Friday, November 23, 2012

Skyfall

If you haven't seen this movie yet, this is a warning that there may be spoilers scattered throughout this post.

Skyfall, the latest James Bond movie, opens with a lengthy sequence in which Bond and a fellow-worker (Naomie Harris) chase one of the more important and less anonymous baddies - Patrice - through one of the innumerable foreign countries that feature in the movie.  This was Turkey, by the look of it, but that was scarcely important.  What was important was the wreckage of everything in sight, (some shots will have VW lovers weeping), the chasing on motorcycles and in cars - one breathtaking sequence has the two motorcyclists sweeping across the roofs of the bazaar, and of course eventually crashing down into it- and finally a struggle between Bond and the baddie on top of a train, which most inconveniently keeps going into tunnels.  This opening is not only Bond-moviemaking at its best, but superb in every sense.  Not a shot is wasted, things coming flying at the audience with choreographed ease, people get in the road (and rapidly out of the road) and all the mechanical things do their best to make a mess of all the other mechanical things.

We get a breather while the credits roll by, surprisingly casually for credits that arrive some ten minutes into the movie.  Behind the credits are animated sequences that incorporate themes and material from the movie still to come, and then we're off again.

Bond, who 'dies' rather inconveniently before the credits, turns up again (how could he not?) and sets off after Patrice in yet another foreign location; this time it's Shanghai, which looks gorgeous by night.  (The cinematography is superb throughout.)  There's a rather daft sequence in which Bond tries to get back something of considerable importance that's been stolen from M16, and he and Patrice play out their cat and mouse game against shimmering glass and enormous neon signs before someone is shot in the building next door and Bond disposes of Patrice.  Now from this point on, the structure of the movie seems to lose its way.  That's not to say that the set pieces are any less bravura (a tube train crashing through the roof is a fairly spectacular sight) but they whys and wherefores of the plotting aren't quite up to the other things that happen in the movie.

With Patrice dead we might be at a loss for a real baddie.  After all, Patrice was pretty anonymous, and spent most of his time running.  There's a kind of gap in which Bond rather off-handedly pursues a beautiful woman (played by Bérénice Marlohe), finds her, and is warned off by him because the real baddie of the film is her guardian, and she's terrified of him.  This scene is odd: Marlohe seems uncomfortable somehow - it's only as the scene progresses that we discover that under her seductive charms she's terribly afraid.  However, what comes across to the audience, I felt, is an actress who isn't confident of what she's trying to portray.  

Finally, Bond meets the big baddie, Javier Bardem, and quite honestly, he's a bit of a let-down.  He just doesn't have the class to be a Bond villain.  Admittedly he always seems to be one step ahead of everyone, and has everything planned to ridiculous perfection, but in the big climax, he drops into ranting and raving like someone who doesn't quite know what to do next.  When we first meet him, he has a long speech as he strolls towards Bond, and towards the camera.  For me, Bardem's timing is off; the speech doesn't work, and he pauses 'significantly' rather too often, losing tension.  He doesn't exude the real menace that a Bond villain should possess, and you get the feeling that as soon as Bond gets his hands untied, he'll deal with this wannabe baddie in a matter of moments.  He doesn't even have the usual Bond-film henchman to cause additional trouble.  Alongside the coterie of British actors (this film not only has the inimitable Judi Dench in it, but also Ralph Fiennes (Voldemort himself), Albert Finney (briefly at the end), Ben Whishaw as the new-look Q, and the aforementioned Naomie Harris, who has a much better romantic scene with Bond than Marlohe does, and steals the latter's thunder.   Alongside these, Bardem is a bit of a patsy.  Even the woman playing the politician, the redoubtable Helen McCroy, is a good deal more menacing than Bardem.

So much for the villain.  The flaws in the movie aren't enough to let it down, and it cracks along at a terrific pace for its full 143 minutes.  It's worth seeing for the opening sequence along, which is much better handled than the one at the beginning of Quantum of Solace, where the editing was so irritating you couldn't figure out what was going on most of the time.  

The Daniel Craig Bond movies have been a bit of a mixed bag, though Craig himself makes an excellent Bond, for my money.  He's certainly a good deal more serious than most of his predecessors (though even if he does lack the humour of Connery and Brosnan, this film takes the mickey out of the Bond series on more than a few occasions), but he exudes a tension that feels like it could explode any minute.  The sex scenes in these three movies are rather under par (although not when you look back at the embarrassing Connery ones), and in this latest one in particular, make little impact.  And there are awkwardnesses about the structure: the lengthy coda in Casino Royale seemed to be tacked on to the main film, and the best parts of this movie are in the first three-quarters, with the climax not quite hitting the mark.

But given those issues, these three films exhibit top quality film making of the blockbuster kind.  Every inch has been fine-tuned: the photography, the editing, the music, the sound effects, the visual effects, the stunts.  None of these areas let the films down.  In general the actors are strong and well-cast, and the directors take the whole schemozzle and pull all its elements into place.   For $11.50 (pensioners' price) you certainly get your money's worth!



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