Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Skyfall

"Sometimes, the old ways are the best."

And then again, many times, they are not. Like this new Bond film that has the cleverest references to Bond mythology, and yet breaks away significantly from what has gone before. My favourite Bond film yet.

I don't normally like writing reviews of enigmatic films that I love. It's like how a stalker feels when he turns knife-happy murderer: he's no closer to understanding his obsession and there's simply no way to put her back together again... But since I think Skyfall is a wonderful counterpoint to the recent Batman movies that I once spent much time whingeing about, let me tell you why I think this is a far better superhero movie than Nolan's gloomy, talky trilogy.

My chief complaint of the Batman movies is their pretentiousness. Their strong point, like most superhero movies, is that they allow us to enjoy a good-looking likeable hero beating the crap out of the bad guys. What annoys me, though, is that while the films revel in violence and glorious action sequences, they pretend otherwise and allow Batman, Alfred and friends to wallow in self-pity - the films have a "look at the price of violence" high moral ground about them. Oh please. And how much they talk! Every single point Nolan wants to make is hammered home through sledge-hammer dialogue.

For me, Skyfall manages to get it exactly right: first and foremost a slickly-made action film. But one that manages to weave into its taut tapestry themes of vengeance, crippling remorse in a business where "regret is unprofessional," facing the inevitability of one's obsolescence (and therefore, a healthy dose of nostalgia), and loyalty. One-sided loyalty. A loyalty that demands your heart and soul while you're only a little less expendable than the enemies you fight. And so you have a story of two men who have both come to the same crossroads - where, for all their abilities, they have to deal with their own dispensability to the ones they've sworn allegiance to.

Since I started this post with a comparison to The Dark Knight, I'll admit that Javier Bardem's Silva reminded me of the anarchic indestructibility of the Joker. But he is more than just a bad guy to be done away with at the end. He is fully fleshed out, with excellent reasons for what he's ended up as, and you feel for him as much as for Bond and M.

So, is it a perfect film? Of course not. Great films are rarely perfect films, said Pauline Kael, and a film as ambitious as this one, that aspires to something more than wall-to-wall action, in a series that has the baggage of having to conform to a 50-year-old tradition of mindless mayhem, is bound to have its share of inexplicable plot turns, the odd theft of images from films as diverse as Apocalypse Now, MASH and The Silence of the Lambs, and the occasional inability to really delve into some of the questions it asks.

But what it does manage to do is populate the screen with a wonderful cast, who're then given the room to add depth and weight to characters we've seen onscreen for decades now. Further, while remaining true to its action-movie roots, it asks with subtlety and humour questions that wouldn't be out of place in an indie flick, and with enough understated emotion to have many of the audience quietly sniffling at the end. (In a Bond film!) It also respects the intelligence of the viewer by avoiding the temptation to explain every frigging thing through dialogue. And did I mention that it has an excellent epilogue that acts as a prologue to the Connery era?

Above all, and what, for me, is the most remarkable thing the filmmakers and Daniel Craig have managed to do, is that they've taken cinema's most famous empty suit and given him heart and soul. They've given him a past, they've made him think about why he does what he does and for what rewards, and over the course of the film, they ever-so-slightly peg back his arrogance to bring him into the fold of the mortals.

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