This article contains SPOILERS. See here for our initial review of Skyfall.
Everything but the script was brilliant.
This is about as concise a description of my feelings about Skyfall as I can come up with. Before dissecting what irritated me most, I should allay any offended parties by saying, first and foremost, that I really enjoyed the film as a wonderfully entertaining experience. Furthermore, I think the three leads – Craig, Bardem, and Dench – gave phenomenal performances that are instantly worthy of consideration for best ever Bond, best ever Bond villain, and best ever Bond girl. That the last of these categories is even viable is testament to Dench’s sterling and deviously Oedipal turn.
Even the theme song staked a claim to be one of the best, with Adele coming so far above the fiasco that was Jack White and Alicia Keys that words could not do justice to the comparison. Indeed, much of the praise for Skyfall has been channelled by pointing out that seemingly every aspect of the film was an improvement upon its counterpart from Quantum of Solace. However, I think that a comparison to Casino Royale is more telling, with particular focus on the script.
Both films attempted in their own way to mark a turn in the Bond franchise. Not reboots, per se, but efforts to restore a particular flavour to an iconic series. Where Casino Royale shines and Skyfall fails is in the way they go about creating this feeling.
To be as blunt as possible, Skyfall drowns in gratuitous self-reference. While it is fine, even expected, to work the classic lines, the classic toys and the classic cars into the story, it is extremely irritating to be force-fed references that bear no relation to what is happening in the film; even worse when the story is bent to accommodate a reference. Consider, in Casino Royale, when Bond approaches the bar in the hotel, clearly flustered and intense. He orders a vodka Martini and is asked by the barman whether he would like it shaken or stirred, to which he responds, ‘Do I look like I give a damn?’ This makes perfect sense in the context of the story, and still manages to give the audience a wink. I doubt anybody watching Casino Royale thought ‘what was the point of that?’
And yet this is how I felt throughout Skyfall. They can’t use MI6 cars; but its fine because Bond has an Aston Martin stashed in a garage somewhere – Huh? Why? When they decide to hide where Bond grew up and that choice is really deep and emotional – Huh? Why? When the baddie both does and does not want to kill M, so he blows up MI6 when she isn’t there – Huh? Why? When Bond gets a fingerprint gun, but not an exploding pen – Huh? Why? The answer to all these questions is simply that they wanted a Bond reference and weren’t too bothered about whether or not it made sense in this film. There were times when I wouldn’t have been surprised if Craig had turned to the camera and said, ‘Get it? Because I’m Bond, remember?’
In Casino Royale, the Bond references are catered to the plot. In Skyfall, the plot is catered to Bond references.
I will mention quickly that, ‘he wanted to be captured so that he could escape again and continue his evil plan!’ is blatantly ripped from The Dark Knight. Similarly, the finale could well be Michael Bay’s re-envisioning of Home Alone, in which the ludicrous non-plot can be summed up as – There are thirty baddies with machine guns, grenades and a helicopter, but Bond and his granddad kill them all with a shotgun.
But for me the final straw for the disaster of this script was the recitation of Ulysses during M’s hearing. On one level, M was talking about the role of the British secret service in the modern world, but on another, she was talking about Bond being Ulysses – his adventures could have been over, but it is in his nature to take to the field once again, to strive, to seek, to blah blah blah. But on yet another level, are we talking about Bond the character, or Bond the franchise? As times move on, should the series move on also, or should it make yet greater effort to reinvigorate its character, and to return to its roots. Brilliantly deep or laughably silly? Take your pick.
Because everything else about this film was so utterly brilliant, I am tempted to let the script off as being a two-and-a-half hour meditation on this question, with a very clear answer: on the 50th anniversary, we will slap you with more Bond than you ever thought was possible.
It is almost as if the story didn’t matter and the film-makers were devoted to creating a feeling. If that was the goal, then they succeeded; Skyfall felt amazing. It was a terrific cinematic experience, but, because of the script, it was not a terrific film. It was a good film, but Bond has been better before, and will be again.