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Gurglings of a Putrid Stream

Thoughts on books and other assorted topics.

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My name:  Brian Martin

Skyfall (2012), directed by Sam Mendes

Skyfall [HD] -

Skyfall made over a billion dollars. So you will probably like it. But I didn't.

You know that the Bond movies are all about the Bond movies when they start building stories around actors playing secondary characters. This one is a send off for Judi Dench. I'm not breaking any news when I say that this is Dench's last Bond film. She took over the role of M with Goldeneye. M, of course, is James Bond's boss. M is the person who sends Bond off on all his adventures. M is not 007. Yet here she is, the target of her own government (who think maybe she's too antiquated for her job) and a maniac with a personal grudge. The maniac blows up the MI6 building and sends a message to M's laptop: "Think on your sins." I want to send the same message to the filmmakers.

I'd love to see a "smaller" Bond movie, but there's no need to get incestuous about it. Something along the lines of Ian Fleming's novel The Spy Who Loved Me would be wonderful. Here, in addition to the main plotline, we have Bond returning to his family home. That's a touchy(-feely) topic. Bond won't even discuss it. Now add to that the (re)discovery of Q and Miss Moneypenny. It sounds like a reboot, but it isn't; it's a Bond family soap opera.

The first half wouldn't be bad if it weren't so freighted with the seeds of its own destruction. It begins with Bond (Daniel Craig) chasing a man who has stolen a list of NATO operatives. Recovering the list is so important that M is willing to sacrifice any number of agents to retrieve it. That includes Bond. As Bond grapples with the thief on the top of a train about to pass out of range, M orders a British sniper to "take the shot." The agent misses and hits Bond instead. Presumed dead, Bond figures maybe it's time to hang up the old Walther PPK. That is, until MI6 gets blown apart.

The rest of the first part involves Bond trying to get back into shape and going on a couple of missions, one of which is imaginatively shot in a high rise office building in Shanghai against the backdrop of one of those giant Asian electronic advertising screens. Bond's big break comes when he speaks to Sévérine (Bérénice Marlohe), the maniac's mistress. It may be the best scene in the film: dark, quiet, and humming with tension.

It is, however, nearly the end of the movie, the part of it worth watching anyway. Javier Bardem plays the madman, and his performance is creepy enough, but the character's a chump. Director Sam Mendes believes he is one of the great Bond villains, which shows that he and I have very different ideas on the subject. A great Bond villain doesn't whine about doing his job or others doing theirs, and he sure as hell isn't consumed by mommy issues. Silva is supposed to be a cyberterrorist, but we must take that on faith. All we know for sure is that he's a spoiled brat who got his butt spanked and isn't ever going to forget it. Some villain.

At well over two hours, the movie is too long by at least a half hour, with most of the drag coming at the end. Like a lot of Bond movies, the opening scene is more exciting than the climax. But what really kills it -- the end, and the movie, too -- is all the confusion over point of view. Is the story about Bond, M, or Silva? You get to take your pick. And that, for my money, isn't the way a "Bond movie" should work.