Thursday, December 13, 2012

Sky does not fall in Skyfall

Sally and I saw Skyfall yesterday at our local megaplex. We sat rapt for two hours and twenty minutes, and any time a movie can get both of us to sit still that long you know it has to be interesting.

A couple of people we talked to after the film had opinions on their favorite Bond actor. Having a succession of James Bonds, of whom Daniel Craig is the latest, leads Bond-fans to have to pick a favorite. I believe all the actors playing Bond had their individual eras, and each actor was the right one for the part at the time. The fact the franchise has been profitable and relevant for 50 years shows the producers' choices for Bond have been mostly correct (I still don’t like George Lazenby’s Bond, but it’s not poor George’s fault. He was chosen to fill the role after Sean Connery. That’s a tough act to follow, and George just wasn't the right bloke to do it.)

I like Craig, who brings a deadpan expression, muscular frame, and a no-nonsense haircut to the character. Craig also ushered in a reboot of the Bond saga, beginning his tenure with Bond’s beginnings in Casino Royale. Skyfall goes back to the Bond family home, when Bond is in hiding, holing up with M. and a caretaker (Kincaid, played by an unrecognizable — to Sally and me — Albert Finney), in a crumbling mansion in Scotland, called appropriately, Skyfall. Although we don't get any flashbacks to Bond's childhood, the movie gives us something of Bond’s backstory. That story, what forces created the man James Bond became, hasn’t been a big deal in other films. In the past it was as if Bond had just risen from the sea, fully formed with a suave demeanor, great clothes, and a license to kill.

As superhuman and robotic as Craig can be in his Bond films, he also has a human side. The love and revenge plot of his first two films, Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace showed that. It shows in Skyfall in his devotion to M, whom I realize is a mother figure to Bond.

Skyfall is full of the visual pyrotechnics we’re used to seeing. It has exotic locales, including incredible scenes of Shanghai. The modern urban landscape of that city is a complete contrast to the desolation of the Scottish moors of Bond’s childhood home.

And it’s during the siege of Bond’s old home by the vengeance-seeking former agent, Silva, played by Javier Bardem, that for me the film really came alive.

By then we’d seen the film’s opening, a totally unreal and fantastic action scene in Turkey of squealing tires, motorcycles climbing stairs, cars knocking over fruit and vegetable stands in the marketplace, with Bond in pursuit of a killer. (I think I saw the scene before in one of the Jason Bourne films.) Then we had a fight on top of a fast-moving train (at least Connery's Bond had the sense to have a fight inside a train in From Russia With Love). The later siege at the old house seemed almost realistic by comparison, and it was a good way to bring the more fantastic elements of Bond’s indestructibility back to earth in a hail of bullets and explosions.

But we needn’t worry about Bond surviving anything, no matter how deadly. James Bond is a superhero, like Batman. He just doesn’t wear a mask and cowl. Because he works for MI6 and is a secret agent I suppose in that sense he has a secret identity. Bond is not invulnerable like Superman, but invincible like Batman, virtually impossible to kill. Also like Batman the Bond character has been recast as a darker hero. I couldn’t see Daniel Craig bursting into the song, “Underneath the Mango Tree” as Sean Connery did when he introduced himself to Ursula Andress on the beach in Dr. No, any more than I could see Christian Bale as Batman dancing the Batusi, as did Adam West in the 1960s Batman television show.

Javier Bardem plays the villain as gay. His fingers begin caressing the bound Bond. He makes a remark to Bond that he has plans for him, which we interpret as sexual, and says most are nervous “the first time.” Bond responds with, “How do you know it’s my first time?” That opens up a whole other interpretation of James Bond’s sexuality.


I bought my theater tickets online and learned a lesson in the process. For some reason Cinemark Theaters figures when you order, pay for and print your own tickets on your home printer, that they should add a charge. So my $5.75 early bird tickets became $7.00 each. When I got to the theater all they had to do was take my printed copy and redeem it. It doesn’t seem like a $1.25 x two tickets transaction to me, but apparently the $4.50 “medium” Coke Zero doesn’t give them enough profit, so they squeezed a little extra out of our tickets.

And speaking of the Coke, I guess I haven’t been to the movies lately. They have a self-serve snack bar, with a touchscreen Coke machine. After fumbling about with it for a few minutes a teenage employee took pity on us seniors and helped us. My discomfort at being faced with self-service is having to figure out every machine, every contraption, on an as-you-go basis. Luckily there were no other customers waiting for overpriced Cokes, so we weren’t inconveniencing anyone, but I’ll bet the girl had a good laugh with the other tech-savvy teens after I paid and left.

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