Thursday, 1 November 2012

Skyfall, the James Bond Franchise, and Product Placement.

So I just got back from what will probably be a fortnightly feature of me going to the cinema and plowing through a few films. As it was half term this week and the kids were off, then I cut it to just two films this time. The first is Skyfall, then after that I will take great joy in reviewing Genndy Tartakovsky's Hotel Transylvania so stay tuned.

(My less Cynical-Cynic, Simon has also written his own counter review highlighting the good parts of this film, as apparently I mostly focus on the bad and don't mention the stuff I liked...Who knew?)

If you want to skip my analysis of the Bond Franchise and a rant on Product Placement, scroll down and look for the words Actual Review: 

First off, my beef with the Bond Franchise.

The James Bond Films are a strange subject, some would describe him as quintessentially British, an embodiment almost, others would say he is the perfect agent. The thing is, that in his 50 year (as we are painfully reminded) career, both Britain and espionage has changed considerably. This will probably sound quite harsh, but Bond, at his core, is jingoistic, misogynistic and chauvinist(in both senses), he is a rampant alcoholic, makes jokes at the violent deaths of others, and lets his chronic womanizing frequently endanger his mission and cloud his judgement. While some of these merely come with the territory of being an action hero, and to nitpick them would be time ill-spent, others are slightly more complex.

The first set of characteristics stated, (Jingo, Misogyny and hyper-masculinty) are the ones that have changed, thankfully, a much smaller portion of the world delights in the inherent Womanizing, Macho, Sexist pig of the cold war era, or at the very least film makers are no longer trying to just market to these guys. Equally, Britain's position in the world has changed considerably, even in 1962 Britain could have claimed to have a significant influence on the world stage, but this just isn't the case today. So has Bond lost? Where does Bond fit into this new world. Thankfully, one of Skyfall's strengths is that it tries to at least touch upon these kind of questions. There is a bit of talk about the kind of 'Post Cold War bond', and several references to him being out-dated...Which he is.

(A nice detail is part of the problem being based around Britain's withdrawal from Hong Kong in 1997. Something which adeptly encapsulates MI6's shrinking 'beat' over the past 50 years. Another nice detail is when they point out Bond's alcoholism)

"Oh doesn't it just make you proud to be British" -Mocking Yorkshire Accent

The role of a post Cold War and arguably more importantly, post-9/11 Bond, especially since Daniel Craig took over the role has fallen down on the side of Bond should be cast as a Bourne and/or Bauer figure. Fighting either against the Military-Industrial complex he served, or, inevitably, against terrorists. Also, Bond must now brood 150% more, so they can justify leaving in all the puns and women and still calling it 'gritty action'.

Now, from all this you might well assume that I dislike the Bond franchise, but I don't really. It certainly has it's flaws, but it fills a gap that certainly nothing else could fill. This is the inherent problem with institutions, you find it hard to imagine what would replace them. The earlier Bonds are charming and insightful in a way, in the same way that the elderly man at the bus talking to you about his National Service is. They are funny films mostly, while Bond's rampant sex drive can be, at times, unpleasant, mostly the plethora of actors pull it off well. The Henchmen have always been a highlight for me, I maintain that my favourite character in the Bond Franchise is Jaws. Overall, the franchise has a right to exist, but it needs to forge it's own path, and cast off the repression from American media that has dominated these past two or three installments.

Anyway, four paragraphs in and I haven't talked about Skyfall. If you live in Britain, then you've probably been completely bombarded by this fucking media campaign forever, and I'm going to dedicate the first part of this review, Specifically towards the advertising and product placement. As we all know, Quantum of Solace's frankly terrible showing, coupled with long term economic factors resulted in the bankrupting of MGM, which, along with delaying Cabin In The Woods for a few years also put the future of the Bond films into severe doubt. Consequently the push behind this film, which 'coincidentally' happens to fall on the 50th anniversary of the James Bond franchise, has been phenomenal (and I mean that in the sense of 'large' rather than 'inherently good').

During the advert spree for this film I saw no less than SIX separate ads sponsored by the film I was about to watch, for, all together now. Phone, Laptop, Heineken Beer, Car, Watch and Aftershave.

   All that was missing was Daniel Craig taking a delicious sip of Coke Zero before pummeling a henchman shaped like a Pepsi bottle.

And each of these things (except for the aftershave, because I'm pretty sure that is a solely 'Bond' Endeavour) appears in the actual film, completely shamelessly. The real problem occurs when multiple products are placed within the same shot, it all feels very cheap. At two separate points both Bond and one of Q's little sidekicks is shown drinking Heineken. I guess Shaken not stirred went out the window. 

Daniel Craig and his co-star, a wise talking, street smart bottle of Heineken voiced by Chris Rock.

The Laptop and the Phone both appear plenty, with a forward shot of Q and his Vaio laptop which I can't find anywhere on the internet, as well as M also sporting one. No wonder the terrorists can cyber attack them so easily.

You mean I can download all of Rod Stewart's Albums, Bond? Why did we censor Pirate Bay?

We are of course given Copious shots of the car. But I suppose that is understandable, Bond loves Cars, and so do people, but the Watch, we see the damn Watch like twice. Like, I understand that they needed literally every penny to make this film. But gosh damnit, Showing all these before the film just made me painfully aware when they appeared in the film, and made it feel very tacky.

The Watch is voiced entirely by John Cleese, a slightly downgrade from his role as R, but hey, it is the new era.

Actual ReviewOk. God knows how many paragraphs in now and all you really know is that they whored out a bunch. Ok, I'm going to not spoil this for you, and as such the review will probably feel slightly incomplete, but if you want a broad review to take away from this: Go watch this film, it is a step in the right direction for the Bond franchise. Overall it doesn't disappoint, there are a few minor plotholes, and the bad guy is a bit too much of a mastermind, with one too many precisely timed gambits. The bond girls are toned down, and there are a couple of very good chase scenes, the art direction is solid and the casting is good.

The ending, once again, without spoilers, is slightly contrived, you will ask 'Precisely why did they pick this course of action' several times, from both sides. Near the end the main bad guy's motivation starts to get slightly confused, when he could easily achieve what he wants, but chooses not to. Daniel Craig gives a solid performance, even though I do not like him as a Bond, he is basically charmless. The New Q is a generic kind of software geek, computer hacker kind of chap, the 21st century Q. They specifically state that the gadgets are kept down to a minimum 'Which I guess makes it alright'. Actually, quite a theme in this is lampshade hanging, it was probably an inevitability with the ongoing crisis the Franchise is in. Javier Bardem's bad guy is a bit misdirected, very 'lucky' but ultimately well played out, with just enough quirk to keep it interesting. 

Spoiler: Bond gets trapped and the Villain explains his evil plan, only for Bond to escape...And who says these films changed? 

The actions scenes are nothing special, this certainly isn't The Raid, Craig is an awkward fighter, and his attempts at realistic come off as unbearably slow and cumbersome, wondering how he ever wins a fight. But he looks the part, and the people he beats up are definitely being paid more to take punches than he is, so sell it well. Judi Dench as always plays M straight and is better off for it, and the mystery of 'Skyfall' ultimately only reinforces how comparatively narrow the plot is compared to other Bonds.

By the ending scene, when it rolls up that 'James Bond will return', you are ultimately left thinking. "Yeah, I can see how he can return", which is basically the aim of this, sort of how Batman Forever was suppose to assure Batman could go on...well, Forever. It achieves what Quantum of Solace utterly failed at, convincing me that this Bond administration can continue and not just for the sake of it having to continue...But because the franchise still has something to offer.

Generic Satisfactory Review Score: 7/10

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