Why I Am Not A Film Critic: Skyfall Is A Terrible Movie
Spoilers ahead folks.
I’m sure every one of us have a movie (or movies) that the rest of the human population seem to adore, but movies that we find limpid, decrepit, offensive of just plain bullshit. You can either write this off with the recognition that there isn’t a scientific formula that can tell us which piece of entertainment is better (or more worthy) than other less worthy efforts, and the most we can do is articulate our reasons for liking or disliking a film. The art of conversation about movies really is what it makes it all worthwhile, and as the Buddhists say, the reason we should argue is to specifically decipher our points of disagreement, as opposed to convince the other party of their wrongness and our rightness.
Or, you can really start to fucking sweat — like I do — at the epistemological threat, the breakdown between the reality of what the herd masses saw and the movie that I saw. I know my taste in the pop culture industry is fucking refined, fuck you very much, and so I will be honest: when my internal bullshit barometer veers wildly from the geeky/nerdherd’s bullshit barometer, then I start to doubt myself. Maybe I’ve got really bad taste in movies. Maybe I shouldn’t be writing this blog, but should get back to net surfing for pictures of kitten’s skating (and amateur Japanese weather girl bukkake).
No, I’m just kidding, I’m right and everyone else is an idiot. Skyfall currently has 209 reviews (and counting) on Rotten Tomatoes, with a 93% positive rating. Sheesh. I feel like a film movie leper, but I’m sorry, I thought this film was utter drivel. To my mind, it’s a terrible movie.
Having said that, at no point did I feel like walking out of this movie. Roger Deakin’s cinematography was beautiful, with a great set piece set in a skyscraper in Shanghai and an almost painterly last act set against the backdrop of a burning mansion. Javier Bardem makes a pretty good villain with a great line in facial prosthesis (but forget all that bullshit hubris about him being as threatening as Heath Ledger’s Joker; the script doesn’t provide him with the story-chops or intellectual muscle to justify the analogy). Daniel Craig is always watchable as Bond, and the scenes of him being evaluated by MI6 (and playing word association with a Psychologist who evidently got his degree in the 1930s) were quite fun. Craig does, however, spend half the movie looking like he should be bouncing on the door of a Doncaster nightclub, letting in all the femchavs he fancies whilst growling at any man that dares make eye contact, and for the ‘Bond gets it on’ scenes, Daniel Craig mumbles like he has special needs when he is trying to be sexy, as if he’s looking forward to getting a sympathy fuck from his careworker for being a good boy on the Happy Bus outing today.
And so while this is a terrible movie, it is not a terribly unwatchable movie, something which pretty much sums up most of the Bond movies to date. But, we should not buy into this crock of shit that they are peddling, that this movie somehow marries old-school Bond plotting with new-school post-Bourne grittiness, for a whole new Bond experience. In fact, this film doesn’t push any envelopes at all; to my mind, I came out of it feeling pretty much the same way I felt about Die Another Day, and it makes about the same amount of sense (i.e. zero).
Where to start, where to start…
1) Bond is a terrible spy.
During Skyfall, Bond is effectively the Frank Spencer or Johnny English of the intelligence services. In no particular order, Bond loses a hard drive full of the details of secret agents (okay, he does get shot, but he could have shot his nemesis multiple times in order to recover the hard drive, prior to getting on the train in the film’s opening); he gets ‘made’ whilst in the process of dropping an assassin of a skyscraper in Shanghai, and then has a little sexy eye-fuck with the femme fatale who was presumably involved with the assassin. Granted, she turns out to be less femme-fatale and more abused sex-slave (Bond still bangs her anyway), but rather than sweating over the fact that he was spotted dropping some dude off a tower, he gets busted eye-fucking her and adding her to the wank-bank. Yup, we really are pushing the envelope with the 21st century character of Bond here (at least Roger Moore would have had a twinkle in his geriatric eye that suggested some boarding-school style buggery was on the menu, and not just Craig’s staple ‘hate fuck’ routine).
Later, Bond walks into the waiting arms of the villain Silva, safe in the knowledge that he has what looks like a 1950s radio transmitter in his pocket to reveal his location (cunningly hidden… in his pocket, and looking very much like a 1950s spy gadget). Setting aside the ludicrous plans of Silva (which we will come back to, mehearties, oh yes), Bond admits to M in London that they have been one step behind the evil Silva for the first two thirds of the movie. Only to ‘get ahead’ by heading off to rural Scotland without any guns whatsoever, save what is built into his car and the thirty-year old shotguns that he assumes forms part of the ‘Bond’ estate in Scotland (even though the boss has just told him that they have sold his estate because they assumed he was dead). So, James Bond never thought to ‘lock and load’, or even review his weapons, before facing off against a super-spy ex-MI6 agent with terrorist connections across the globe.
At the end of the movie, we lose one of the main ‘good guy’ players, which should be a pretty big deal (and judging by the logic of the movie up that point, with Westminster committee meetings and politicians enquiring about the goings on within MI6 and their track record for getting agents killed, is a big deal) it’s back to business as usual for Mr Bond despite him losing the asset that he was supposed to be protecting in the first place, an asset that justified the existence of the whole third act.
2) Misogyny is cute, isn’t it, Mr Bond?
Calling James Bond misogynist is a little like calling your old Grandad racist; everyone knows he is, and besides, isn’t it one of his old quirky charms? Bond’s misogyny is as British as slavery, gay-bashing, and imperialism. But the character of Bond can be misogynist; the film doesn’t necessarily have to endorse it, or let it pass with little comment (or stunning indifference). We all know that these movies trade in clichés that make feminists wail and gnash their teeth — the helpful saint Bond girl, willing to take James Bond’s dick but still loyal to the cause, and the threatening slutty Femme Fatale who handily encapsulates both sex and death in one package, and who Bond will end up banging or beating or both. Shit, we know the hairy-armed bra-burners get upset with this stuff, so why do they even bother watching these movies, Bro?
But here is the thing: the character of Sévérine (played by Bérénice Marlohe) was sold into sexual slavery when she was twelve, is clearly vulnerable when she meets Bond for the first time, helps him out when three goons try to kill him, and is dismissed — after execution — with a curt ‘waste of a Scotch’. We could argue about whether this was Bond bluffing — and Daniel Craig seems to play it this way — but within the writing and direction of this movie, she is never mentioned again. Bond is more concerned about an agent that he had to leave behind, an agent that presumably knew the risks of the field, than he is about a girl sold into sexual slavery (that he bangs) that has — one presumes — been abused all her life. Urgh. No thanks.
All it would have taken is one scene with M and Bond in the car driving north, where M asks him about the girl who died, and he mutters under his breath ‘collateral damage’. We would then get it: he is a misogynist, he’s flawed, a point that we could tie back to his love interest from Casino Royale. But sexism and misogyny don’t have to be about active abuse, or proclamations of a woman’s place in the home or the world; they can be defined by silence. And in this movie, the silence about the tragic death of the character Sévérine suggests not a problem with Craig’s acting, or even the character of Bond. It suggests that the writers and director making this movie didn’t see how offensive this is.
3) Plot holes, plot holes.
I know, I know, with these escapist fantasy movies, we shouldn’t be too hard on plotholes. But there’s a difference between contrived narratives and just lazy writing. Just what was the villain’s plan again?
1) Step 1 I will plant explosives in The Tube, knowing that at one point in the future I will be standing on a ladder facing off against my arch nemesis secret agent, and I need a handy Tube train to burst through and wipe him out.
2) Step 2 I will implant an AWESOME virus in MI6 computers that will switch the gas mains on, which no one will smell, and which will not set off the fire alarms, because the fire alarms run on Windows 8, obviously, and can be hacked.
3) Step 3 I will lure said secret agent to my secret island hideaway, because I know that he will trace my underling to Hong Kong because of the depleted uranium shells he happened to use (these are magic bullets, you see, and can be easily traced to just three people in the world), and then bang my little sex slave, who will bring him here. I, of course, know that Mr Bond is not dead, even though I told my sex slave’s three minders to kill him. I deliberately send my idiot goons that used to work for
Cesar Romero The Joker, because I know that if they actually succeed in killing a washed up, out of shape, alcoholic James Bond, then my whole plan to kill M falls down.
4) Step 4 Get mad at and kill my little sex slave, even though she has done exactly as I planned.
5) Step 5 Get myself locked up in MI6’s backup location, and then fuck with the new computer nerd because I can, before arranging so that I jump on the tube to Westminster, knowing Bond will be in hot pursuit, and he will walk into the bomb I must have planted years ago.
6) Step 6 Walk into a Parliamentary Committee in Westminster by merely shooting my way through, what, the couple of police officers guarding the place, all easily done by dressing up myself as a police officer? (The Brits really are lax with their security.)
7) Step 7 Try and kill my nemesis M by indulging in a firefight in Westminster, who I have planned to be placed in Westminster years in advance, where the police there are all amateurs, and I know that there isn’t a garrison of special forces soldiers or even a properly-armed SWAT team police unit protecting the British Government.
8) Step 8 Oh shit, even though I have amazing foresight because I am a master terrorist super-spy, I never realise that the government minister next to M is actually an ex-special forces vet himself. Damn it, foiled! I would have done it if it weren’t for that meddling minister.
Perhaps we can agree that I am being overly harsh, and that many of the plans of Bond villains don’t stand up to scrutiny (we will, of course, sail right on past the observation that a tradition of idiotic plotting in these movies doesn’t give the latest movie a free pass) . But there are other idiotic plot developments: Bond gets shot twice at the start, plunges eighty foot into a river after taking a shot that must have punctured his lung, and then is miraculously healed by sticking his dick in some random native that doesn’t warrant a speaking line, but that seems to exist to rub his chest and keep him warm in between him downing spirits with a friendly scorpion. (Writing that makes it sound way more interesting than it actually was.) Also, despite being assumed dead, having no passport, and basically living on a beach, Mr Bond uses his magical spy powers to teleport himself to London to resume service like it’s the easiest thing in the world.
At the end, the villain Javier shows up in the Highlands of Scotland flying a gunship (and no one in the RAF would think ‘hmmm why is there a unidentified gunship flying in Scottish Highlands’, especially after someone has just invaded Parliament and shot at a whole room full of MPs and VIPs; surely the country would be on high alert?) M and some Scottish Hagrid random end up making their escape across the Scottish moor, but use an easily spotted flashlight. Surely M would have known that the flashlight instantly suggests to the enemy to, uh, shoot here, and would have remembered her history lesson about accepting a light off another soldier in the trenches of World War 1?
Of course, it’s always easier to pick holes in things we don’t enjoy, and forgive the lapses in logic in movies that we do enjoy. I’m not asking for a Bond film to be realistic, but I’m also sick of every knew Bond film to be greeted as even more gritty and realistic than the last one (and I remember the same hyperbole being used about Pierce Brosnan’s Bond movies, movies that Very Serious Critics now scramble all over each other now to slag off). This isn’t a Bond film that is more realistic, or more gritty, or substantially better than the previous Craig movies; neither is this a Bond film that really pushes the envelope in terms of set pieces or action direction (the fight choreography looks like it could have been straight out of the Roger Moore era — and Roger Moore had an excuse in that he couldn’t run — because he looked utterly stupid — and had to have a running stuntdouble).
There is the odd allusion to things outside of the usual Bond tropes: a nod to Bond’s parents here, a weird Freudian triangle with Bond, Silva, and M there, and (‘fucking hell, it’s deconstruction city!’) James Bond actually cries. But these are little more than nods, and don’t even push the envelope as far as the Lazenby movie that was made about forty years ago; they’re like superhero films that name drop easter eggs from Captain Zorjak issue 600 published in 1972 — it’s nothing to really write home about. It’s like when your usually bone-idle partner washes a couple of dishes — it looks like a big deal because of the backdrop it is set against, but you’ve been conditioned to expect zero change, and so the odd little sliver of difference becomes magnified into a colossal event. Finally, this film starts to offer “sly” post-modern nods to the viewer, with the new Q practically winking at the camera whilst delivering a speech about how the gadgets aren’t like the old days, this witty little cleverness really reinforcing the new ‘brutal’ and ‘realistic’ Daniel Craig Bond.
By the end of it we are back to business as usual for Bond, with a ham fisted retconning that sees Bond cozying up to Moneypenny and shooting his gun into the camera, the ‘tradition’ that Bond fans (apparently, they exist, and they fucking love their sandwiches with processed cheese) have been clamouring for.
You can breathe a sigh of relief, Bond fans; we have returned full circle to mediocrity, and for this reason, I pretty much hated Skyfall. Which is why I am not a film critic.