Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Skyfall (2012)

Bond, in some ways, has become a never-ending cycle of disappointment. Can Bond ever achieve the level of greatness from whatever Bond movie you happened to see first when you were ten or so? With the exceptions of the classics--assuming you have not seen them before--every new Bond movie has some tinge of "this can never live up to the greatness of my mind."

So MGM, a company that actually would not exist without Bond, really does have to keep the dream alive as best they can. Bond has to be just good enough to get people to come back. That formula worked for a long time, but when they rebooted the series with Daniel Craig, they seemed to finally take the moviemaking aspect seriously again.

Skyfall triply pulls out the stops on the "serious moviemaking" idea. They got Sam Mendes to direct. Mendes is the first Oscar winner to ever direct a Bond movie. They got Roger Deakins to shoot the movie -- he has a scant 9 nominations for best cinematography, including highway robbery where he did not win for Fargo (screw "The English Patient" in so many ways!). Oh and they got John Logan to help write. Yeah he was nominated for Oscars too. The two hacks who had been writing the last several movies got writing credits as well but one has to wonder how much they wrote the good parts of the movie.

And do they deliver? Yes, they deliver, this is the most incredibly crafted Bond movie ever put on a screen.

Yet, lately, when watching movies, I think "My god, the technicals are so amazing in this movie. The composition, the lighting, the effects, the sound. Everything is so perfectly executed. It's amazing. And yet so hollow. And this story is ludicrous."

Skyfall is a bit like that. Sometimes the technical achievement of this film is so glorious and enjoyable. Other times, it feels like a veneer over ludicrousness.

Skyfall has some of the best action ever put into a Bond movie. And while it lacks the epic scope of action scenes like the For Your Eyes Only ski chase, it delivers on (somewhat) more realistic but exciting action than recent films. The opener is just awesome. I will admit that the effects took me out of it at times. The compositing and head replacements seemed obvious to me. Granted, I was sitting 10 feet away from an IMAX screen. More on that later.

I think one of the best qualities of the movie is that the important parts take place in the UK. How novel for a Bond movie! Finally, they're not in Russia or Greece or Spain or on top of the Eiffel Tower. I would guess 50% of the movie takes place in the UK, and the end is in the moors of Scotland. That's genius. Skyfall is about Bond's humanity, and the moors, with no gadgets, are the best place to wrap this up. So much in these movies, he seems like an inhuman, invincible character. The conclusion of Skyfall is all about representing that humanity in locale. The finale is beautiful.

In a lot of ways, Skyfall represents the same kind of reboot that For Your Eyes Only tried to do before. The movie before FYEO was Moonraker, which was so over the top that the producers thought they needed to get Bond back to basics. Skyfall takes a similar tack and it's great.

And yet, the most significant flaw with this movie is the plot and character that gets us there. Javier Bardem has been called the best Bond villain from his character in this film.

Not only is Bardem not the best Bond villain ever, he's one of the most overrated villains from multiple films. As you may recall, I hated "No Country For Old Men" (I refused to review that movie, so I referenced that fact in my Cloverfield review). I thought Chigurh was silly and ridiculous. Same thing here. Bardem's villain is such a mastermind that he seems to be omniscient, able to plan every move that everyone will ever make far in advance. It's ludicrous.

I also think they did lower themselves to Bond campiness just a little bit too much in this film. It could have been a much more serious film than it was. I'm not sure it would have been the megahit it is without these elements, of course.

Yet, if you can put that all aside, Skyfall is an enjoyable movie. I personally think that Daniel Craig is the best Bond. He has the perfect blend of rough-and-tumble and cleans-up-well that Bond should be for a real tough spy guy. In retrospect, the Bond persona from the past is kind of laughable compared to the one that Craig puts out there. And because of this, and since Skyfall is about Bond's humanity, it is a really good movie with the perfect casting of Bond to do it.

JSS Rating: Good/Good.  MGM aimed to make a Good movie, and they achieved a Good movie. The plot is insanely unbelievable at times and Javier Bardem is ridiculous as a villain. That said, it is one of the top Bond films they've ever made. The execution is fantastic. Kudos to Sam Mendes.

Now, onto my main gripe: IMAX! I'm never seeing a movie this way again. First of all, I always somehow end up in a terrible seat where the screen looks distorted. Maybe all seats in IMAX are this way? I was dying to see Deakins' composition and lighting but felt i could never get a good view. Much of the time, Daniel Craig looked like he had an anvil for a head because of the screen distortion. I can't wait to see this on my perfectly calibrated "small" screen at home.