Pierce Brosnan, where he said, "Some of us actors can play anyone. The rest of us have this one thing that we hone and hone. I, for example, can wear a suit."

With Daniel Craig the producers picked a guy who projected an inner toughness. They made him a little less invincible, and less cocky. They took away his exploding pens. They allow him to get beat, and not just at the end of the second act, where he was traditionally taken prisoner.

It's an interesting choice, and an interesting direction to take the series. (I guess we can start talking about it as you would a TV series. Lord knows there have been enough episodes.)

The challenge, of course, is that Bond is still a fundamentally silly franchise. Nobody's watching him for his existential crisis. We're watching a ninja.

(Possibility of SPOILERS up ahead, not that you wouldn't have guessed everything everything when you were watching the movie.)

So, you have this tougher new Bond, who isn't an elegant manbot. When he feels betrayed, he can abandon his duty and go on a bender. And you still get to see the beautiful spectacles -- the train crashing through the hole in the ceiling, the motorcycle chase along the rooftops.

They don't quite go together. The plot is full of silly. There's the bad guy who wants to punish M, but goes about it in the most roundabout, baroque way possible, rather than just, say, kidnapping her from her flat and torturing her, which could not have been harder to achieve than his actual plot. And of course the bad guy is apprehended with surprising ease, but then it turns out he planned being captured (or possibly just planned for being captured, I wasn't clear), and the head techie at MI6 is dumb enough to plug his laptop into MI6's computer network, and the room in which he's being held happens to have an escape hatch into the sewers.

And then Bond takes M to his Stately Manor House with the intention of having a confrontation with the bad guy, not bothering to pick up a single sniper rifle along the way, or notify the SAS.

And then Bond, who did all this in order to protect M, completely fails in his mission. It's a beautiful moment, but hey, Bond failed. And that's never brought up or dealt with.

But why am I trying to pick holes in a Bond plot? They're not meant to be taken seriously, are they? After AUSTIN POWERS: INTERNATIONAL MAN OF MYSTERY and THE INCREDIBLES, who needs to remark that there are easier and surer ways to kill a hero than lowering him slowly into a pool of mutant sea bass? I've got a gun, I'll just go get it. --Shhht!

Because they have opened up the franchise to be taken seriously. If Bond is drinking beer now, and growing stubble, and getting shot, then he is taking a few steps in the direction of being an actual human being, as opposed to a Savile Row suit that Pierce Brosnan puts on and wears oh so well.

I found myself enjoying the movie, but not really in an engaged way. I found myself going, Oh, that's a lovely shot. But I was torn between the two horns of the hybrid. On the one hand the movie asked me to treat it as a real story, not just a bucket of eye candy. But on the other hand the plot was still utterly preposterous in a way that really, it did not have to be. After all, half of the movie makes some kind of sense. You could make a spectacular Bond movie where Bond getting trapped in a safe house without artillery was a result of pressure from the bad guy, rather than a cinematically lovely choice that no eight year old Call of Duty veteran would ever make.

Or, you could just go back to the eye candy Bonds, where we're never asked to take anything seriously, ever. Those are fun, too.

Obviously this movie worked for a lot of people. Lots of people swallowed the contradictions without worrying about it. After all, if you do something fundamentally flawed well enough, it can still work on many levels. Daniel Craig has a tremendous presence on screen, the supporting cast was superb, the spectacles were terrific, and the cinematography was a delight.

But if you're planning a mashup of some kind, especially if you don't have Daniel Craig and $200 million, do look at the internal contradictions between the things you're mashing up. You can get a lot of hybrid vigor. But you can also wind up with a movie at odds with itself. 


I wondered what Bond's ghillie had lived on during all those years in an abandoned house... Least he could have done was round up his friends with duck guns via cell phone, or the local constabulary....

By Blogger Jack, at 8:02 PM  

Ah, now, that would have been a much more fun finale.

By Blogger Alex Epstein, at 10:35 PM  

It's interesting how Skyfall took the same approach as The Dark Knight Rises. They both showed the hero at his worst. Effective use of narrative.

By Blogger Ty, at 3:38 PM  

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