Last night, thanks to the willingness of a certain visiting Grandmother to babysit, the Better Half and I went to our first movie since the arrival of the Squirrel. I am a massive James Bond fan, and we’d heard good things about “Skyfall,” so off we went.
And here comes the obligatory SPOILER ALERT!! Henceforth I will be discussing plot details and other surprises in the film. If you haven’t seen it and want to do so cold, stop now.
I found it very enjoyable. It has much to recommend it as an entertainment. The acting is superb. (Yay! Albert Finney!) The action is fast-paced, the cinematography is gorgeous and the locations are enticing. (Macau!) There are numerous allusions to the Bond legacy for fans. (Yay! The Aston Martin! Yay! Moneypenny! [Super-yay that Moneypenny kicks some ass!]) And they never miss an opportunity to show Daniel Craig shirtless. (Shirtless!)
So I really liked it.
Thus I am saddened to report that there are so many ludicrous plot holes that, driving home as the adrenaline ebbed, the movie totally fell apart as a story as I turned it over in my head. The more I thought about it, the less sense it made. Admittedly, trying to wring sense out of a Bond flick is kind of a silly endeavor, but the last three films have made attempts at a certain seriousness, and so when one collapses under the weight of its dumb inconsistencies then it undermines the effort.
Here are some of the more glaring problems, starting with the one filled to the brim with WTF:
1) Bond meets a glamorous femme fatale at a casino. She invites him to join her on her boat should he escape the (inept) henchmen waiting to kill him. (Yay! Bad guys getting killed by deadly captive animals!) He joins her for assignation on said boat, which puts off for her lover’s headquarters. Upon arrival at said headquarters, Bond and woman are bound and taunted/tormented by Bad Guy. Woman has appropriately cinematic demise.
I will put cash in your hand if you can explain either Bond’s motivation or the woman’s in this case. Please help me understand what on earth either of them were thinking. Despite evincing manifest terror for herself when she meets Bond, she still wants him to join her on a boat from which escape is impossible, packed with her menacing lover’s heavily-armed goons as it sails toward an isolated location where they will both almost certainly be killed? Why? I guess Bond had enough confidence in his own skills and cunning to walk right into a… hell, does it even count as a trap if the prey simply strolls right into it? Mmmmmmaybe 007 wanted to find the villain badly enough to saunter nonchalantly onto his pleasure craft and sail into his clutches. But it was flagrantly suicidal on the part of the woman, and a transparently dumb plot point.
1a) Unhinged evil guy’s HQ is apparently an island he coveted, which was abandoned when (via computer) he created the illusion that it was contaminated with poisonous chemicals. Fine. OK. As much sense as the usual Bond Bad Guy HQs go. But nobody with a preexisting interest in the island ever sent guys with Hazmat suits to actually check on its status? No dudes with gas masks and test tubes to confirm the computer readouts? They just wrote the whole thing off? Baloney.
2) Much of the plot hinges on M keeping her job at MI6. We are meant to be rooting for her to do so, because she is played (in usual first-rate style) by Dame Judi Dench at her brusquest. Brusque British women = competent, right? We want her to keep her job, which seems mainly to consist of barking orders and then staring stonily into the rain.
No. In “Skyfall,” M is disastrously incompetent and at one point criminally negligent.
The movie opens with Bond and another agent tracking a man who has stolen a computer file with the fake names and real identities of all the undercover British agents embedded with terrorist organizations. They do not retrieve it. Later, MI6 headquarters explodes, killing eight agents. (I counted the coffins.) And a little later, Bad Guy starts revealing the names of the undercover agents via YouTube. (Topical!) At least three of them are killed.
Let us remind ourselves that in real life, the head of the CIA resigned in disgrace because of an affair. And political hay was made when the ambassador to the UN mischaracterized a terrorist attack as a spontaneous burst of violence, possibly jeopardizing her chances at career advancement. (I think the latter is particularly weak tea, but that’s not my point.) Yet we’re meant to want the head of MI6 to keep her job as she presides over a steady stream of death and destruction? No. A real-life M would have been forced to leave promptly with the loss of the computer file, and rightly.
But that’s not all! NO! When the Bad Guy escapes (again, on her watch) and is (correctly) believed to be heading for her to kill her, rather than heed the urgent pleas of her agents to get to a secure location she ignores them and remains at a government hearing so she can defend her reputation. She does not calmly but firmly shut the meeting down and allow people to get to safety. Nope, she quotes Tennyson. She knowingly remained vulnerable to attack (which claimed yet more lives) in a room that also held several high-ranking members of the British government!
Garbage! Not only should she be sacked, but she should be put on trial for reckless endangerment and negligent manslaughter.
2a) When it became apparent that their boss was choked with hubris and not leaving the hearing, why did MI6 not immediately swarm the building with additional security? How were three men with guns able to blast their way in, when agents knew a lethal criminal was making a beeline toward Westminster? Stupid!
3) Bond eventually spirits M back to his childhood home to lure the Bad Guy (the famous “Crocodile Dundee 2” gambit). There, with naught but his old groundskeeper for back-up, he takes down a small army of henchmen when many of them conveniently step on all of his booby traps (the “Home Alone” defense). As the Bond manse is blasted and bombed into smithereens, James bravely holds Bad Guy off while groundskeeper takes M to safety via a secret passage.
But do they stay hidden in the vast dark of the Scottish moors? No, friends, they do not. They signal their location via bobbing flashlight (a move so dunderheaded I was sure it must have been a trick on their part — it wasn’t) as they make their way to the family chapel, a confined space that they then illuminate. When Bad Guy arrives, he finds M not hiding in some concealed cranny, but sitting alone and unarmed in a pew. (See above re: M, incompetence and.) Bond arrives just in time to save M, so she can die of battle wounds in his arms a couple of minutes later.
What an awful lot of trouble to end up with a dead M. Doesn’t that mean the Bad Guy, um… kinda won? And wasn’t there the little matter of the stolen computer file with the names and everything? I guess that problem just… went away?
3a) Upon finding M sitting alone and unarmed in a confined, illuminated space, Javier Bardem spends a few minutes gnawing vigorously on the scenery. He then presses his cranium against hers, puts his gun in her hand, and tearfully implores her to shoot them both with the same bullet.
3ai) M! You have his frigging gun!!!! Move your goddamn head and shoot him in his!
3aii) Whence this maudlin shitshow, Javier? Weren’t you just a few scenes back happy to blow her away without hesitation? Would you not have done so, were it not for the heroics of Ralph Fiennes? You seem strangely conflicted now. Maybe you should have seen your analyst before heading up to Scotland?
So, yeah. “Skyfall” was oodles of fun to watch while it was happening, but it falls apart completely when one happens to start thinking about it. (And the above are just the major plot holes I could think of between last night and this morning. Don’t even get me started on the strangely elaborate assassination in Shanghai.) I’m glad I went. But the plot (while nowhere near as silly as, say, “Diamonds Are Forever”) still left a lot to be desired.