Telling someone the new James Bond movie is a bust takes on the comparative anxiety of relaying news of a national tragedy. Of course I want you to holler back, “Say it ain’t so.” Skyfall is craggy, melancholic and out of shape Bond – with continual plot issues on whether he is to retire or not. Bond hardly seems ready for a woman, he’s all apathetic. Daniel Craig has misplaced his character since “Casino Royale,” acting with all the gusto of a swollen lip. Javier Bardem is a half-baked, muddled villain. But please, can we get more of Judi Dench as M! We don’t want sexy Bond ladies, we want Dench! When she’s gone, all the excitement is sucked out like helium out of a balloon. Please, somebody! Give her more dialogue. Center the plot around her. Isolate her on a cold farm house. Blanket her with protection!
Alright, enough with my sarcasm. Pre-credit sequence opens with Bond chasing a baddie through the bazaar of Turkey. Another scene where an agent hero amok on the bazaar, how original. But it leads to a mano-a-mano on top of a moving train, and Bond uses a damn crane to break the train over like an angry child with a toy dinosaur wrecking an erector set. Naomie Harris plays Eve, a sniper for MI6 at a vantage distance, who is ordered to fire her rifle. Bond, when in tip-top shape, shouldn’t need Eve or any help from anyone. And he certainly doesn’t deserve any incompetent help.
While Bond goes into absent setbacks for this failed mission, a madman starts bombing British secret service headquarters, sending eerie “code” messages to frighten M as if he were the Riddler of an old Batman movie. Bond, spends what feels like twenty minutes of screen time failing psych and physical tests, meets Ralph Fiennes (as Mallory, new Secret Service overseer) and Ben Whishaw (as nerdy tech guy Q). I can’t help but mention how laborious these scenes are. Really, Bond meets Q for the first time at the National Gallery. What, they couldn’t arrange the scene to take place at a petting zoo?
Bond is discharged back into duty and is led to decadent Shanghai, China. He does a high-rise face-off with an anonymous assassin (who could be anybody!), and then finds his way into an exclusive high-rollers casino in Macau. The entrance via gondola into the casino underneath lit lanterns, would have had hypnotic power had the movie leading up to it been any good. Here, he meets the mysterious, incredible French beauty Bérénice Marlohe (as Sévérine) in blackberry lipstick and this movie – finally – garners the promise to generate a pulse. Two attractive people, amid high danger closing in, speaking a tango trying to negotiate romantic terms quickly.
Like everything else in “Skyfall,” that burgeoning romance is a broken promise. It is, if at all impossible, for the most conservative and unimaginative moviegoer to not see the homosexual traits in Bardem’s villain Silva, the way he combs his hands over Bond in their first meeting. But the movie does nothing with the homosexual subtext – it’s just a trait pinned onto the character arbitrarily. As a villain with a seeming discard for women, it makes no sense that Silva is both villain and boyfriend to Sévérine. Bond seems driven to save this French beauty in obvious distress. Inevitable is Silva’s decision to humiliate her by placing glassware on her head as a target for shooting practice – but what happens to her post-game? I don’t have a clue.
The action is moved back to Great Britain, with Bond – forgetting women, as well as his trademark personality – fighting Silva again on his own home turf. Skyfall, it turns out, is the name of the grounds Bond grew up on, the cold farm house. This prompts director Sam Mendes (“American Beauty”) to stage a very wearisome action climax that would have been fit for Charles Bronson. Craig, matches the very saturnine nature of this glum estate, and if there is another Bond after this (there will, and there will be hopes for re-tooling improvement) perhaps next time he can get a martini, a woman and his sense of fun back. Right now 007 is a humorless functionary. My suggestion: Bring a cinematic artist with mirth like Steven Spielberg or Danny Boyle to direct the next one.
I grew up on 24 James Bond movies, many of them followed through on guaranteed laughs and excitement. “Skyfall” is one of the ten biggest disappointments of my life. If “The Man with the Golden Gun” was the dullest of all old 007 adventures, I’d still say I’d rather watch that again before I’d give this one another go.
142 Minutes. Rated PG-13.
JAMES BOND / ACTION FANS / BLOCKBUSTER WEEKEND CROWDS
Film Cousins: “For Your Eyes Only” (1981); “License to Kill” (1989); “Casino Royale” (2006); “Quantum of Solace” (2008).