It's a cold and rainy December 1st in Japan; Skyfall opens today. The first show is sold out, but there are a few single seats for the noon show and I purchase one next to the wall, mid-way to the screen. Perfect for me, only one person to my right, never a slim girl, always a sumo wrestler.
Skyfall starts off with a knowing twang and it's James Bond in a shadowed hallway walking into a lit close-up. I don't even notice that there isn’t a gun barrel opening. Bond is told by M to leave a wounded agent that he is helping, his first decision. He follows M’s orders.
The motorcycle rooftop chase to the train is breathtaking with the intercutting of MI6 support adding tension and clarity. I know from the trailer that Bond will be shot and 'skyfall' off the train, but now “Take the bloody shot” has more meaning. I like the title song and the good title sequence makes me feel that I'm underwater with Bond. So far, so great.
Next, Bond pushes a girl against the wall and starts kissing her, the first love scene. No, I'm wrong. It cuts fast to a shot of Bond deep in thought on the bed, not paying attention to the girl. This movie will be about thinking, not kissing and innuendos. Also, the obvious scenes of Bond washed ashore, doctor patching his wounds, meeting the girl are not shown. We're moving fast. This is different.
There's a good scene of Bond in a bar having a drink with a scorpion. Now the story starts with both M and MI6 in trouble. Bond returns to his motherland to help his mother. I'll soon come to understand that M = mother.
The middle of the story moves nicely. What impresses me is what is missing; no sudden gunshots from a henchman that starts that chase music for 'another chase'. Those were fun in the past, but this movie is -- what? Ah, it's real, I think. Missing also are the over-edited, quick-cut shots that hid the blurred action in Quantum of Solace. And the usual blaring music is more subtle and ominous, the photography more moody, yet clearer.
Bond is ‘dead’, M is being pushed out of her job, so this is shaping up to be a story of Bond's “resurrection” as he puts it, and M’s survival, both professionally and physically.
Unlike Nietzsche's idea that 'Whatever does not kill you, makes you stronger', Bond is weaker from what didn't kill him. He has to retest his abilities to go on active duty. What's this? His hand trembles as he aims his pistol? He can't hit the target, even when he walks closer to it? If Bond doesn’t pass his tests, he’s out.
This is a damaged, unshaven Bond who is struggling to keep up his indestructible and arrogant image. Later, we find out that Bond failed his tests, but M secretly passed him. Bond can't even pass basic spymenship, but I'm with him all the way because a few days earlier I did my spinning back-kick as briskly as ever, but it arrived at the bag much later than I expected. Bond and I are having the same problems.
What is Skyfall anyway? Going in, I thought it was Bond falling out of the sky and into the water. But no, he's asked about Skyfall and Bond replies, 'Done." So it must be the code name from some operation like Thunderball was.
It's suggested to Bond, "Why not stay dead? There's no shame in saying you've lost a step," by the same guy that wants to push M out of her job. This rings true to me because ever since high school there are always people who want you to quit, want to take over your space, and that continues into adult life, never stopping. I'm 100% on board for this Bond story about age, technology and returning to one's past for strength.
My interest continues as Bond ends up on the island strapped to a chair with the villain Silva introduced in one continuous take. Silva tells a story of rats, his grandmother's advice, and that he and Bond will be the two remaining rats. We'll soon learn that Silva has a 'mother' that he wants to kill, namely M. "The two survivors. This is what she made us,” Silva tells Bond about M. “Mommy was very bad.”
Bond shrugs off Silva's ‘romantic’ proposal with a "What makes you think this is my first time?" remark that is just a "can't scare me, 'cause I've done it all" attitude, not that he 'did it' in the past. And Bond is probably referring to being tied to a chair like he was in Casino Royale.
Next Bond is forced to shoot a shot glass off the leading woman’s head using an old-style, inaccurate dueling pistol. It’s real suspense, rare in a Bond movie. We know Bond is now a bad shot, but he has a gun to his head. He aims wide, missing her on purpose. Silva shoots her. What? No, I think. She just fainted. But I'm wrong. She's dead. It’s a sickening death for me; she just quickly folds over as the rope holds her to the rock. The close-up of the shot glass hitting the ground is not so much an editing accent, but a death punctuation, because we can see the woman’s feet buckling under her dead weight.
This is indeed a different Bond movie and Silva is a different villain. “What do you say to that?” Silva asks Bond about the brutal killing. Bond replies, “It’s a waste of good scotch.” It’s not the usual glib remark that we are used to in earlier Bond movies. No, Bond’s remark catches both the audience and Silva’s men off guard as he jumps into lightning fast action, shooting Silva’s men to death. The helicopters arrive to save Bond and capture Silva. In an instant, we forget the death of the girl, the story changes and we’re back in London, a brilliant piece of storytelling.
Silva now gets to confront M for her betrayal of him. Silva was a MI6 agent left for dead. His story of torture and a painful suicide attempt gains my sympathy. I can’t believe that I have sympathy for a man that, just a few minutes earlier, sickened me with his casual attitude about killing a woman. This story is going deep into uncharted Bond waters.
Silva escapes by using a subway train that almost lands on Bond. Wow, that looked real. There were no passengers, so we don't have to deal with another 'Knowing' subway massacre of citizens, so I enjoy the grandeur of the scene. It didn’t look CGI or even a model to me. Everything in Skyfall is looking real, and the characters are acting real. If this keeps up, the movie will transcend a Bond movie and be the best spy-thriller ever. But many great movies have fallen to pieces in the middle or blown it at the end.
Next comes Bond racing to save M at a ministry meeting where she has to defend her actions. Is she going to be fired? Maybe worse, she might be killed. Now comes what seems to be the final wrap-up; Bond chasing Silva through the subways on his way to kill M, intercut with M at the ministry hearing. She is warned to leave, but starts quoting Tennyson, with the last line: Heroic hearts made weak by time and fate, but strong in will, to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield. I sit there loving this 'eye of the tiger' stuff.
Suddenly, it occurs to me that M is not only getting too old to serve her Majesty's Secret Service, but too old to serve Bond movies, as well. The producers must have told the director, “No matter what, kill off M”. I'm right; Bond arrives too late to save her and she is shot and falls to the floor. No, wait. I'm wrong. She's not hit, but put into a car which speeds off. She's kidnapped. So that was Silva's plan. But I’m wrong again. It’s Bond driving the car. "Where are you taking me?" M asks him. Bond replies, “We’re going back in time." I know the movie won’t head into science fiction territory, but what does he mean? It sure has my interest. I thought the movie was over.
However, the movie isn't over; it just felt over. Later, I would learn that this is the longest Bond movie ever. But as I sit watching it, I have no feeling of time. I never looked at my watch, only the screen in great interest for every capturing moment. The last time I thought a good movie had ended, was when watching Pulp Fiction. I thought the movie was over when Bruce Willis pulled out of the motel with the Outer Limits music playing. Very good I thought, but no, the best was yet to come. Travolta was alive again and the story of redemption started up anew. So now it's the same with Skyfall, and like Pulp Fiction, it would go into overdrive. Overdrive in fact, in the Goldfinger Aston Martin.
I see the Aston Martin and let out a 'Wow'. Later, I would hear that audiences in America stood up and cheered. My audience in Japan sits there like an oil painting. These people must be hardcore Bond fans to come on the first day that is cold and rainy to see their hero in action. But there’s not a sound, no reaction.
As for me, Skyfall has gone into overdrive with the DB5. I’m in love with Skyfall. But before that emotion can come to fullness, M, riding in the DB5, says, "It’s not really comfortable, is it?" Bond says, “Are you gonna complain the whole way?” and flips over the car's shift cap, revealing the red ejector button, which I know and love so well. Oh my God, he’s going to eject M, I think. "Oh, go on then, eject me. See if I care," she tells Bond. It’s the biggest laugh in Bond movie history and the audience remains silent. I try to control myself, but I start chuckling. The guy next to me turns to see if I pose any danger to him. Well, I tell myself, they have new theaters with state of the art projection and sound, but it's still Japan, and the Japanese are still Japanese.
The city scenery shifts to Scotland with no one around but Bond, M and my favorite car. The damaged Bond, the old woman and the old car stand alone in the foggy hills bent on trying to stay alive. There is a pause as M mentions Bond’s past, a hint at what “Going back in time' means?
Bond drives up to an old mansion on the moor and there I see Skyfall on the gate. No close-up, but it's clearly there. Ah, his old home, time travel back to his youth where we get some back-story on 007. I’m watching the Bond movie with the most meaningful title. So this is what the movie is about. And now, instead of Bond attacking the villain's fortress, as he usually does, this is the first time Bond has to defend a position, that being his own home, and with only basic weapons to do it. When Bond gets his hands on his father’s weapon (mythic), he’s a crack shot again.
This is a great set-up for me. The setting evokes The Hound of the Baskervilles and The Wolfman with the prodigal son returning home, only this time it’s the prodigal 007. The movie has been perfect up to this point. I thought it was over and was satisfied. From now on, it’s all bonus story and action, no matter what happens. But I’m surprised again. The final encounter goes beyond ‘bonus’ territory, it goes into high Shakespearean drama with the attack of the Oedipus complex villain.
Silva’s henchmen arrive for the final attack. Bond puts the Aston Martin into good use. The car is getting old too, but it can still get the job done with its double machine guns. All are killed in the final shootout. Once again, I’m wrong. Silva is not among the dead bodies.
What? More bonuses coming? Yes, in the form of a helicopter blaring out The Animals’ song of 'Boom boom boom boom. Gonna shoot you right down. Take you in my arms. There is a close-up of the helicopter’s speaker on; I'm in love with you', a message to M. The theater reeks of Freud, shotguns, blood and fire. "Welcome to Scotland."
Now we see Silva out there in the foggy cold with a bunch of killers he's hired, trying to kill his 'mother'. He yells out, “Everyone, listen to me. Don't you dare touch her! She's mine!” That’s what a guy yells out about the woman he wants to bed, not about the mother that he wants dead. And I had sympathy for this deranged guy? Doesn't he have anything better to do than to waste his time and life on this? He now becomes my favorite Bond villain, replacing Donald Grant and Rosa Klebb in from From Russia with Love.
Klebb wanted power and position, Grant wanted to do the job, kill for fun and, oh yes, he loved gold sovereigns. But Silva just wants to cause pain to the mother that abandoned him. She did it to save others, but Silva isn't having any of that. Silva's 'brother' James Bond, the good son, understood M's 'take the shot' attitude to save others and got passed it. But not Silva, he wants his mother to “Think on your sins,” wants her to suffer before he kills her. The use of the word ‘sins’ will soon pay off in a church, where Silva says is the perfect place to end it all. This is a truly sick and damaged human. Silva scares me as I sit in the theater. The last villain that truly scared me was in Deliverance.
Before the church scene happens, Bond looks out the window to see the Aston Martin blow up. He looks like he lost a friend, seems to get angry and lights the fuse that will destroy the home he ‘never liked’. It's Shakespeare mixed with Edgar Allan Poe. It's the House of Usher burning down, consuming the family secrets of incest. But in this case it's Silva's incest attitude about M. Thank God for Roger Corman. I never would have researched Poe in the 9th grade if it weren't for his movies.
Skyfall is now seemingly coming to a close. Bond is 'baptized' again, this time in ice water. Silva still has another sick surprise for us when he puts his pistol into M’s bloody hand (Yes, I get it.) and says, “Free both of us. Free both of us, with the same bullet. Do it. Do it. Only you can do it. Do it.”
Bond arrives in time to stop his mother's 'punishment for her sins' by stabbing his 'brother' in the back and is the 'last rat standing'. M doesn't die in some spectacular fashion, as she might have if this had been a regular Bond movie, this is more realistic. Thanks to Bond, M has a peaceful death from wounds incurred on the job. Thusly, her death evokes feelings from me, both as M dies, and actress Judi Dench leaves the series. I’m sitting in the theater thinking, “This is not only the best Bond movie, this is the best spy-thriller movie ever made.”
Now comes the cool shot of Bond on the MI6 roof top. I feel like something is going to happen. It can’t be another action scene, but it can’t end up here on the roof either. I have no idea what it will be, or if it will be.
The woman that had backed up Bond in from the first scene has had enough of field work. She turns out to be named Eve Moneypenny, who takes her destined place behind her desk in the new M’s office. M asks Bond, "Are you ready to get back to work?" Bond replies, “With pleasure M, with pleasure.” And then the classic image of Bond in the gun barrel shot comes up. Fantastic. I'm in heaven. I want to stand and cheer, but I have to go along with my audience, so I sit there like I'm posing for the fifth position on Mt. Rushmore as the credits play.
However, I leave the theater extremely excited and empowered. Hell yes, I’m ready to get back to work, too. I’m ready to finish off some tough projects that I started, ready to get my spinning back-kick up to speed.
I don't rank things that I love, but I know that when it's summer and my blood is up and ready to hit the road for some adventure, I'll fire up my Blu-ray of Casino Royale. However, whenever it's a damp, drizzly November in my soul, I'll put in my disk of Skyfall, so I can be resurrected.