Skyfall

Many years ago Time Magazine ran a cover story called “The Summer of the Shark” that discussed a recent rise in the number of shark attacks. The Daily Show skewered this bit of hyperbole with a skit where correspondent Stephen Colbert came on to talk bout how truly scary shark attacks were. (Yes, this was so long ago that Colbert was still a correspondent.) Jon Stewart responded to Colbert's fear mongering by pointing out that more people die from getting hit in the head by falling coconuts while they are walking under coconut trees than die from shark attacks. Colbert then switched to discussing “The Summer of The Coconut.” Stewart then responded that more people die on the toilet than die from coconuts. And thus “The Summer of the Toilet” was born.

If you compare the classic James Bond movies to the more recent Daniel Craig ones, you'll see a similar growth pattern: while Bond used to fight laser sharks, in the last few movies he's mostly been fighting military clad dudes with guns. Skyfall in particular is explicit about this decision, because when Bond meets up with Q to get his weapons he doesn’t get a rocket pack or a dart gun that hides under his cufflinks – he gets a gun and a radio, and when he asks about it Q brushes him off. Of course, before the movie is over Bond will kill some henchmen with a car that has machine gun headlights, but Skyfall is very pointedly trying to be more plausible than the Bond films of yore, and that starts with giving him real world weaponry.

In some ways, it’s a successful shift. I don’t miss goofy villains like Odd Job (the killer whose weapon was a razor sharp hat) or Jaws (whose teeth could cut through wire that was strong enough to hold up a ski lift) – the fact that Bond is fighting flesh and blood adversaries instead of cartoons makes the film a lot more compelling; it’s a lot easier to imagine him dying when he’s facing someone who is acting like a real killer. Also, the fact that Bond seems to have some regrets over the things he’s done instead of being constantly glib makes him feel a lot more like a person and less like a sociopath, which is a welcome change. Of course Bond is always going to be traveling to exotic locations like Shanghai and Macau, but now when he gets there he gets his hands dirty, instead of having to fight off killer butterflies.

Unfortunately, Skyfall can’t commit totally to being a real world spy movie. Skyfall's villain is a cyber-hacker named Silva, and the movie’s understanding of what “hacking” entails is patently nonsensical. Silva’s computers can hack any system on earth and print up an unlimited amount of money on demand – and apparently his computers don't even need operators to accomplish these impossible feats, because all of Silva’s men seem to be armed thugs who are busy running around trying to kill Bond.

I wish Hollywood would retire cyber-hacking plots  - they are almost always convoluted gibberish. Bond having real weapons doesn’t really ground the story if he’s using those guns against a villain who has the power of God, and here Silva seems omnipotent, since he knows everyone’s exact schedule, their secret passwords, and even the train schedule of a city he hasn’t been to in decades. I understand that these films have to address modern technology, but the scene where Bond chases Silva into the subway and a nerd who is looking at a hologram of all the train station’s cameras starts telling him where to go is such a narrative stretch it could have been lifted from Skyfall and placed in a Bond movie from twenty years ago and no one would have noticed. This film's technology is too quick, too fancy, too infallible - I suspect it runs on magic, not on Windows.

That said, no one watches a James Bond movie expecting a watertight narrative. The Bond movies have always been about stitching together big action setpieces in exotic locales, and Skyfall definitely delivers on that front. It’s a gorgeous film, with the fight scene in Shanghai that’s done in silhouette in front of a bright billboard and the climactic fight in front of a burning house at night being particularly well photographed. When Skyfall works, it really works, and when it doesn't - well, even at it's worst it is still better than when he was fighting laser sharks and exploding coconuts.

Winner: Me

Skyfall on IMDB