Back to Bond Being Bond
"Skyfall", the latest addition to the James Bond saga, is an entertaining, if incredibly slight two and half hours of entertainment. That's pretty much par for the course for Bond flicks but it's a bit disappointing after "Casino Royale" tried to humanize and bring some depth to the series. Yes, the intention of that film was, in part, to show how Bond became to cold-hearted, womanizing, licensed-to-kill secret agent that we all know and love but in "Skyfall", it was like they weren't even trying. The film could be the most superficial Bond movie of all-time, however, that's not so bad because they did so well with the superficials. Director Sam Mendes and cinematographer Roger Deakins created stunning visuals that almost overshadowed the allure of the always gorgeous Bond girls. The score by Simon Rhodes was stellar; it didn't call attention to itself (except when needed) yet it still had me hoping that it was available for purchase because it was so cool. The film is chock full with allusions to previous Bond adventures but they are handled in a way that they all feel like they occur naturally, rather than a gimmick stuck in for shits and giggles. And, of course, Javier Bardem turned in a performance that was absolutely captivating and, in terms of performance alone, could be one of the best Bond villains ever. The problem with the film, however, is that beyond Bardem's performance (and also because of his amazing work) the villain of the film is extremely flawed and seems like a wasted opportunity.
The spoilers will being now so if you haven't seen it, I'll leave you with a strong recommendation, although you should expect simple adrenaline over emotion and check your brain at the door, even moreso than most Bond films.
I know that saying check your brain at the door sounds like, well, a no-brainer when it comes to James Bond films but, in this case, the issue with Bardem's Silva character is that he's introduced as a kind of 21st century villain, a masterful and maniacal cyber-terrorist who can change the world with a single click of the button, but after we are given this introduction and how he is a better Bond than Bond himself, Silva becomes the worst of Bond - a simple blunt force instrument. The film seemed like it was heading to be more of a thriller, Silva as Bond's Moriarty, terrorizing Judi Dench's M at every turn and exposing every secret and putting her more and more in the crosshairs of her country's government (if not the country itself) . But after we meet Silva, his plans essentially devolve into him running into places and shooting them up. None of his masterful hacker jobs have much of any point; he goes from hacker to hack. The list of names is a McGuffin that completely disappears midway through the film (and they never do recover it). I'm not quite sure exactly why he felt he needed to get caught and hack them again since he already had everything and didn't seem to gain much of anything and moments after he just barges in and shoots up a room; not exactly the evil death we'd been lead to believe that he might have in store for M.) And, most problematically, is that he doesn't really seem to have an endgame. He wants to kill M. That's about it. And Bond won't let that happen and he's never conflicted about it (which it seems like he might be after he's left for dead at the start of the movie.) It's fitting that the analogy that Silva makes for him and Bond are two rats because this movie is a game of mouse and mouse rather than a game of cat and mouse. While the film isn't as flawed as Avengers or The Dark Knight were in terms of logic, the antagonist in the film just didn't pose enough of a threat or put our heroes into enough danger to make this a great movie.
Ultimately, while the film still succeeds at being a rather numb but entertaining action film, it fails to live up to its opening act and the promise that the main antagonist (who could have made for an amazing multi-film character; kind of a Catwoman for Bond, someone who plays both sides of the law, sometimes helping SPECTRE, sometimes fighting with Bond) nor does it really live up to the clever hijinks of most Bond battles. The final battle is so brute strength vs. brute strength and the stakes are so, relatively speaking, small that it lessens the impact. Watching Bond and M risk their lives life to save the world is one thing; watching them just trying to save their own necks (with no real long term risks being addressed) take the tension down a notch.
Still, the film was entertaining. Alyssa Rosenberg of ThinkProgress compared it to "Cabin in the Woods" and I think that's a pretty good comparison. It's a clever film that looks great and is a lot of fun but just as Cabin in the Woods was pretty devoid of scares so "Skyfall" lacked the tension that makes great set pieces more than just eye candy.