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Thursday, October 31, 2013

Fishing in the Discount Bin - Skyfall

Welcome back to Fishing in the Discount Bin, my weekly viewing of some movie I happen to own in a home media format.  I love the fact that thanks to theatrical release schedules, DVD release schedules, and how far in advance I write these, that I tend to be posting some of these reviews exactly one year after the movie first hit theatres!  Case in point, this week's entry, the most recent James Bond film, SkyfallIt came out out on November 9, 2012...just 10 days shy of being exactly 1 year ago!  As for when I sat down, watched the movie, and originally wrote this ramble, it appears in my notes at February 16, 2013.

Skyfall movie poster

In case you haven't noticed it, I've been on a bit of a Bond kick the past year, mainly because it was all part of the hype leading up the latest James Bond film, Skyfall.

I've been enjoying the run of Daniel Craig as James Bond for the most part. His first, Casino Royale, was the first time they got to adapt the first James Bond novel as an official James Bond movie, so they took advantage of that to expand it into an origin story. We were told it was a reboot of the franchise. Of course, that leads to some difficulties was Skyfall, as one point they hammer home is that James Bond is now getting to old for this shit. How could he have gotten too old just two movies later? Whatever.

With the whole reboot, and going back to the first novel, Craig has allowed his portrayal of James Bond to be a little tougher and rougher than most Bonds. Some say it's closer to Bond's literary roots...others are upset that Bond's suave nature has been sacrificed. The Craig Bonds just have a different feel to them, too. The typical megalomanical villains bent on world domination have been tossed aside for more, realistic world-style terrorists. According to the Bond producers, that was a conscious decision...in this post-9/11 world, they felt that such villains just weren't believable any more. And with the way the action is filmed and portrayed, many say that the Bond franchise has turned into a knock-off of the Jason Bourne movies. I really can't speak to that, as I haven't seen the Bourne movies.

But with all that baggage going into it, that's why I really, really, really enjoyed Skyfall. With Skyfall, it feels like they finally complete the reboot. A more traditional Bond formula begins to seep in. We finally re-introduce such classic Bond supporting characters as Q and Moneypenny. It also helps that it dips into Bond's seldomly-explored backstory a little bit. It feels as though those megalomanical villains are poised to make a comeback.

And such talent working behind the scenes, too. It was considered to be a major coup when the producers got Oscar-winning director Sam Mendes to direct. Mendes, of course, gave us that 1990s classic American Beauty. This was his first big action film, but he pulled it off quite nicely.

It starts with the classic James Bond pre-title sequence, where we catch up with Bond as he wraps up his latest mission. He and his sidekick - an agent identified only as Eve - are on the trail of a stolen hard drive that contains this name of every NATO secret agent currently undercover all across the globe. Needless to say, it needs to be recovered before it falls into the wrong hands. Bond and Eve are in the case, and we get classic James Bond action such as car chases, a rooftop motorcycles chase, and a backhoe tearing apart a train. But, it all turns out for nothing, as Eve takes up a sniper position, M orders her to take the shot...and she accidentally hits Bond. Bond falls to his death, the bad guy gets away with the hard drive, cue Adele!

We catch up with M 3 months later.  For those new to Bond, M is James Bond's boss, and has been played since the mid-1990s by Judi Dench.  She's really evolved as a character, too, as this movies went on.  In the classic Bond films, M just simply gave Bond his latest mission at the start of the film, and that was that.  But under Dench's tenure, we got to see more of her in the films, and explore the relationship between M and Bond.  Back to the plot, she's being called out on the carpet because of the missing hard drive and how it's recovery was botched.  She's been told to turn in her resignation and retire in 2 months.  However, the way she sees it, she's still got 2 months to get the job done.  On her way back from her dressing down, there's an explosion at MI6 headquarters.  A terrorist attack. 

Meanwhile, we catch up with Bond.  Turns out he survived, and decided to take advantage of everyone thinking he's dead to go into early retirement.   He's chillin' on a tropical island, when he sees the news of the attack on CNN.  Because he's still the hero, Bond comes out of retirement and heads back to London to report for duty.  And it's a great scene when Bond meets M upon his return to London.  Really gets to the core of their relationship, with M being a surrogate parent of some sort.  They do care for each other in a strange way. 

And then, at MI6's new headquarters in the labyrinthine tunnels beneath London, we see Bond try to get back in shape.  And another thing I liked.  The questions about whether Bond has gotten too old for this game, or whether Bond's "retirement" has thrown him out of step.  It's rather strange to see Bond struggle a bit, but soldier on.  Even though he fails his tests, M still clears him for duty and he's back on the case. 

At MI6 HQ, we catch up with Eve, who's been relieved from field duty for the time being.  And she and Bond have a very familiar...flirtatious relationship.  (seeing this in the theatre, I immediately called where they were going with this, but I'll save it for the end.)  We encounter Mallory, played by Lord Voldemort himself Ralph Fiennes, who's the federal bureaucrat who's M's boss.  And Bond goes to his gadgets from Q, re-imagined from from the crotchety engineer of old to a fresh-faced IT guy barely out of college.  And I love the line that Q gives to Bond, which kind of acknowledges the more realistic tone they've attempted to take Bond.  Bond expresses disappointment that the only gadgets he's getting are a new gun and a radio transmitter so MI6 can come to his aide when he needs them.  To this, Q says, "What were you expecting, an exploding pen?  Sorry, but we don't do that sort of thing anymore." 

So the latest lead that they've got on the man that stole the hard drive is he's in Shanghai, so Bond is off to China.  Bond tracks him down, and they have a great fight scene in a skyscraper, but he plummets to his death before Bond can find out who he's working for.  A gambling chip in the henchman's weapons case leads Bond to a casino in Macau, There, Bond meets our Bond girl, Severine, who is the lover of the villain.  So, Bond promptly seduces her, and she takes him to the villain's island stronghold.

See what I mean about bits of the classic Bond formula seeping in?  It's been a while since the villain had an island stronghold. 

And here, we finally meet the villain...Silva.  He has some kind of grudge against M.  Silva says that, like Bond, he was once M's favourite agent, but M betrayed him.  And this is where lots of people were creeped out a bit.  In his interrogation of Bond, Silva...actually flirts with Bond a little bit.  Undoes Bond's shirt and caresses Bond's body a bit.  And Bond's casual response to all this?  "What makes you think this is my first time?"  Which led to all kinds of people going, "OH MY GOD!  They made Bond gay!"

According to the filmmakers, out of all the interrogations in all the Bond films, the one form of intimidation that the villains never used was sexual intimidation, so they decided to go for it.  While it didn't work on Bond in the film it really worked on the audience. 

Anyway, so Silva kills Severine, Bond takes down Silva's henchmen, and Bond uses his radio to call in the cavalry.  Silva is captured, and the movie's over, right?  Nope.  We go back to London, because they need to know of Silva sold that hard drive to anyone and who else knows the contents of that hard drive.  After interrogating Silva, M reveals to Bond the betrayal.  Back when M was in charge of the Hong Kong operations, Silva was her top agent, but he'd go rouge a few times and conduct his own off-the-books missions in China.  When the return of Hong Kong to China coming up, M turned Silva into the Chinese.  M got six imprisoned agents back, and the handover of Hong Kong went peacefully.  Much like when M ordered Eve to take the shot, it was one of those "Needs of the many" situations. 

But, it turns out, this was all part of Silva's master plan.  As Q attempts to hack into Silva's computer, Silva actually uses this to hack into the MI6 computers and escape from his cell.  This was all part of his plan to assassinate M and get his revenge.  He hopes to kill M very publicly, as she's currently testifying before a parliamentary committee as to how her handling of the whole situation was botched in the public eye.  But Bond shows up to save M, and with the help of Eve and Mallory, gets M to safety.  But Bond's had enough of this crap.  Silva's been calling the shots the whole time.  But now, Bond hopes to use M as bait and lure Silva out into the open.

But first, they need a new car.  They got to the storage locker where Bond's possessions where stored after his apparent death, and Bond gets...the Aston Martin DB5.  The original Bond car, given to him way back in Goldfinger.  The Bond theme plays, and when I saw this in the theatre, the handful of James Bond fans let out a cheer when they saw that car.

So where do they go to lay their trap?  Skyfall, which is the Bond family estate in the Scottish highlands.  There, we meet Kincaid, the gamekeeper on the estate, and the man who pretty much raised James Bond when his parents were killed in a mountain climbing accident when he was a child.  While showing M around the house, Kincaid shows off the secret passage under the house, and reveals that, when the young Bond learned of his parents' death, he hid in that cave under the house for 2 days, "and came out a man." 

Now, if you're like me, when you first saw the film, you were thinking, "Now, let me get this straight.  A stately manor, looked after by a kindly old butler gamekeeper, orphaned as child, hiding a cave under the manor...I know Bond has frequently been called Batman without a mask, but COME ON!" 

Fun trivia fact:  Kincaid was played by legendary British character actor Albert Finney.  The producers admit that they did very briefly consider offering the role to the original James Bond himself, Sean Connery, but figured that such stunt casting might be too distracting to the audience.

Now, back to the plot.  Back in his childhood home, with his surrogate mother and father, the stage is set for Bond's final battle with Silva.  Silva's men show up, there's much explosions, and M and Kincaid escape to an old chapel on the estate's back 40.  Silva reaches the chapel first, presses his head up next to M's, and intends to kill them both.  But Bond shows up in the nick of time and finally takes down Silva.  But, the damage was done.  M was injured in the many explosions, and succumbs to her injuries. 

With the affair done, we return to London.  Eve reveals that she's decided that field work isn't for her, and she's taken up a position as Mallory's personal assistant.  And she finally reveals her last name -- Moneypenny.  She shows Bond into Mallory's office, and Bond addresses him as the new M.  M gives Bond his latest mission...and the adventure continues. 

I'll admit, I did geek out a bit at that end, because the office is just about a perfect re-creation of M's office from the classic James Bond films, and like I said, it felt like the reboot was finally complete. 

I loved this movie.  I won't say it's the best Bond movie, but it's definitely the best of the Daniel Craig Bonds.  And Scotland!  I must get to Scotland some day.  It looks so pretty in the movie.

But it's good.  Check it out.

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