Monday, November 26, 2012

Opinion: Skyfall

Ok it's been out long enough now I can start talking about it finally.  Skyfall is a film I am struggling with, because it's so good for so many reasons and yet I still have problems with it.  I would give the film itself a positive review and say that it has many merits, however we have to keep in mind that each film exists within a larger context that is the James Bond Franchise and that's where I start having problems with it.  I won't get into the more nit-picky problems with this movie (like the fact that Bond get's shot and falls in the water, presumed dead, then appears alive later no questions asked (or answered); or the fact that Silva and his men stand just outside the giant house as it explodes in a giant fireball and yet Silva and apparently one or two henchmen come out unscathed (where did he get his henchmen anyway?).

This new trilogy of Bond films is obviously taking a different direction, and I think it is a good direction.  After the train wreck that was Die Another Day, we clearly needed to go a different route and Casino Royale was great (based on the first Ian Flemming Bond novel) and certainly started out a new era of Bond films on the right foot.  Quantum of Solace was not based on one of Ian Flemming's books (title aside) and it is clearly the weakest film of the three.

As for Skyfall, let me start off by repeating that I like it, it may sound as if I don't, but I think it's a good film.  It has one of the strongest villains in a Bond film in a long time, and I generally think they are trying to do all the right things here, and yet I can't help but feel as this new Bond would rather the old Bond had never existed.

This film doesn't really even resemble a Bond film, it's an attempt to adapt to Christopher Nolan's Batman films (many have already written about the similarities).  Cinema Blend posted an article about this as well saying this:
"There was once a boy who grew up in a great big mansion with his mother and father. Tragically, the parents died while the boy was still a child. With only his accented caretaker to assist as a father figure, the young boy grew up and eventually turned into a dapper, dashing man of mystery who dedicated his life to fighting forces of terror. As an adult, the boy wined and dined many beautiful--yet often dangerous--women whilst railing against the forces of villainy. Yet deep down he was always haunted by his dark past.

If you’ve seen Skyfall, you probably know I’m talking about James Bond. If you haven’t you probably think I’m talking about Bruce Wayne. Or, maybe I'm talking about both."
I like the Batman films very much, and I like the more dark/realistic take on the characters, but sadly instead of seeing a Bond film, who's franchise is so well established, I felt I was watching a different film franchise altogether.

At least one loving reference the old films, which they seem so eager to distance themselves from.
It's normally a good thing when they want to make the main character more human, which they've done, but why does skyfall have to be so similar to Batman?  SPOILERS: In the end Bond doesn't go out and infiltrate the villain's secret lair and stop him just before he enacts his horrible plan, instead Bond hides and waits for them to attack him on his turf.  We then come to a scene out of holiday classic Home Alone in which the main character, in order to defend his home, sets up a series of booby-traps and then waits for the henchmen to foolishly come in and spring the traps.

With the old Bond no one knew or cared where Bond lived as a child, there were bigger things going on.  As good as I think the villain is and the fact that it's smart for him to be seeking revenge against MI6 (it's a villain we can believe), but in the Bond franchise, dare I say, it's all a bit too small?  Bond villains have big plans and sinister intentions for more than simply taking out Bond and/or M.

It's one thing to tell us Bond was an orphan, but do we honestly feel we understand him better after the trip home? Maybe it would have made the runtime too long to delve into his past more, the way the film so desperately seems to want to, but stops short remembering that we are still expecting a showdown between Bond and the villain in the end.  Batman Begins made it a point to start with Bruce Wayne as a child, and made frequent flashbacks to his childhood to make sure we got where he had come from, which is why we feel we understand Bruce/Batman, we grew up with him on film, however in Bond they seem to want to do the same thing, but they only mention his childhood.  So even if it was their intention to show his past and explore more deeply the person of James Bond it almost feels as though they've failed to do that.

We meet the character of Kincade toward the end, and he serves little more purpose than explaining to M/the audience that Bond grew up in the old house and when his parents died he hid in the underground tunnel for 2 days, having gone in a boy and come out a man.  The big piece of missing information is what happened when he was in there? But maybe the thing that bothers me the most about this is that Bond was always Bond, his background was always kind of a mystery and to me a bit of the mystique about the character.  Even Ian Flemming didn't explain Bond's childhood, meaning he could have come from anywhere, so if they were going to explore this side of Bond why did the writers decide he needed to be another member of the League of Shadows?  If there had been bats in the underground cave he would have come out Batman rather than Bond.  We've heard that story before, why couldn't it have been a bit more unique?

A big issue the film stresses is that Bond is getting old (it's taken all of 3 films to take Bond from a newer recruit to an old man who is too out of shape to pass the test to be a "double 0" agent which doesn't bode well for the future of the franchise... Craig is looking old) and MI6 is outdated and in need of new tricks however they assert that the old way is better, but obviously when it comes to the film itself they disagree.  We all agree that Bond needed to make the jump to the 21st century and we applauded their efforts in this film and Casino Royale, but isn't it ironic that it came at the cost of sacrificing the old Bond formula?

So with MI6 outdated and in need new tricks, they bring in new, young Q who has a pistol with a palm reader (already been a Bond gadget in a previous film) and a radio?  Gadgets used to be part of what made Bond films interesting and fun (yes, some went too far, but they don't need to go away altogether).  New Q takes a shot at old Q's gadget in Goldeneye (which remains one of my all-time favorite Bond films) by saying, "What were you expecting? An exploding pen? We don't really go for that sort of thing anymore." Ian Flemming wasn't opposed to the gadgets in his books, but apparently new Q knows better than the creator of the franchise.  The radio comes into play of course, as does the palm reading pistol, but it's lost rather quickly which seems like a bit of a waste.  Since he won't be around to properly equip Bond before sending him out on his missions, his new role will be to channel Lucius Fox's role from The Dark Knight by being the voice in the hero's head telling him where to go.  If that's what he is now, fine, I guess I can live with that even if I'm slightly disappointed.

Casino Royale was a good way to restart the franchise, it took the only full length Bond book by Ian Flemming not turned into an official Bond film (there were movies based on Casino Royale, but none in the list of official Bond films), so we had a real Bond story, but they did a good job of balancing that along with bringing in and establishing a new actor in the role of Bond and making him a more interesting person than most other Bond actors.  The also managed to not go overboard the way Die Another Day and some other Bond films have in the past by keeping it a bit smaller and a bit more personal.  However it's a fine line, and Skyfall feels a little too small and personal to be a Bond film, which is not really in keeping with what made the franchise fun over the years (even if a bit too over the top sometimes).  Casino Royale felt like the perfect mix, and while I liked Skyfall I can't help but feel it strayed a little too far from the formula that made the Bond franchise what it was.

I'll leave you with a bit of food for thought:
Maybe we have to concede that in this day and age Bond can't exist the way it used to.  In which case, we will have to throw out the old formula and adapt to a new one, but if we do does it have to be a carbon copy of Nolan's Batman films?  Or have these first few Daniel Craig Bond films been the exception?  Could it be that after 3 films we finally find ourselves back to where we have all the characters and pieces in place so that future Bond films can start to resemble the type of film we remember watching while growing up?