James Bond is getting old. The original Super Spy has some stiff competition these days in the world of espionage films. Back in the day there really were no substitutes for Bond. Others had tried to duplicate Bond’s formula for success, but mostly everyone that had tried and failed miserably. However, today Bond’s formula has been copied by the “Mission Impossibles” and “Bourne Identities” of today with some great success. Today’s film viewer more than likely relates to Jason Bourne as THE current and more modern Super Spy than the old school James Bond. In fact Bourne’s influence can be felt directly on the past few Bond movies since Daniel Craig took over the Bond mantle.
One of the biggest issues facing a modern Bond is the relevance of England in terms of who exactly are they using these spies to spy on? The Russians? The Chinese? That’s the problem of taking Bond to “the real world,” the real world enemies in the 21st century aren’t as interesting, or defined as they were during the cold war. Also, there is the obvious Elephant in the room, the entire middle east conflict. If Bond were alive, he’d probably be deployed to one of the many dangerous middle east hotspots, trying to figure out how to survive on a day to day basis and not playing elaborate games of chance at a casino while trying to romance beautiful hench-women. Even the movie tries to address Bond’s lack of meaning anymore. At least with a super villain, Bond could at least show his worth to the world. Skyfall attempts to resurrect a “Bond Villain” with Javier Bardem’s Raoul Silva, but fails spectacularly.
“Skyfall” starts off with a relatively boring chase that ends with Bond fighting one henchman on top of a train. The henchman carries a data disc around his neck containing the identities of all of the MI6 agents in the field. But in today’s connected society where even washing machines have wifi, one has to ask why didn’t the henchman just email the list? The list can’t be that big if it’s just names, right? A megabyte tops; one second worth of data on an “iPhone.” If this plot sounds familiar, it is, because it was done significantly better in 1996’s “Mission Impossible,” with Nathan Hunt trying to recover the lost NOC list. In the case of the original Mission Impossible, wifi didn’t (practically) exist at the time, and even the cool auto opening cell phones of “The Matrix” were still four years away, and the iPhone, ten years away, so high speed chases were necessary. In “Skyfall” the opening becomes nothing more than a giant cliche. Even in “Mission Impossible” there was a chase on top of a high speed train, not the slow moving freight train in “Skyfall.”
Spoiler Alert from here on out!
Bond uses a crane to smash up the train and make a grand entrance before then (apparently) getting shot by his partner by accident. Bond then plummets neck down off the bridge 75 feet into a river, and then over a waterfall, unconscious. Bond is (apparently) saved by someone, a beautiful Island girl, and then nursed back to health. This part didn’t make sense as they were obviously somewhere in Europe, and then Bond ends up in some island chains, playing dead for some unknown reason.
Then the film literally stalls out for an entire hour. MI6 headquarters gets hacked, blown up, and Bond decides to come back to work after watching Wolf Blitzer on CNN reporting the attack. Then we have Bond going through the training and evaluation to get him back to shape, and a side mission to Taiwan that really serves nothing more than a way to showcase that Bond is back in the game. However, there are two scenes in Taiwan that really harken back to old Bond. The first is a fight scene in a Komodo dragon pit between Bond and an “Odd Job”-looking inept henchman who gets eaten by the dragons, and then an “Austin Powers” “Who does number two work for” scene where Bond has a hitman dangling by the fingertips from out of a window of a skyscraper, demanding to know who sent him, only AFTER letting the hitman kill someone for some unknown reason.
Then after an hour, the supervillain finally shows up with Javier Bardem’s arrival. What’s terrible about this is that Bardem’s Raoul Silva villain’s plan ultimately depends on Bond showing up at a casino, befriending/seducing his sex slave henchlady, who then would take Bond back to Silva’s supercomputer lair where Bond would turn the table on Silva and would get captured by Bond and then taken directly to MI6’s new underground headquarters. From there Silva would then hack into MI6’s computers and then escape into the tunnels with Bond chasing him, and then attempt to assassinate “M” at some official inquiry. Oh, did I mention that Silva had a booby trap planned that derails an entire subway train just to buy a few seconds to escape from Bond?
After this failed attempt to kill “M,” Bond “kidnaps” her and they both retreat to an estate farm in the British countryside. They even bring along the old Astin Martin, complete with ejector seat and machine guns for old times sake because it can’t be tracked. From there Bond goes all “Michael Weston” and steals directly from “Burn Notice.”
Bond, “M” and Albert Finney out rig the house with light bulb/shotgun shell booby traps. And the funny thing was that for a second there I was expecting a Michael Weston voice over, “When placing booby trap shotgun shells in the floor boards, be sure to cut into the board only just enough for the board to barely cover the shell.”
Of course, the best part of the movie comes when Silva shows up at the farm and Bond gets to briefly use the Astin Martin before it is utterly destroyed. Sort of a middle finger send off to the car that was associated so long with Bond. From there the movie ends sort of like the movie “Pineapple Express” with a blown out Barn/Farm showdown and the inevitable setup for the next Bond movies.
What is puzzling about the double agent villain of Silva is the question of how exactly did he go from being a Super Spy to arguably the best computer programmer/hacker in the entire world? A hacker capable of hacking entire governments at will. Those two worlds rarely intersect and are two very disparate skill sets. Even in old school Bond, a nuclear tech comes into disarm the Bomb in Fort Knox in “Goldfinger,” swatting away Bond’s wrong guess at which wires to pull.
Overall, there really wasn’t much Bond in this Bond movie. This is further complicated with an absentee villain that doesn’t really live up to the hype; a pale, and more flamboyant version of Bardem’s hitman from “No Country for Old Men.” The plot was stale and boring. The chases by the book and boring. And a Bond who, for the most part, doesn’t really feel like he even wants to be doing anything, let alone super spy work. There isn’t even a Bond girl per ce in this movie. Bond is too blaise to even to be bothered to womanize anymore.
It’s hard to tell where the producers are taking the series anymore, or exactly WHERE the series can go from here. But the appetite for Bond films has only grown since “Casino Royale.” If the producers would be inclined to bring back “old school” Bond, it would probably resemble last year’s “Ghost Protocol.” If you can remember, “Ghost Proctocol” was, for all intents and purposes, very much how old school Bond was; lots of cool gadgets and action. Even the villain resembled Bond’s arch-nemesis Blofeld at the end of Protocol, even donning a white suit while carrying a briefcase of nuclear launch codes to start a war between Russia and the USA.
If you’ve seen the trailer for “Skyfall,” you really have seen most of the movie’s “best” parts. The only redeeming factor in “Skyfall” is Roger Deakins wonderful Cinematography using the Arri Alexa camera. The night scenes are incredibly well shot and a testament of how good digital cinema has become just in the past five years. In the end it is amusing to see a Bond movie borrow from “Burn Notice,” yet not even be remotely as entertaining as “Burn Notice” is on a weekly basis. Bond, unlike “Burn Notice” doesn’t cost $10 bucks for a ticket.
As of date, “Skyfall” has grossed over a Billion dollars at the box office, and is arguably the most successful Bond movie ever, so there’s a demand for Bond. But with this Bond movie the titular character is going through an identity crisis. Hopefully by the next Bond outing the producers will have decided on how best to fully balance Bond in the much scarier reality of the 21st century with the fictional reality of the Bond universe.