Sunday, November 25, 2012

“Skyfall”: Yeah, OK, That Was Fun

I read James Bond about the same time I first saw him. Ian Fleming’s books were hot stuff when we were in middle school. Each had a reliable sex scene, at least as such were defined in the early-mid-1960s by the imagination of a newly pubescent boy. I’m not sure that I didn’t read Goldfinger (published 1959, when I was eight) before I saw the film (1964, when I was thirteen). Our lacrosse team exchanged Fleming paperbacks like a black-market lending library before, during, and after practices.

They were fun, and the movies still are. Which is all they’re supposed to be, right?

Each of the twenty-three in the possibly endless* series begins with a ten-minute action-chase-explosion sequence in which Agent 007 does the superhuman-impossible-absurd while jumping out of an airplane or jet-skiing or, in the case of “Skyfall,” chasing a motorcycling villain on his own motorcycle across the roof and then through the grand bazaar in (does it matter what city?) Istanbul (?) and then trying to catch the villain on top of a train with the aid of a backhoe when his (Bond’s) bullets run out, and so on. The entire purpose of these opening acts of choreographed mayhem is not just to stimulate your adrenaline but, in my case anyway, to get you laughing out loud.

Yeah, that’s right, these movies are fun, aren’t they? That opening staccato shriek of a strident orchestral chord, the silhouette of Bond coming at me, pistol poised, and the mayhem begins . . . Yeah, this is going to be fun.

I saw Skyfall with Katie and Marian last night, and it was fairly fun, but uneven too, and head-scratching, and (maybe it’s redundant to say) somewhat derivative.

Like, what is creepy Bond villain #23 Antonio Banderas doing in that glass box halfway through the film, seemingly captured, the movie apparently over? Of course! He’s imitating Hannibal Lecter in “The Silence of the Lambs,” and escapes just the way Anthony Hopkins character does, except for biting people’s faces off. Which wouldn’t be fun.

In fact, the violence and especially the sex are much subtler in “Skyfall” than I remember them being. There’s plenty of silhouetted action: a nighttime tussle with a villain near the top floor of a glass skyscraper in Shanghai, with digital ad imagery screened outside being refracted through the windows, so that you can’t really tell who’s who until the bad guy is hanging from Bond’s wrist 100 stories above ground; and a shower scene with Bond Girl #23B (A=the more-than-a-cipher Naomie Harris in an important supporting role). In the shower scene, his and her bodies form a steamy heart-shaped silhouette and the music swells and then they don’t even wake up in bed together. In the next scene, Bond’s already dressed and ready for action.

But then none of the Bond films was ever rated R! This surprised me when I looked it up this morning. They always seemed so violent and sexy, but it was really all just . . . fun. 

* About the possible endlessness of the series . . . “Skyfall” cleverly introduces a whole new generation of supporting characters. All lined up for the next Bond film are a new Q (a very cool Ben Whishaw as cyber-gadgeteer) and (mild surprises near the end of the film) a new M and even a new Moneypenny. Will Bond be new too? Is this Daniel Craig’s last 007 film?

As we were driving home, Marian had a funny meta moment when she asked about this, then seemed confused. At the end of “Skyfall” the new M gives the old Bond (Craig) a dossier for a new case. How could the next film not begin with the Craig Bond taking up this case? Marian wanted to know how past changes had been handled, as in Sean Connery to Timothy Dalton to Roger Moore. “I think they just changed actors and filmed a new story,” I explained.

So you mean, Daniel Craig isn’t actually James Bond? No, and James Bond isn’t real either. But he’s fun.

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