There is no reason for you to know my process for writing reviews, but I’m about to tell you. And if in the future you should read one and take umbrage with it without having first read this, then I should direct you to taking several steps behind yourself so that you might fuck yourself in the arse. If you are a woman who might object to the idea, then I would suggest one of many sites online that provide equipment that should enable you to do so.
When I start to write an article I put my initial ideas down first, because I would not enter into an opinion without first knowing what I am wanting to say. Once I have got my initial views down I will watch the film to double-check that what I am saying I agree with. That way I am as close to the scientific method as I can possibly be. It would be very easy to make a decision on a film and then review it after the fact because who knows whether Transformers: The Last Knight (2017) will be glorified eye-porn, or if Nymphomaniac: Vol. I & Vol. II (2013) will be pretentious thought exasperation. I could make an educated guess, watch them and write a review after the fact, but that would be disingenuous. I need to put down some thoughts first, and then see if they were right, thus providing you with context.
Embarrassingly I haven’t done that in two of the first three reviews. But I am about to do it now. And I hope if you should become a regular follower of my work you will notice this.
This article contains spoilers.
I know more about James Bond than you do. I say this with confidence because there is a 95% chance that you are one of the 95 people on earth out of 100 that I know more about James Bond than.
When I was 4 years old a boy called Daniel Wells used to call on my brother every morning and they would walk to school together. I used to speak with him through the letterbox because I was too young to open the door. A few years later Daniel would come round our house and be allowed to cross the threshold. He would regularly take all our white Lego blocks so that he might build the yacht from Thunderball (1965) complete with the separating speed boat. This was back in the year of our lord 1987. Before Lego was making kits of the exact pieces that cost £79 (I could not think of a humorously large number that would not be unthinkable, because Lego sets go for such an exorbitant price nowadays. Literally, look it up, Lego has gone up in price more than Gold over the last 30 years). This geeky little fucker just made that boat over and over again from memory because he loved James Bond. My brother in turn loved James Bond. And I, because I was seven years younger than my cool brother (don’t even try to fuck with me about how cool he is. He has like a huge stack of Dinosaur stickers, and his football isn’t one of those sponge ones, he’s allowed a real air-filled one, and he can stay up as late as he wants…on weekends) I adopted James Bond as my childhood hero. We grew up in a time of Roger Moore loving, because that was the most readily available VHS (If I have to explain movie availability then I might as well be talking a different language. Needless to say, some films were available because they came out recently. Older films just had to be waited for on TV. Kids, pre-2004 was like the wild fucking west. Ask your history/Media teachers about it). Moore was Bond. Cool. Sarcastic. Suave. Racist to some men of different ethnicities. Progressive because he’d fuck any woman regardless of race. He had it all. Also I’m going to help you out in pub quizzes now. When people say that “Play it again Sam” is not a quote, what they mean is that it’s not a quote from Casablanca (1942) although it’s close to what Humphrey Bogart says, Moore actually says that line in Moonraker (1979). It’s the quote version of people saying “He’s not actually called Frankenstein, he’s Frankenstein’s monster”. These people are smug cunts. And now you can point out that you are not quoting Casablanca, you’re quoting Moonraker.
My point is, I know Bond.
Because I know Bond, and because I love Bond more than my own father, and brother, and cat, and, umm, my best friend (sorry James) I am allowed to shit all over him when he fucks up.
Every now and again the writers of a Bond film look to what has come before and take the elements that they think people loved and try to emulate it. They look at the formula of Bond as a screenwriting exercise so that everyone can make some money out of it. The prime example of this is Die Another Day (2002). If you watch “Behind the scenes” documentaries you will see people talk about how Bond fans need gadgets and a car chase that are bigger than anything that has come before. So that’s what they did, and it was a fucking shambles. Pervis and Wade who wrote Die Another Day also went on to write Johnny English (2003) so maybe that will give you some context of their hubris. They nailed The World Is Not Enough (1999), (argumentative) and were allowed back for Casino Royale (2006) (arguably the best Bond film).
There is no formula for a successful Bond film. Some are good. Some are great. Others are amazing. And a few are a little bit poor. But if you’re going to learn anything from them over the years it’s that they have to adapt with the changing times. It would be impossible to make From Russia With Love (1963) now because the cold war is over. We have more technology in our pockets now than those entire governments had back in the 60’s, so a basic microfilm smuggling plot couldn’t exist.
Certain themes however are universal, which is why Casino Royale could be made with Peter Sellers, and more recently Daniel Craig, and we’ll jizz in our pants at how good it is. Terrorist money-launderer gets caught out, has to double down. Perfect. But not stereotypical of the Bond franchise.
Ignoring the four occasions where he’s had to “go rogue”, a Bond film starts with a basic mission which leads to a more complex mission. In Diamonds Are Forever (1971) he starts by investigating a diamond smuggling ring, which leads to a giant space laser. In The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) he has to find a missing submarine which leads to a megalomaniac that wants the cleanse Earth of humans and create the world in his own image. In Die Another Day he starts by investigating a diamond smuggling operation which uncovers a giant space laser. In Moonraker he has to find a missing space shuttle which leads to a megalomaniac that wants to cleanse Earth of humans and create the world in his own image.
Those maybe aren’t the best examples of variety. But we start with a basic mission which leads to something more mind-blowing. If it didn’t then it wouldn’t be a mission worth documenting. And it’s fair to assume that throughout his career there would be some really boring missions that he tied up in like a day. For instance, and please forgive me because I am acutely aware that any time that a man in any film discusses how many women he has slept with then he is the bad guy (go on, think of any film where a man brags about his conquests, he’s the antagonist. Even Bradley Cooper (LOVE HIM in Wedding Crashers (2005)). But to date, going by every woman who Bond has supposedly slept with throughout all his films, I have slept with more women. I am not a more seductive man than Bond, so he must have had more missions than we’ve seen. That’s just simple maths. And I hope you don’t now hate me like movies have taught you to. Or if you do then at least you think of me like you do Bradley Cooper. We’re basically the same, if you think about it.
In Skyfall the first mission that he is presented with is that someone is putting videos on YouTube announcing who various spies are. This eventually leads to the bigger mission being that Silva (Javier Bardem) want’s to kill “M” (a spy division pseudonym assigned based on the name of the person inhabiting the top position of MI6. It just so happens that they have all had an “M” at the beginning of their name somewhere).
James Bond: Some men are coming to kill us. We’re going to kill them first.
So here are my problems with Skyfall, the Bond film that most people who are not Bond fans claim to be their favourite Bond film…
If you want a video taken down from YouTube, all you have to do is click the box to the right and report it as inappropriate, or racist, or insensitive. Once you do that the regulators (MOUNT UP) will assess the video and take it down. They will take it down if there is mild side-boob in it because heaven forbid a fourteen year old boy might pause it and masturbate to it.
Secondly, and I am getting way ahead of myself here, so SPOILER ALERT…M actually fucking dies at the end.
So not only is the first mission the most ineffective use of government spy resources, but the second stage of the mission is, to date, the only mission that Bond fails to prevent. That’s right, he’s defeated two different space lasers. He stopped free Heroin coming to America. He’s stopped several genocides. But someone killing his boss? Nope. Can’t be done.
I’ll close out this article with how that is nonsense. In the meantime here’s the other things wrong with this film…
The theatrical trailer played dialogue from a single scene basically in its entirety.
Bond is in a small room that looks like an abandoned shower/toilet in a rugby changing room. Clearly this is a deep cover head-quarters, and Bond is being interrogated. The interviewer is asking him some word association questions, and Bond is giving him pithy answers, such as…
This is the video of the trailer, but they added on an advert for a game, you do not need to watch that part:
It made it seem like the phrase ‘Skyfall’ was some deep special mission that all agents are prepped for and might be their last. And if they were to ever hear that word they have to make a decision in the moment of whether they would accept the mission, for Queen and country. It alludes to being some failsafe code word.
Instead, it turns out that ‘Skyfall’ is just the name of the orphanage that Bond went to, in a really inaccessible part of the Scottish Highlands. And it has absolutely no bearing on the mission that he is about to undertake, and only comes in to play after he’s fucked everything else up and he needs a place to hide. And so he chooses that hidey-hole to be the aforementioned house in the middle of nowhere. If someone were doing a word associating with me and said “Lethbridge” I’d reply with “Oh yeah, my grandad use to hide behind a wall and jump out on me, but eventually I learned to send my mate Richard Davenport around the other side of the building so he could tell me where my Grandad (RIP) was hiding so I could jump out on him”. Then if four days later I found out that an ex-colleague was trying to kill my current boss, I wouldn’t set up a “Home Alone” series of traps at Lethbridge and lure said enemy to that building on Avenue Road in Swindon. One thing has NOTHING to do with the other.
Fuck, I’ll get back to that “Home Alone” (1990) nonsense later.
M: Is this where you grew up?
James Bond: Mm.
M: How old were you when they died?
James Bond: You know the answer to that. You know the whole story.
M: Orphans always make the best recruits.
As part of his “Who’s posting these videos on YouTube” mission there is an elaborate elevator scaling scene. It all looks very cool because the building and elevator is mostly glass and there are overhead projectors of Jellyfish shining all about. When he gets there he is supposed to stop an assassin from shooting someone in an adjacent building.
Bond does not succeed.
Not only that, but the person the assassin shoots is sat in a very particular seat, looking at a painting. In the room with the victim are three people who clear up the body once this man has been shot in the head. If we are to believe that these three people are in on the hit, then why didn’t one of them just shoot him in the head? Why do we need an extra person across the way to do the hit?
Around this same time Bond meets a woman in a casino who he quickly identifies as a former child prostitute because of a tattoo on her forearm.
When this film came out I was at an open-mic comedy session where a comic had a bit about Bond turning up in this woman’s shower and fucking her from behind. That comic was quite correct in it’s absurdity. Although they had shared a scene previous where she flirted with James, and arranged a rendezvous, he was late. She had no idea that he had made it on to her now in-the-middle-of-the-ocean boat. She was just having a shower before she goes to bed and he thinks it fine to rock up with his cock-up and slide in behind her and upside her. And she’s fine with it.
Ignoring how creepy it is to just turn up while someone is in the shower…He just fucked a former child prostitute. Sure, she’s a woman now, and has all the empowerment she wants. But she’s still also a slave to Silva’s scheme. Is it cool to just fuck her because she’s a part of the bad guy’s trap? For shame James. You’re better than that. Remember that time you didn’t fuck 15-year-old Lynn-Holly Johnson? That was some class. You didn’t even have sex with Kurylenko in the last film cos you were really cut up about Vesper (ok, you boinked Gemma Arterton, but she was just there as a Goldfinger (1964) homage).
Javier Bardem is amazing, and improvised his opening scene characteristics. If there is one great thing about this film, it is that scene where he slowly crosses that long room with his monologue. It is unlike any Bond Villian to come before. Menacing. Perfect. Although his entire premise is weak.
Let’s go back a bit to the introduction of the new/old “Q” (it stands for Quartermaster, which means like the weapons and technology guy or something).
They meet in an art gallery and Q gives Bond a case with a gun and a radio tracker. And there’s self-reflective line to make us all acutely aware that they are subverting the Die Another Day premise I mentioned earlier that gadgets are necessary to a Bond film. What they don’t make us aware of is why they needed to meet out in the open as opposed to one of the many secret sites that MI6 has for just such an exchange. It is baffling why they would risk the chance of a civilian seeing the opening of a gun box. This is still England in 2012, a time when NO-ONE is used to seeing guns.
Later, as with any hacker geek in any film made since the early 90s, we need to have some pithy dialogue about how Q is the best hacker. From memory it goes like this…
“He’s the best. That is until he came across ME… Oh wait, shit, he totally just did some better hacking than I could do. I guess I’m a piece of shit. I don’t know why you guys even put up with me. I did that whole ‘Control, Alt, Delete’ thing and everything. I guess I should just go home a stick my head in noose and jack off until I’m dead”.
James Bond: A gun and a radio. It’s not exactly Christmas, is it?
Q: Were you expecting an exploding pen? We don’t really go in for that anymore.
Then there’s a whole Levenson Enquiry bit where Silva’s first attempt to kill Judi Dench comes to fruition. But he fails, this time.
This laborious scene serves nothing other than to introduce Voldemort as the new M.
Now let’s run away. You know, like James Bond does in all of his other films. He’s notorious for not running towards the danger and shutting down make-shift power plants, or dismantling a nuclear bomb, or driving an 18-wheeler toward a stinger missile.
That was all sarcasm. He does that shit regularly. Because he’s James Fucking Bond.
So back up to Skyfall we go.
Now, until this very moment, we have never been made aware that James grew up in this specific orphanage. And actually, the writers didn’t ever know what it was until he got there. In the original draft Sean Connery was going to be the Albert Finney role, which would have led to questions about whether this was a retirement home for spies, and if 007 James Bond was just a transferable code name in order to explain the timeline jumps and story inconsistencies that have happened since Dr. No (1962). In which case, why would several of them all be mourning over the deceased Theresa? It’s a ludicrous premise that I’m glad we got to do without.
This is how you explain it…
James Bond is an amazing character with a fantastic premise, however technology and story-telling has evolved in the past 60 years, so we’ve adapted the character. That makes sense right? Not everything needs to be retroactively constructed to fit a timeline, George Lucas.
So here we are at “Skyfall”. And we meet Albert Finney. Here is my phone number, 07700900827. If you text me with the word “Finney” I will call you back and do my best Albert Finney impression, because it’s fun.
Kincade (Finney) has no idea that James is a spy, but has absolutely no qualms boobie-trapping his house like Kevin McAllister. By the way, if you think it is a fun idea to be sat on a plane and shout out “KEVIN”, it’s not. Ever since September 11th 2001, airline staff have gotten a little bit touchy about jokes. I digress.
Shotgun caps under floorboards. Mirrors at angles clever enough to fool even the most advanced 3-year old. Paint cans over the bannister. And that old classic of completely blowing up the house. They reel out all the old tropes here.
How do we get away from the burning house? Well we’re in luck. We just so happen to have some old priest-kiddy-fiddling tunnels. We can all escape that way.
And we all live happily ever after.
Oh, wait, apart from M.
She totally gets shot in the kidneys.
Which is fine, because part of this amazing plan was that we’re so close to a hospital.
What? Oh, we’re in the middle of the Scottish highlands, which are famous for their landscapes and remoteness from hospitals? Well isn’t that a huge kick in the cunt?!
Raoul Silva: Do you see what comes of all this running around, Mr. Bond? All this jumping and fighting, it’s exhausting! Relax. You need to relax… Ah well, mother’s calling. I will give her a good-bye kiss for you.
Silva dies. He has to. Cos he’s the bad guy in a Bond film.
But M also dies. She’s not even supposed to be here today.
So Silva wins. Although he’s dead, so it’s a pyric victory. But still a victory.
You done fucked up Bond.
I would still rather watch this film than almost any other franchise. But it is awful. And I mostly blame Sam Mendes. His most recent film prior to Skyfall was Away We Go (2009), which was about John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph trying to find a house to buy at the same time they were expecting a baby. Just think about that for a minute. What fucking idiot saw that and said “I’d love if we could get this kind of action in the next Bond film”?
Skyfall is cack. And I say that as the biggest Bond fan I currently know. Apart from maybe this guy called Rick. He’s pretty cool.
So although it is cack, it’s only cack in comparison to other Bond films. If this is your favourite Bond film, then you’re not a Bond fan.
I didn’t even get to that theme song. Which is terrible. Unless it is this version covered by my favourite comedian in the world right now, Paul F Tompkins.
While we’re on the subject, check out Adam & Joe’s submission for a Bond theme for the previous film, Quantum of Solace (2008). They will make you happy, I swear.
Right, so I wrote all of that from memory of watching the film, whilst drunkenly wrestling Wotsit’s away from my cat. In the morning I will watch it just to check that I nailed everything. If I have any amendments I will add them here…
Nope. I nailed the fuck out of it.
I’m amazing at Bond.
Al Grant will return in “Undecided Next Article”.