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Either the Internet Is Wrong About Skyfall or I Am

I'M GETTIN' TOO OLD FOR THIS SHIT SO I'M JUST GONNA LIE DOWN AND JUST CLOSE MY EYES FOR A SEC

I returned from the movie theater last night, having just seen Skyfall, the most recent outing in the award winning James Bond movie franchise, and the first thing I did was load Rotten Tomatoes.  Upon loading it, I confirmed what I already knew: the movie had a 91% approval rating from a conglomeration of diverse movie critics, suggesting the type of near-universal acclaim generally reserved for Pixar movies and Batman reboots.  I scrolled down the page, scanning the blurbs of appreciative text accompanying the more positive reviews: “Dark, supple and punctuated” or “Exciting and commandingly compelling,” or “Samuel Fucking Mendes!” for example.  I checked the aggregate score again, which was still 91%, then loaded the IMDB page where I noted the 8.1 score, strong enough to put it in the Top 250 movies of all time, as judged by the internet, and higher than 8 1/2, Rocky and The Exorcist, among countless others.  I was confused, head spinning.  I poured a drink from my parents’ complimentary liquor cabinet and cross referenced all of this with the experience I just had at the Hampton Bays United Artists Cinemas, concluding that either the entire Internet is wrong, or I am.

Before we get too far into it, let’s set the stage regarding my biases and where I’m coming from so you have some context for the rest of this entry:  I liked Casino Royale, believing it to be the best 007 film since Goldeneye, but thought Quantum of Solace was the worst since whatever disaster came just before Casino Royale; I think Daniel Craig is a pretty good Bond, although he isn’t a very natural-looking sprinter and I can’t help but imagine people on set being like “God, can we get him some fucking sprinting lessons?”; I’m predisposed to hate everything; I don’t really get the big fuss about Sam Mendes, who is apparently an AUTEUR although his only good movie was American Beauty and if the Academy could do it over they’d probably give the Oscar to Election because that floating plastic bag didn’t really affect the culture the way everybody in 1999 assumed it would.

CHANGING THE CULTURE

In all the critical reviews and comments I’ve come across, these aspects (reboot, actor, director) are of course frequently mentioned (the sprinting, strangely, is not) – especially with regards to where Craig ranks in the pantheon of Bond actors or whether the new, gritty Bond movies are preferable to the old, fun Bond movies.  Most of the tension one can observe on the internet between reviewers, especially negative reviewers, and commenters/proles is characterized by the commenters attacking the reviewers for either their apparent inability to appreciate action film excellence or commenters criticizing critics for not liking a film that other critics liked.  Critics’ various points about dramatic and narrative deficiencies are almost universally ignored as RT users adopt the “you don’t get it” or “you’re a dick” method of internet commentary.  My favorite commenter was lobbing f-bombs and you’retoostupidtogetitwhydon’tyousuckadick-bombs at unimpressed reviewers on or about November 6th, two days before the movie premiered in North America.  The commenter, of course, is American and he is my hero.

For those who have not yet seen the film, but are predisposed to trust Rotten Tomatoes percentages or to be swayed by the robust masculinity of commenters who assay entire reviews and ultimately determine dickishness on the part of the critic, make no mistake: Skyfall has serious problems.

Skyfall opens with Bond and a pretty black sidekick in North Africa (who may or may not be revealed in the end to be Robin!), trying to secure a list of undercover agent identities that has been compromised.  Within sixty seconds of the cold opening, we have our first action sequence (phew, people were getting antsy), as Bond and his quarry propel themselves ludicrously on motorcycleback across the rooftops of “the Bazaar,” in some cases piloting their bikes at top speed while maintaining balance on a surface that cannot be much wider than three feet.  I understand that 007 is supposed to be quite jolly good at everything, but an action hero whose skill level is such that feats like this are possible within the first two minutes of a movie, before any sort of coherent narrative action is established, isn’t an action hero I’m particularly interested in.  We all know that Bond is going to get-his-man in the end, but a little fallibility in the opening scenes might go a long way.  Also Bond gets shot but still manages to use a bulldozer to create a bridge to the next train car even though when he got into the bulldozer he didn’t yet need a bridge.  Whatever.

All that is forgivable: after all, escapist action films are supposed to use special effects and editing to create the impression of superhuman physical accomplishment.  To say nothing of the fact that his superhuman prelude is ameliorated somewhat (SOMEWHAT) by the apparent effects of age, alcohol and injury.  Less forgivable is a screenplay with execution as sloppy as its ambitions.

After the North African adventure, in which Bond may or may not have died forever (white knuckles over here, you guys), we’re back in MOTHER ENGLAND where nefarious elements are a) blowing up MI6 and b) harrassing M aka sweet ol’ Dame Judi Dench.   And not only are terrorists blowing up Parliament/MI6/The London Eye or whatever, but some pencil pusher is trying to force Ol’ Jude aka M into early retirement!  Just when the going gets toughest, a shadow-covered Bond emerges in M/Judi’s house, ready to pick up where he left off and figure out who is blowing up parliament slash stealing MI6 agent names slash publishing them on youtube (???) slash hacking M’s computer.  Time to gear up for the mission!  MI6 hires a new Q (John Cleese, you were too beautiful for this franchise), who recites his technical bona fides as he hands Bond his new pistol in a fucking public museum.  Despite the villain obviously preferring computer hacking exercises to high-concept-gun-fights, and despite the fact that Bond himself is in “right poor nick” as they might say in ENGLAND, it’s determined that what the situation calls for is a good ol’ intercontinental 007ing, as Bond travels to Shanghai (great set pieces) to chase down the guy who stole the list of agent names stolen in the first scene.  Analysis: M sends an unfit Bond to his likely death as a means of A) establishing their close BOND, which might have been similarly accomplished by dialogue such as “remember that time we played bridge – good fun, wot?” and B) symbolizing that M herself, despite being “too old for this shit,” is still the man/woman for the job, despite clearly exercising poor judgment in sending an alcoholic and decrepit 007 back into the field.

I HAVE TO EITHER BLOW YOU OR PARLIAMENT UP

In Shanghai, Bond tracks down and kills the guy from the first scene, amid a super stylized glow-in-the-dark Shanghai that would be perfect for the next [insert interchangeable house music DJ here] music video.  I like that this super connected terrorist mastermind uses the same guy to steal computer gear in Africa and then assassinate people in Shanghai.  I guess good help is hard to find?  Maybe there was a 2-for-1 Groupon, who will sell anything these days?  After some ultimately meaningless exposition*, Bond meets up with the main villain of Skyfall, Raoul Silva, who happens to maybe be gay, according to some thigh touching, but more importantly is a terrorist, owing to his possession of classified material that he’s using only to harass an MI-6 bureaucrat.  His sexuality is only significant, as far as I can tell, in that it sets up this awkward, throat-and-thigh-touching gay panic scene for the audience, made even more awkward for teenage male audiences no doubt by Bond’s mysterious “what makes you think it’s my first time” demurral.  Silva’s Portuguese-ness (I guess?) isn’t really significant to his character either, especially because he lives in Asia and used to be a MI6 agent (huh?).

*By “ultimately meaningless,” I mean they introduce us to an interesting/mysterious Asian woman, who puts on a brave face when talking to Bond, but who ultimately cops to being a prisoner/sex slave only ACTING brave, who then asks Bond if he can kill her boss (Silva) but obviously just gets killed herself because DUN DUN (those are the James Bond trumpet stabs if you can’t tell).  In an interview, the actress claims she was inspired by Famke Janssen in Goldeneye when preparing for the role, which is hilarious because it means people prepare for roles that call for only five minutes of screen time.  Anyway, Bond exploits her trust, then bangs her in the shower even though I was watching this with my parents, then lets her get killed because DUN DUN.

So now, after 60+ minutes of Bonding around the globe, we finally have met Silva, whose grudge is that M sold him out a dozen years ago and by “sold him out,” I mean “traded him for 6 other agents in a prisoner swap,” which sounds kind of like a good trade to me,  but I understand that’s the sort of thing that upsets the Portuguese.  Anyway, presumably Silva has been plotting his bizarrely elaborate revenge for the past dozen or so years and finally gets his big break when he locates the list of MI6 agents.  I guess that releasing the names of the undercover agents, who are then executed on live TV by Al Qaeda because of course, serves as a sort of dramatic counterpoint to M’s ostensible betrayal of Silva all those years ago, but it’s not very effective largely because it’s so glossed over: by the time we get to Silva, nobody seems to care about the list anymore, beyond people saying “the list!” or something every few 45 minutes.

Honestly, the concept of a terrorist outing undercover operatives is interesting and I don’t know why they didn’t focus on this as the main point of the movie.  Maybe there could have been one operative in particular who needs to be rescued before being outed or something.  I don’t know.  But instead, they’re like NEW PLOT and now Silva’s been captured and awaits trial except OH NO HE ESCAPED AND INTENDED TO BE CAPTURED HE PLAYED US THE WHOLE TIME EVEN FROM BEFORE LIKE WAY WAY WAY BEFORE EVEN MEETING BOND MAKING THIS ALL SO STUPID because after this exact plot was just done in The Avengers, auteurs like Sam Mendes are incorporating it into their works of artfilm. Also, can we please, please, please never do the whole “he meant to be captured it was his plan all along and also he knew you would chase him this exact route” plotlines again?  Such a lazy mechanic.

At this point, nobody gives a fuck about the list of operatives (WHICH IS STILL OUT THERE PEOPLE ARE DYING HELLO) or the trial, because Bond goes all “they tried to kill me surrogate mum” (approximate accent) and decides to take M on a drive up to Scotland to his ancestral home, which is called SKYFALL (get it?  do you get it?) in order to A) lure Raoul Silva and his army of mercenaries which they assumed would work for some reason and B) trick people into thinking this is maybe a Batman reboot because of the old mansion, underlit everything and adorable/bearded Albert Finney.  Nevermind that when they get there, all they have are a couple of shotguns, some dynamite (obviously) and aforementioned Finney.  When Silva shows up in a helicopter, everyone in the audience was like oh shit, Bond is totally outmatched and is going to die if only he had some of those exposed operatives helping him out Bond handles it all manfully, although you can barely tell since the lighting is so dark because Sam Mendes = AUTEUR.  My favorite part of the showdown is how Silva is smart enough to be the best hacker of all time and organize a mercenary operation and make boatloads of money but is stupid enough to, well, whatever, I won’t spoil this masterpiece for you.

BOND AND M, IN HAPPIER TIMES WHEN M WAS ALIVE ALSO: SPOILER

The whole point of Skyfall, as far as I can tell, is that Bond and M have this deep, meaningful relationship underneath all the layers of bureaucratic, I-had-to-make-the-call-this-isn’t-tiddlywinks nonsense that comes with life in MI6.  That’s a good story.  But it’s a bit like going to see Peter and the Wolf mashed up with a live performance of “Enter Sandman” – you can get the underlying story, but why the fuck is Metallica there?  It seems like a lot of the people who like the movie, and take exception with its criticism, like it automatically and then argue that critics “don’t get it,” pointing to the underlying themes and ideas in defense of the movie, rather than talking about the movie itself.  Unfortunately a movie doesn’t live or die based on the caliber of its underlying ideas: it lives or dies based how it executes those ideas.

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  1. [...] may recall that she beat Swift that night for a Golden Globe, en route to an Oscar for the theme to Skyfall. "Oi'd loike to fank the Academy, [...]

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