“Skyfall” 2012 (James Bond) Review — Does “eh” have a star rating?

I know this movie is 10 years old. I am behind the times. But I have COVID and I’ve caught up on Star Trek and figured I’d watch something mindless.

I’d say I’d gone to the right place but this movie isn’t really mindless. It’s more like it was written by someone with multiple personality disorder, one of which personalities is a dark and brooding teenager, and the other of which is a sophomore at a state school on adderall and cocaine.

This is the point where I warn you that there are spoilers coming. Sort of. I guess. There were some surprises, I guess, but they are less plot shockers than unexpected ways in which the writers took the wrong narrative fork in order to…disappoint our expectations?

Let’s start at the beginning. I’m not going to watch this movie again so pardon me if I don’t get all of the details exactly right. But we start with Bond, gun drawn, inside some building in the Middle East, and there are dead bodies on the ground with pools of blood. Then Bond finds an agent in a chair, with lots of blood on his chest and coming out of his mouth, still alive, but unable to talk. Someone talks to Bond over an earpiece as Bond explains that whatever MacGuffin it is he is looking for isn’t there. The voice says he’d better get after it. But Bond pauses, and puts towels on the dying agent’s chest. The voice yells at him to get going. “I’m stabilizing the agent!” He yells. “There’s no time!” The voice yells. Nonetheless, bond puts another towel on the agent’s chest, before leaving the room.

What??? I have no idea what that scene means and I am already jolted out of the movie. What could Bond possibly have done for the agent who is like seconds from death? And then he puts some towels on the guy’s wound and that counts as stabilizing the guy? I thought maybe there would be a quick cut to a helicopter with medical staff repelling down, and Bond’s towels saved the guy, but nope. He jumps into a car with a beautiful woman and chases the bad guy. Was there a joke that I missed? The writers can’t seriously expect that the audience thinks that putting some towels on a gunshot wound to the chest “stabilizes” somebody….could they?

Then we get the car chase-turned motor cycle chase on top of a bazaar through crowds and crashing through windows until Bond and the Bad Guy jump a bridge on their motorcycles onto a train. Now we’re talking! Meanwhile the beautiful woman follows in a Land Rover or something that can go fast but also go over rocks and uneven terrain.

Bond is at a tactical disadvantage because he is on a low part of the train with his hand gun while the bad guy is on top of the train with a machine gun that’s like a Tommy Gun except it has not one but two circle things that hold bullets. But Bond gets inside a digger bulldozer that’s on the train and uses the shovel to try to push the Bad Guy with the machine gun off. But oops! Bond gets shot through the chest! (Luckily the right side of the chest, which allows him to keep fighting, and not the left side of the chest, where the agent in the chair was shot a few minutes ago, which means Death!)

Its OK because Bond can fight through this chest wound. No problem climbing or punching. (Later on some forgettable character says that the bullet was a special bullet that “would have cut you in half” if it had hit him straight on. Good thing it hit him three inches to the right!) I forget how the Bad Guy loses his gun but, as expected, Bond and the Bad Guy end up on top of the train having to Quickly Duck because of Tunnels. At one point the Bad Guy is on his stomach and Bond is standing up, but the Bad Guy grabs a chain and then swings it at Bond. I literally laughed out loud and said to my cat, Jack, “Guess that chain wasn’t attached to anything…it was just sitting on the roof of the train for some reason.” I mean I really wanted to be into this movie but now I’ve been jolted out of the plot by crappy writing twice and the opening sequence isn’t even over.

The Beautiful Woman gets ahead of the train but warns the voice on the earpiece that she is Running Out of Road, whatever that means. So she has to get out and put her sniper rifle together really quick. The train comes out of a tunnel and Bond and the Bad Guy are fighting on top, and the the camera pans to the right and the train will enter another tunnel soon. The Voice tells her to shoot the bad guy but the Beautiful Woman says she can’t get a clear shot. But the MacGuffin is so important that the voice —its M!—tells her to take the shot even though she might hit Bond. She takes the shot and hits Bond who is thrown off the moving train, maybe 30 stories down into a river, and his unconscious body is even shown going over a maybe five story waterfall.

Roll Intro Music by Adele!

Can we pause here for a second? Because right now I am thinking there are a couple of OK plot threads already established. M told the Beautiful Woman to shoot even though she might hit Bond — that’s gotta put a big rift between them. The Good Looking Agent just messed up the whole mission and shot the best spy ever—that’s gotta lead to some narrative issues later in the movie. This Bad Guy shot Bond in the chest and got away with something really important. Surely there is going to be a climactic fight scene between the two of them near the end of the film. And Bond has now been shot—at least once in the chest—and fallen off a moving train into a river where he is unconsciously washed over a waterfall. Boy, how is he going to get out of that one?

OK, unpause, and for brevity’s sake, let me summarize how those plot threads are resolved.

There is a scene where Bond says to M “you told her to shoot” and M says something like “that’s what you signed up for.” And this is never discussed again.

The Good Looking Agent shows up like three scenes later, shaves Bond with a straight razor, and they have sex. Not even angry sex or anything. Neither character seems to care that one sexual partner shot the other, like a month ago or something.

Bond finds the Bad Guy and follows him into a building maybe 10 scenes later. Very much in the first third of the movie. They are in Shanghai or some city that has lots of moving neon lights and glass-front sky scrapers. The Bad guy sets up a sniper rifle and aims it at some people in another building across the street. Bond sneaks up behind the guy and points the gun at him but inexplicably doesn’t shoot him while the guy assassinates someone across the way and then they both lose their guns. Then, even more amazingly, the two men fight in silhouette near the broken window until one falls down, and its the Bad Guy and Bond is holding him, but he can’t because of the gunshot from before, remember (I guess it didn’t heal good or something) and the Bad Guy Falls To His Death. And a beautiful woman who was in the room next to the assassinated guy looks across the way and sees Bond and there is Attraction. Bond takes his sweet time rummaging through the Bad Guys bag (don’t worry about police coming or anything) and finds a poker chip.

Oh and the plot point about Bond getting shot in the chest and then shot again and flying off the train into the river and over a water fall. He just lived. That’s it. That’s it! Like, after the credits, the movie starts, and Bond is in a hut shooting his pants pistol into a woman, and they lie there together. And in the next scene he is drinking shots, I guess because he is angry? No explanation for how he got out of the water. How long was he in the water? Did the water pressure stop the gunshot wounds from bleeding or something? Did he wash up somewhere and someone found him and helped him? No clue! Oh well, I guess nothing in this movie has any repercussions.

There is a reason I like Science Fiction, and action, and don’t enjoy fantasy. When John MacClane looks down and sees he has only two bullets and three bad guys, he has to figure out how to use what the plot has established is at hand to win the day. That’s good storytelling. Watching the character use their character traits to solve a problem is good story telling. Some deus ex machina where a wizard is about to be trampled by a giant chipmunk and uses a magic acorn to conjure a giant squirrel to fight the giant chipmunk is fantasy and it is poor story telling. I want characters to save themselves. I don’t want the writers to use the opening credits to save the main character from the hopeless situation they put the character in during the opening sequence. I feel like Kathy Bates in Misery. “This isn’t what happened last week. Have you all got amnesia? They just cheated us! This isn’t fair! HE DIDN’T GET OUT OF THE COCKADOODIE CAR!!!”

Let’s speed this up a little because the rest of the movie is basically a rehash of the same problems.

Bond goes to a casino or something on a gondola. No explanation to the audience of how he knows how to get there or get on the gondola. But he gets there and cashes in the poker chip which gets him a suitcase full of a trillion dollars. In retrospect, maybe that was supposed to be payment for the Bad Guy sniping the other guy in the building, but if so it’s not explained. And the Bad Guy had the poker chip before he sniped the other guy. (There is never an explanation of who the guy was that got sniped. In this movie characters just move around like cardboard cutouts where the plot needs them to go). And in this day in age the Bad Guy could more easily have been wired the money rather than given a poker chip to cash in at a casino you need a gondola to get to. Or maybe the poker chip is not the payment for the Bad Guy. I have no idea. I’m starting to think maybe I am an idiot because this movie has a 92% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. All those people must have been able to follow the plot, right?

Lo and behold, who is at the casino, but the Beautiful Woman who was in the room with the guy who got sniped the night before! She and Bond have a drink and there is repartee. Bond deduces that the woman has been human trafficked as a sex worker since she was a kid, and promises to do away with the bad guy who somehow is also the guy that Bond is looking for. Good thing they’re the same person. How does Bond know they are the same person? Cause that’s what the script says, dummy!

Blah blah so Bond has to fight three guys right in the middle of the casino as people watch. Nobody calls the police or intervenes or even seems particularly amused. Which makes me think that this is a lair of Bad Guys who are in cahoots with the Main Bad Guy. Except that when Bond wins the fight, he just walks out of the casino and no one tries to stop him. So I guess the casino patrons aren’t in cahoots with the Main Bad Guy. I’m starting to wonder if all of the patrons took gondolas there, or if there is a gondola taxi or something.

So then the Beautiful Sex Slave Woman is on a sailing ship and Bond sneaks aboard and they have sex in the shower. The next day he wakes up and she is standing on the bow, looking over the waves toward what looks like ruins of an old city. He walks up to her and he says it is a beautiful view and she says or maybe not and suddenly there are five guys with machine guns on the deck behind them.

Cut to the ruins where Bond and the Beautiful Sex Slave have their hands behind their backs as the Men With Guns walk them along. Why is the woman tied up? I thought she was the sex slave of the Main Bad Guy. Did she do something wrong? I donno. Oh, who cares.

Believe it or not, I was enjoying this movie well enough until this point. You know, whatever, its Bond. But at this point, halfway through the movie, it’s like the writers forgot they were writing a Bond movie, and instead just threw together a bunch of hackneyed one-off scenes from other popular movies.

First: Bond is tied up and there is a scene so Tarantino he should have sued. A ridiculous Main Bad Guy (I can’t even remember his name, which is never a good sign) descends an elevator far in the distance and tells a story over the course of maybe three minutes as he walks from the elevator to close to the camera in one take. The story is about him growing up on an island and rats infested it and ate coconuts so they dug a pit and all the rats fell in and ate each other until only two rats were left, and then they let the rats go because those rats now eat other rats instead of coconuts. I am not shitting you. That is supposed to symbolize Bond and the Main Bad Guy somehow. Because Art I guess. The Bad Guy also does some weird stuff touching Bond’s chest and thighs before untying him. I guess he’s…gay? It has nothing to do with the plot and never comes up again, so don’t worry about it.

Next we have the most frustrating scene of the whole movie. The Beautiful Sex Slave Woman is tied up in the town square of the ruined city and the Main Bad Guy puts a shot of whiskey on her head as she begs for mercy. (I always hate people begging for mercy in movies, its why I watch almost exclusively Star Trek The Next Generation.) The Main Bad Guy has some dueling pistols and he gives one to Bond (who has a gun held to his head by one of the Lesser Bad Guys). They will take turns shooting until one of them knocks the whiskey off the woman’s head. Bond goes first, and misses. Then the guy goes, and shoots her dead. She slumps over.

“What do you think of that, Mr. Bond?” The Main Bad Guy asks.

“I think its a waste of good whiskey,” Bond comments, before dropping to the ground and using some martial arts and contortionist skills to kill everyone and hold the Main Bad Guy at bay.

Ok, what? If Bond could drop and kill all of the Lesser Bad Guys at 12:00 in the afternoon, after the Beautiful Sex Slave was shot, why couldn’t he do it at 11:59, BEFORE she was killed? And my God, “a waste of good whiskey?” Christ! I guess she wasn’t very good in the sack, huh Bond? I mean I know the guy is supposed to be a chauvinist but the woman he promised to save and could have saved but didn’t just got killed after getting beat up. If the writers needed a line before Bond killed the Lesser Bad Guys, how about something that makes fun of the Main Bad guy or something, anything, other than making it seem like Bond values a woman’s life less than a shot of bourbon. I almost hate Bond at this point. He’s now let one guy get sniped and the other woman get killed when he could have prevented both.

Then some helicopters arrive and its Mi6 and that means the Main Bad Guy is captured. I hit the pause button to see if the movie was over, thinking “well, that was anti-climactic” but, amazingly, there was still an hour left of the film.

From here on out the show is basically an episode of The Black List mixed with some crap from some of the lesser Die Hard Movies. The Main Bad Guy is held in a Glass Cell in the middle of the Really Secure Mi6 Headquarters, ala Silence of the Lambs. But, surprise! The Main Bad Guy wanted to be captured! You see, so he could infect the Mi6 Computer System from the inside!

There is, of course, no explanation of how the Main Bad Guy got out of his Super Secure Cell—it happens off camera and all the guards are dead. Also there is no explanation of how the Main Bad Guy put the virus (?) into the Computer — I guess he typed it in? And what does this virus have to do with anything? I couldn’t tell ya. It makes some squiggles appear on a big CSI-like screen and the new Q has to figure out what the squiggles mean, with his messy brown hair, like the guy from the Apple commercials had to do in Live Free or Die Hard.  

The most complex computer virus ever created takes approximately 1 minute to decode because Bond sees some letters close together in the bottom of the screen and tells Q to put them next to each other and they look like they spell out the name of an old subway stop that isn’t in service anymore and Bond tells Q to “use that for the key!” and then the virus visually unravels into a map of the UK underground tunnels. Good thing that virus turned into a map when the Code was put in! Who the hell is writing this.

Oh I forgot to mention that there is an attempt at a point or a B-plot or something. James Bond, since his injury, is not quite what he used to be. This is shown by a shaky hand, and he can only hold onto the underside of an elevator for 100 floors before he starts to lose his grip. In a scene where he talks to the young Q (you always know these tech guys because they wear Glasses and don’t know how to comb their hair—and they always have lots of hair!) the young Q tells Bond that they don’t make fancy gadgets like exploding pens anymore. (Isn’t that part of the fun of watching a Bond movie?) And also there is a really forced plot about Parliament shutting down Mi6 because they work in the “shadows” and rely on “human intelligence.” It seems like the writers came up with this subplot about halfway through the scripting process (which I am guessing took place over a couple of power lunches at Dave and Busters) and grafted it onto the plot with duct tape and a staple gun. I bring this up only because the writers can’t figure out if the Main Bad Guy is supposed to be Bond’s foil. On the one hand, he uses Software to attack people—that’s a next gen kind of thing. On the other hand, he tells Bond that he was M’s favorite agent in the 1980s (sorry, forgot to mention he’s an X agent. It doesn’t matter much). So he’s a generation older than Bond, but uses technology that the new generation uses. I kept waiting for there to be a setup or a showdown between the Main Bad Guy using New Technology and Bond defeating him with traditional methods. But nope. These points are just brought up to be dropped with no impact on the plot.

Take a scene where Bond is chasing the Main Bad Guy — I’m getting sick of this, let’s call him Dave — Bond is chasing Dave through an underground tunnel and he shoots at Dave as Dave is climbing up a ladder. Dave stops because Bond has him and can shoot him dead. Bond doesn’t shoot him dead, in order to give Dave a chance to say something about how he (Dave) can use a technology even Bond can understand-radio-to defeat him. He pushes a button on a remote that blasts a hole in the roof of the tunnel they are in, behind Bond. “I hope that wasn’t for me,” Bond  quips, instead of shooting Dave. “No, this is for you,” Dave says, and a subway train crashes through the top of the tunnel and almost hits Bond as Dave gets away. Good thing Dave thought to put that explosive charge on the ceiling, instead of getting away, so that when Bond caught up to him right before the train was arriving overhead and didn’t shoot Dave, the train would get Bond!

Blah blah Dave is trying to kill M. Oh no, not M. She’s only been the target in a couple of Bond movies so far. This must be serious.

Bond gets M and they make an escape from London and he stops to pick up an old Bond car from the 60s that has an ejection seat and machine guns for headlights. And he tells Q to leave a trail—an electronic trail, made of software—that’s hard to find, but not too hard to find, that only Dave can find, to lead Dave to the place where Bond wants to trap him.

“You’ve got a tough job there, son,” says a guy whose name and role I’m supposed to know because he’s been in the movie since the beginning but like everyone else he has no character. “You’ve got to make the trail hard to find. But not so hard to find that Dave doesn’t find it.”

”And not so easy to find that Dave knows its a trap,” Q observes, as a map of Great Britain shows up with dots moving northward showing where Q has left software breadcrumbs for Dave to follow.

If somebody said “Don’t call me Shirley” I would think this movie was one of the best parodies I’ve seen.

Our Heroes Bond and M pull up to a old Scottish Manor and as they drive through the gate the camera pans to a plaque illustrating the name of the place: Skyfall! That’s the name of the movie so you know that the plot must really be going somewhere now.

When I was a kid I named our house in the woods “Pine Haven” because we had a bunch of pine trees. I wonder if Chicken Little was the original owner of the Bond family estate.

Now for the part of the movie that is like Bond Meets the A-Team!

M and Bond, and a caretaker who is old but knows how to shoot a shotgun, have to prepare the Bond House for Dave. But they don’t have a lot of weapons. So they have to rig up some booby traps like bullets that fly up from the floor if you step on the floor board and bags of screws that explode when you turn the lights on. There is a melodramatic scene as they wait for the attack and philosophize about something I can’t remember as I hit the pause button to see how much time is left and realize This movie is almost two and a half hours long! They should have cut like 45 minutes out of this. Why are they now having this pretentious pseudo-philosophical scene? Is this supposed to build suspense? Is this supposed to be like the scene in Saving Private Ryan when the Sarge and the two other sit on the steps of the bombed out building, listening to the Victrola, before the big battle? Boy Saving Private Ryan was a good movie. 

Some Faceless Bad Guys With Guns show up but instead of driving their vehicles close to the house, they park a quarter of a mile away and walk toward the fortified stone structure where our hero’s are waiting. They don’t even spread out to surround the house so that the occupants have to defend multiple fronts. They walk basically line abreast so that anyone with a machine gun could mow them down in 30 seconds. It is also getting dark now.

Our heroes take out all the bad guys using booby traps and guns taken from the Lesser Bad Guys. But Dave is not one of the dead bodies! Then, oh no! A big military helicopter is heard approaching with speakers playing (I can’t remember I think Zeppelin). This makes me think that Dave represents the generation before Bond again. But he used the software cookie trail to find him, so he must be part of the younger generation that will replace Bond. These troupes are confusing me! What does the Main Bad Guy playing this particular song signify?? Nothing? Gah!!

The helicopter does a number on the place with its Even Bigger Guns and once again I am thrown out of the movie with the thought “Jesus Christ do you think the guys who just approached on foot and got slaughtered knew that this helicopter was coming? Maybe they should have waited five more minutes to attack, from two directions at once?”

Bond tells the caretaker and M to use the tunnel in the kitchen to get to the chapel that has not been mentioned before. But wait I forgot to mention that the caretaker had earlier told M that when Bond found out that his parents had died, he had gone into the tunnel and didn’t come out for two days and when he did, he wasn’t the same. I’ll give the writers credit for this: by introducing the tunnel ten minutes earlier, it is at least not a sudden, fantasy-like escape route. But I expected something more from the tunnel where James Bond literally buried his trauma as a child. It is a tunnel! Have these writers ever heard of tunnel vision? Or repression? “Burying” one’s trauma? I’m not saying I want to see James Bond crying on a couch but how are you going to introduce this idea into the movie and then just leave it? Nothing happens with the tunnel. It is merely an escape route for the protagonists. That’s it. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, and a MacGuffin is just a MacGuffin.

Grenades, explosions. The helicopter explodes and it is the biggest explosion. The helicopter must have had like a million gallons of gas in it’s tank. Like the huge explosion of the airplane that crashes in Die Hard 2 Die Harder even though the plane was landing because it was out of gas. I’m not sure if the helicopter exploding in this movie reminded me more of the helicopter exploding in the first Die Hard because it descended a little and then exploded, or the helicopter exploding in Die Hard 5 A Good Day to Die Hard because it kind of looked like a soviet helicopter, like the helicopter that exploded at the end of Rambo 3, the one that takes place in Afghanistan. Yeah, that’s the exploding helicopter it reminded me of.

Everybody dies except Dave who follows M and the caretaker out to the chapel and he puts a gun to M’s head and his own head next to M’s and he wants her to pull the trigger so that the bullet goes through M’s head first and then his. He tells her she has to pull the trigger. He had no problem shooting up parliament and shooting a house with a helicopter when he thought she was inside, but now he needs her to pull the trigger. She is reluctant to do so, and that gives Bond enough time to show up and throw a knife into Dave’s back! Dave turns and as he dies he says something to Bond that I couldn’t hear but its so annoying to rewind on Roku, I always go back too far, so I just kept watching. Turns out M was shot and she dies in Bond’s arms and there is a hint that maybe he was going to show some emotion but not really, and one gets the impression that that is supposed to be The Scene That Everyone Will Remember About This Particular Bond Movie.

It occurred to me that the good guys know that Bond and M are holed up at Bond’s house. Why could they not have had some troops standing by in ambush for when Dave and his Lesser Bad Guys showed up? Plot holes are one thing when they occur to you when the movie is over, but when they are so obvious they occur to you when the movie is going on, sheesh.

Well so M is dead and Bond’s house is destroyed but that’s OK because Bond feels good now, he is physically strong and mentally back with no problems and it turns out the Good Looking Agent who shot him in the beginning of the movie is going to take a desk job and its Moneypenny! Surprise for anyone who didn’t see that coming because they are both blind and deaf.

So what is wrong with this movie? Its not that it defies belief and is full of plot holes. It’s not that it tries to imply that the main character has some trauma he needs to work through. Its that…both! In a James Bond movie.

Why do viewers watch franchise movies? Because they know what they are getting when they sit down to watch. If you get something else you feel cheated. I wanted to watch a movie where a spy gets some gadgets, finds himself in absurdly maniacal situations, and uses his gadgets and spy abilities to get out, save the day, save the woman (at least one of them!) and do it with class. Instead, in a vapid, almost insulting attempt to “bring the franchise into the new millennium” we get the suggestion that Bond is suffering trauma, but he never deals with it; that he’s “getting too old for this” (like Mel Gibson in Lethal Weapon 4 not Danny Glover in Lethal Weapon 1) and doesn’t save anybody throughout the whole goddam movie! He doesn’t save the Asian guy that gets sniped; he doesn’t save the Beautiful Sex Slave Woman, and he doesn’t save M. Plus, I’m not even sure that he secured whatever “list” he was fighting the guy on the train for at the beginning of the movie! Not a single character grows or develops. What did Bond learn, or how did he grow, over the course of the film, while all the other people died? Especially the woman who had the whiskey on her head, that was really just gratuitous.

Look, I’m not saying that I want James Bond to become a more enlightened character with each mission. I understand escapist entertainment. I’m saying don’t pretend you’re modernizing a franchise because you desaturate the color of the film, suggest Bond has “trauma” and do nothing with it, and kill off characters because you don’t know what to do with them. If that’s “modernizing” a franchise, no wonder everyone prefers an original.