SKYFALL: THE AUTOPSY
I'm in the same boat as a few others here in that I can't quite figure out how to feel about Skyfall. Every actor does their best, the film looks good and in places sounds good and there's plenty of potential here, mainly in the quality of the cast. But something feels lacking, something it's not easy to put a finger on. Maybe what EON had here was an embarrassment of riches, though unfortunately those riches don't exactly extend to the plot. What we have here is that all-too-rare thing in Bond films where practically every role has not only great potential but is also very well acted. Daniel Craig gets given only a small amount of time to convince us that his Bond has "lost a step", but he manages to pull this off to a fair degree (he does more to sell a haggard Bond with just three days of stubble than Brosnan managed with a year-old beard).
Judi Dench doesn't put a foot wrong acting-wise either, and it's appropriate that quite a bit of focus is placed on the belief among some of her peers that she's not up to the job anymore, something long overdue. It's not just the audience that notice her recklessness this time. In fact, I even felt sorry for her in this film, because in it's whopping 140 minute runtime the lazy buggers couldn't even be bothered giving her an on-screen funeral (hell, even that clown Robert King in TWINE got an on-screen funeral and we'd only known him for two minutes). The writers for some reason also allow M to stand around talking in a meeting despite repeated warnings that Silva has escaped and is on his way to kill her. Ah, Purvis and Wade, I'll miss the daft buggers when they're gone. They also allow her to send Bond out after Silva despite Bond having failed every health and fitness test under the sun. Ok, that makes sense. But yeah, I felt for M in this film, they should have treated this character and this actress so much better during her tenure instead of slapping one ill-thought-out attention seeking "shock" moment after another on her simply in the name of screentime. The arrival of Purvis and Wade was the death of her. Still, at least I can part with the character on good terms, firmly leaving the blame for her discrepancies at the door of largely terrible writers.
The two main Bond girls are fine: The smouldering Severine and the spunky but done just about right Eve. Fiennes is reliably solid. Bardem is great prior to becoming standard gun-toting bad guy in the finale, and the new Q seems a bit of a risk initially but settles well enough in subsequent scenes. So what's the problem? Well, even at 140 minutes, there's just not enough time for a few of these characters and I was left feeling really short-changed by them. Fiennes gets about five very small scenes and that's it (though he does manage a quite nice character u-turn in the short time he's given, and he'll make a much better M than I'd initially imagined if the final scene is anything to go by, but that's in the future, not right now).
Bardem gets given the same kind of short shrift afforded to the likes of Renard (hell, even the wasted Renard probably got more screentime than the powerful Bardem), and it's criminal that we have to wait around an hour for him to even turn up, because his introduction really lifts the film for a short time (his introduction is one of my favourite villain scenes in a Bond film for a very long time). But ultimately all he's given is basically what Renard got: A quick taunting of Bond, a creepy moment with his mistress, a quick gunning down of a few innocents, a quick underground chase with Bond followed by a caused explosion, a quick cell exchange with M and then just the expected face-off with Bond at the end. When this guy gets to do his acting thing he's great, and the producers/director should have recognised this and given him so much more. A fantastic coup of a villain rather wasted.
And the writers sometimes let Bardem down even with the short time they do give him: For someone so determined to kill M, he has her at his absolute mercy twice with a gun on her and for some reason doesn't just pull the trigger. He just becomes standard gun-wielding villain fare at the finale too, and again weakens at the hands of the writers for his death. Berenice Marlohe makes a fine impression as the beautiful Severine, but her screentime is ridiculously short, restricted to little more than just a quickie with Bond before leading him to Silva. And that's it. Another waste. Even Craig isn't guaranteed centre stage in his own Bond film, as this film becomes even more "The Bond and M Show" than I'd feared, especially when Bond makes the bizarre choice to take her with him to wait for Silva's arrival and risk her death rather than just leave her somewhere safe and sort Silva himself.
Anyway, my main point is that there's probably just too much talent in front of the camera in Skyfall, perhaps a pitfall of casting or approaching a Bond film as drama, when that drama will always have to fight for screentime with the completely non-negotiable guarantee of multiple big action sequences.
But another downfall of Skyfall is the blatant reluctance to allow Bond to flourish full-throttle in his own cinematic skin. Again here, for the third successive film (or fourth if you count DAD's attempt at tossing a bearded "no use to anyone" Bond to the wind, or five if you agree with me that James Bond became a US soap opera star for TWINE) we only seem to get some kind of full-on validation of Bond having "become" Bond at the very end of the film (initially, the gunbarrel's absence at the start seems pointless, but it soon becomes apparent that we're still not quite 100% in the company of the fully-tooled-up Bond; Craig's gunbarrel at the end is quite nifty this time though). For the duration, it's still up in arms as to who or what this Bond is or will become or where they want to go with him once he's finally "become" Bond. He goes from half-bearded wreck to John Rambo (action-man loner hiding abroad playing dare sports for baying bar patrons, pulling bullets from his torso with a knife) to generic gun-toting angry farmer for the finale with, as with CR and QOS, just a few teasing scenes of Bondness tossed in here and there. It's also never explained why on earth Bond would have disappeared for three months without letting anybody know he was still alive, especially when it's revealed that Bond's flat and a sh*tload of stuff from his lodge have been sold off as a result. Oh well. Prisoner Monkeys could have come up with a reason for this, why didn't the writers just call him?
Okay, what's left? Oh yeah, the music. Not too bad, but hardly memorable either. At least Newman seems arsed about the lack of an opening gunbarrel and does his best to shove a short stab of Bond music in our face for the opening shot. And, praise the lord, it was so good to watch action sequences without all of those predictable Arnold "flourishes" winding me up. Newman's Bond themes were classier than Arnold's lame CR and QOS versions as well. The PTS is well scored, with Newman immediately differentiating himself enough from Arnold with a perfectly boisterous and flavourful cue to suit the environment and the escalating action. Oh yeah, the action.... Most of it is well done, most of the set-pieces impress enough, there's a bit less fake Donkey Kong roof-leaping than usual and a few good fist fights (including some great shots in the skyscraper fight) which thankfully don't quite recall Bourne as much as in the previous two films. The photography is good throughout, this feels like a big(ish) Bond film limited only by the lack of imagination of it's writers. The title song is still a sorry, phoned-in POS, and the titles looked disappointingly more like a PS3 haunted house video game with distracting live shots of Craig throughout.
But all in all, my first impressions aren't all doom and gloom. Sure, this isn't premium Bond by any stretch but, as with CR and QOS, it beats the hell out of the 90s Bond flicks, and there's a flicker of promise that Bond will be back in business properly next time around (the "drama" thing has surely been exhausted to death by this film) with hopefully a good new M and that beautiful old office. It's just a bit frustrating, with the talent on board this time around, that Skyfall didn't amount to much more than it does. The cast ensure that this isn't quite TWINE but, on paper and maybe upon further analysis, it could still turn out to be the Craig era's equivalent of it. It's definitely a bit of a waste in places, but it could have been a whole lot worse I suppose.