12.7.13

So, anyways, Skyfall was just terrible.

Nearly nine months later, I feel that I finally have the emotional distance necessary to watch Skyfall again, chronicling how it may be the most lazily-plotted James Bond movie in history. A non-stop mess of plot holes and terrible characters making inconceivable decisions for no earthly reason. Roger Ebert frequently described the 'Idiot Plot' as a movie whose plot only moves because every character involved in it is a moron.

Skyfall's storyline is the platonic ideal, the perfect form of the idiot plot.

So here is a list - in basic chronological order - of every stupid thing about the movie Skyfall.

We start immediately in the aftermath of an attack on some kind of an MI6 safehouse, during which the hard drive containing the names and photos of every undercover MI6 agent all over the world was stored. Why is this information all in one place? Why was it placed in an ordinary laptop? What possible use could MI6 have for it in Turkey? Maybe if it was a list of all the undercover agents in and around Turkey then its existence might make some semblance of sense, but EVERYONE is on this list. Why would this ever exist in the first place, and then why was it left in a safehouse in a foreign country with only three guards?

Compare this to a similar plot device in Mission: Impossible. The NOC list was out of the country for a specific reason: To lure a mole out into the open, since it was a prize too valuable to pass up. Of course, the Secretary of State wasn't stupid enough to let something damaging out into the wild, so the information on the disc was only half of the NOC list, and it was useless unless the villains could get data out of the most secure workstation in the world.

MI6, on the other hand, save a file with all of their undercover agents' info and left it sitting on a laptop because...?


MI6 then loses an agent in the field and never bothers looking for a body, assuming that when none turns up, he's probably dead and they shouldn't worry themselves looking into it any further.


This is Ralph Fiennes giving Judi Dench a stern talking-to. Why? Because it turns out her mistake was far worse than I'd imagined - the hard drive contained not only the identities of every MI6 undercover agent, but all of the agents from friendly NATO countries as well. So all American, French, Spanish, Benolux, Portugese... basically every agent that the movie wants us to think of as a 'good guy' has now been compromised. And according to Ralph, MI6 shouldn't have even had a list of everyone's agents in the first place - none of the friendly countries know it exists, or have any idea that their agents may start being killed at any moment. This is the first of many scenes explaining that Judi Dench is terrible at her job.

Especially when she announces that 'all avenues' of investigation are being followed, and she's considered pulling out the agents, but decided not to. We'll get back to those statements a little later on.


The villain then blows up Judi Dench's office by filling it with natural gas and creating a spark. The threat starts with the reveal that someone, somewhere, has started trying to decrypt the hard drive - after waiting three months for no reason. It seems that the act of trying to decrypt the hard drive sends a message over the internet back to MI6. Isn't it a little odd that supposed brilliant hacker would try to decrypt a super-important piece of technology on a computer hooked up to the internet? Isn't it even stranger that the computers that control MI6's environmental controls are hooked up to the internet? Hell, isn't it strange that basically any of MI6's computers are hooked up to the internet? Shouldn't they have certain computers that go on the internet, but basically everything else is locked into the building? You know, like the room from Mission: Impossible.

This isn't really a complaint - more of a question: given the dangers posed by gas leaks and the importance of the building, should MI6 headquarters even have natural gas heating? I wonder if the real one does...

Now I'm just going to reference this video again, as it speaks for itself.




James Bond then returns to point out how terrible Judi Dench is at her job. He feels she shouldn't have ordered Moneypenny to shoot at him on the train - he should have been trusted to beat the villain in a fistfight. Judi defends herself by claiming that she made a choice between 'the possibility of losing (Bond) or the certainty of losing all those other agents'. Which makes zero sense as a defense. She lost both Bond and all the other agents, making the combination of her bad decision making and Moneypenny's bad aim a 1-2 punch of incompetence that should have gotten everyone fired. Instead of apologizing, though, she just acts indignant, because, in addition to everything else, she's a bad manager.

The conversation then takes a turn to the morbid, as James says they've both been at the game too long. This is one of the themes of the film - that Bond and M are both washed-up, burned-out has-beens who've been in high-stress positions for far too long. Let's address that, shall we?

Perhaps Judi has been at this too long, since she started working there in 1995, but the film Casino Royale was about James Bond's first mission as a double O agent. The events of the film take place over the course of about a month. The film Quantum of Solace takes place over the subsequent month - perhaps two, depending on exactly when the epilogue was set.

This means that Skyfall is the first movie about 'James Bond, experienced OO agent', but in the course of its plot, he's only been doing the job for six years. This is the kind of story you tell if you're trying to make a point about the weight of history bearing down on a franchise. Except the franchise was rebooted two movies ago, so Daniel Craig hasn't had enough adventures that he's earned the right to be weary.

Seriously, whose idea was it to make Daniel Craig's 3rd James Bond movie a story about how Daniel Craig was too old to be James Bond? It's only his 3rd movie!



MI6 has moved into an unfinished basement. Because they had no fully-prepared backup site ready to move to in the event of an attack on their headquarters. And don't try to tell me that this is their fully-prepared backup site, because there are men and women in boiler suits all over the place hooking up computers and lights. This is obviously a jury-rigged situation.



James Bond is then asked to take a series of tests to prove that he's capable of performing in the field. He is not. Yet he approved for duty anyway. I have no idea why. Aren't there perfectly fit and mentally stable agents who could be doing this job? What is James Bond bringing to the table that another OO agent couldn't?

"This is a James Bond Movie so it has to be about him." is not an acceptable answer.



James Bond then pries some fragmented bullet shrapnel out of his own shoulder with a lockblade knife. Even though he's only a few feet from an infirmary where a trained medical professional could do it for him. The same trained medical professional who will no doubt be required to sew the wound back up in roughly ten minutes. I suppose the intent of this scene is to establish that James Bond is a Rambo-style 'hard man'. The difference is that Rambo performs surgery on himself because he's in a jungle behind enemy lines. If there was a doctor around, Rambo would let the doctor handle it, because literally anyone would. James Bond need only ask and someone will take care of the shrapnel extraction in a quick and sterile manner.

This scene doesn't establish James Bond as tough, it establishes him as an idiot.

Two scenes later it's revealed that James Bond isn't the only idiot in the chain of command. Bond has turned over the shrapnel fragments, and an analyst has determined that the bullets are extremely rare, of a type used by just three professional mercenaries.



Why is this incomparably stupid? Because, in a previous scene, Judi announced that every avenue of investigation into the hard drive's theft had been pursued. Yet no one had made any attempt to identify the assassin in the past three months? It's not like the bullet that struck Bond was unique - as I recall, the villain fired roughly a hundred of them-



Killing two police officers in the process. During the investigation into the mass murder in Turkey, wouldn't MI6 have already discovered the importance of the rare bullets? And it's not like they needed James Bond to identify the assassin once they knew about the bullets - Moneypenny got a good enough look at the guy that she can narrow it down to one. The three options are a black guy, a guy with dark hair, and a guy with blonde hair. The assassin was a light-skinned guy with dark hair. How difficult was that?

What's worse, the second that Bond points the assassin out, MI6 is able to identify exactly where he'll be in 2 days - on a job in Shanghai. If the global information network tracking assassins is that good, how did it take this long to find the guy? Couldn't they have just gotten a list of every hired killer in the general vicinity of Turkey who matched the villain's description and then had Moneypenny look at the pictures until she picked the guy out? What, if anything, did they need James Bond for?

Now things get terrible as we meet-


New Q. Here's a tip, filmmakers - if your brilliant idea for how to reimagine the character of Q (as a young not-very hip guy who knows computers!) is the exact same way that every single James Bond rip-off/parody has been reimagining Q for the past 30 years, then maybe your take isn't as fresh and daring as you think it is. I accept that they weren't going to bring John Cleese back - only Tanner and Judi got tapped, for some reason - but why not go a completely different way with this and cast someone the audience would never expect? Like a Bill Nighy, for example, as an old pro who's been doing the job for so long that he's in a position to put Bond in his place, and can play computers like a harpsichord because he's one of the inventors of the Internet? That would be a twist.


Then Q gives Bond his new Walther, which is the movie's attempt to give a nod to 'classic' James Bond by giving him back his original gun, which had fallen out of favour during the Brosnan years. Which would be a nice touch, were Bond not already using the mini Walther at the beginning of the movie-


Still, this new one has a palm print reader so only James Bond can use it - that's high-tech, right? And I'm sure it's going to come up later in the movie!

So then it's off to the second of the film's 2 exotic locations! Yes, two whole locations! Really showing people something this time, aren't you EON productions?

Bond follows the Assassin from the airport to a building downtown, then watches passively as the man executes two security guards. At this point you may be wondering why James Bond didn't simply grab the man on the street while he was getting out of his taxi. An excellent question! I don't know the answer either. Also unclear: How the assassin managed to get suitcase with a rifle in it and a pistol through customs. According to the film's timeline the assassin got off a plan, hopped in a cab, and headed straight to his mission site. Where are all these guns coming from? And let's thank heavens his flight wasn't delayed, given the extreme time pressure that his mission will prove to be under.

But hey, what does all of that matter, when the film is about to spiral into heretofore unimagined depths of idiocy!

So Bond follows the killer to an extremely high floor of the building, then waits patiently while the killer:

1) Laser-cuts a hole in a window.
2) Assembles a sniper rifle.
3) Takes a full ten seconds to aim at and then shoot a man in a building across the street.

James Bond could have attacked at any point leading up to the shooting, while the villain was distracted with his work. He could have shot the man in the arms or legs, incapacitating him while he was still preparing, making the assassin far easier to interrogate. Instead he tries to get within touching distance of the killer before making his move, which leads to a fistfight, and the villain going out a window without offering any useful information.

Because James Bond is terrible at his job. Another of the film's themes.

Before we move on to the next scene, let's consider just how puzzling this whole sequence is.

A frequently-asked question about this scene is 'why was the assassin paid to snipe that guy?' It's a fair question. Here is the sequence of events that take place in the building across the way.


A man and his secretary arrive at an apartment for a viewing of a painting, presumably because he wants to purchase it. In the apartment are the man, his secretary, an evil woman, and three bodyguards. Two guards by the painting, one by the door.


The assassin shoots the man, and the two bodyguards collect his body for disposal. The man's secretary tries to flee-


But the guard by the door murders her.

So everyone in the apartment other than the man and his secretary were in on the scheme to murder those two. Which begs the question - why didn't they just shoot the man, since they were there anyways, rather than paying an assassin millions of dollars to shoot the guy from across the street?

It's not like they're going to pretend to the authorities that they're innocent, and a mysterious figure they have no connection to shot the man. Their first reaction to the death is to move the body, presumably so it can be made to disappear. And the secretary is killed by someone in the apartment, rather than the sniper. So if there's no need for the public to think this guy was sniped, and no tactical advantage to be gained by sniping him, why do it?

And if the whole thing was a setup that would never be revealed to the public, why did the assassin have to kill those two guards? Couldn't the villains have just rented a room in the building across the way? Doesn't killing the guards risk attracting more attention and possibly screwing up their timeline?

What's worse is that James Bond makes no effort whatsoever to intervene in the situation. He's there to capture the assassin in the hopes of finding out more about his employer. The assassin is poised to shoot a man across the street. Just based on simple 'enemy of my enemy' logic shouldn't Bond want to save the life of the man across the street in the hopes that he might have some information to offer about the criminal syndicate Bond is investigating?

The crazy part is that this nonsensical scene has such an easy fix. Just give the man three bodyguards that he brings everywhere with him, and make sure there are only two evil painting guards in the scene. That way the villains would have needed to come up with a plan to take the man by surprise. The sniper would kill him from across the street, and while his bodyguards took cover and fired back at what they thought was an external attack, the painting guards would shoot them. See? How hard was that?

As of right now, the villains only hired a sniper so that James Bond could have an action sequence. Which, again, is not a valid reason.

One more thing about this scene-


After killing his only source of information, James Bond finds a super-swank casino chip in the guy's sniper case. I guess the taxi driver was sent by the villains, and the case and gun were waiting inside? The chip will prove to be the method of payment for the assassin's job, which motivates James Bond to track it to its source. By trying to collect on the marker.

Here's the problem with his plan - at this point he has no reason to believe that the people who paid the assassin for this job are the same ones who paid him for the Turkish assignment. Which creates a bit of a bind - if they're not the same people, there will be no information at the casino. If they are the same people, they'll know that James Bond isn't the man who should be picking up the money, and they'll have no reason to give him any information. Or let him live.

And in either event, they'll know what James Bond looks like and that he's on his way-


Since their operative saw James Bond kill the real sniper.

So there's basically no way this plan can go well. Yet, of course, it does, since this is a terribly-written film!

James Bond turns the chip over to the cashier in the Macau Casino that was listed on it, resulting in him being rewarded with the assassin's millions-


Which suggests that this is one of the worst-run criminal organizations in history. Why would a criminal group have their assassin pick up his payment at a business run by that same group? Couldn't they have left the money literally anywhere in the world that didn't connect directly to them? Isn't this the least secret way of managing your evil empire imaginable?

James Bond then seduces the evil operative into inviting him onto her boat, provided that he survives his encounter with casino security. Who are probably the same guys from the painting apartment, but I didn't actually get a great look at them in that scene, so who knows?

The fight lands Bond in a terrarium, which gives me a chance to offer a primer on Bond history, and this film's unimpressive place within it.



That is a real man running across the real backs of real Crocodiles. (Thanks, Youtube uploader!)


That is Daniel Craig pretending to be jump off the back of a CGI komodo dragon.

Oy.

Hey, at least the gun with the palmprint lock finally came in handy when it kept the henchman from shooting Bond!

Ah, puns.

So then Bond hops on the operative's boat, for a night with a beautiful lady and a trip to the villain's evil hideout. Then he sleeps for like six hours, because when he heads out onto the deck it's well into the next day.


Apparently it didn't occur to him to incapacitate or murder the crew (who the operative was afraid of), then get the information about the island's location from the operative. Hell, he doesn't even bother activating his emergency transmitter until they're roughly ten minutes away from the island hideout. Why not tip MI6 off hours ago? They could have tracked the boat surreptitiously and then put up a cordon when Bond arrived at the island, taking in all the bad guys at once with minimal risk.

It's not like Bond is delaying calling in backup until he's sure that Javier Bardem is on the island. As I mentioned above, he called in backup ten minutes before getting to the island. He could have arrived to discover a videophone call from a moon base. It was his incompetence that led to the whole 'captured by the villain' thing.


Then Javier arrives with an extended monologue about how rats can learn to be survivors if abandoned in the wild with no choice but to feed on their own kind. It's a nice story and all, but has nothing to do with the plot of the film or their own situation. Judi betrayed Javier, yes, but she just made a mistake with Bond. Javier had no choice but to become a monster to survive in the desperate world of international espionage. Bond, acting like the petulant child throwing a hissy fit that this film has reduced his emotional maturity level to, got mad at his mommy and ran away from home, gleefully crowing to himself about how sad everyone was going to be when they never saw him again.

Javier also explains his evil organization, which is, in a nutshell, that he has all powers of of a '90s conception of a computer hacker. Basically he's Fisher Stevens, only it's not racist when he speaks with an accent because he's legitimately not a native English speaker.

Then Bond lets Javier kill the operative because - again - he sucks at his job now. Javier takes him out to play a game of William Burroughs, and James seems to be in a bad situation, since although he's got a gun, it only has one bullet, and a bunch of men with automatic weapons are standing around him. So he tries to shoot a glass off of the operative's head, and misses. Then he patiently waits for Javier to murder the woman before making his move and disarming then shooting all the henchmen. This seems like an odd choice, since his tactical advantage began once he was out of bullets and the henchmen slightly relaxed. There's no difference in difficulty in making his move before or after the operative is shot - yes, Javier has a bullet before, but all the other men have automatic weapons, so that's a marginal difference at best. So why not save the woman? Because James Bond is terrible at his job.

Speaking of people who are terrible at their jobs, New Q gets the computer of the world's most dangerous hacker and plugs it directly into the MI6 mainframe that controls every aspect of the MI6 facility he's currently standing in, and also has access to outside computers. Because not one single person in the world of this movie is even slightly familiar with the basics of computer security. So what happens?


Javier's graphics attack their graphics! This opens Javier's Hannibal Lektor cell, which for some reason was computer controlled rather than having say a lock and a sliding bar. How hilarious would it have been if they'd locked him in a metal cell with a couple of padlocks? Javier's years of planning fall apart because of ten dollars worth of padlocks?


Wow, is that a terribly designed cell, by the way - so you leave a guy in there completely unchained, and there's no way to give him food or water except to full-on open the door? Isn't a food slot like prison design 101? I'm also not entirely sure how Javier got out of that glass cage and past two guards who were watching him while holding guns. The filmmakers obviously weren't clear on that either, which is why they cut around that scene, straight to Javier escaping into the sewers.

During the initial five minutes of the chase, New Q has immediately figured out that everything that has transpired has all been according to Javier's plan. Yet somehow it doesn't occur to anyone to give Judi - the person that Javier hates most in the world - a quick heads up that he might well be on his way over to her for revenge. Yes, New Q is busy, but there are also fifty other people working in the building - can't one of them give Judi a shout?

When they finally do get around to calling Tanner and getting him to warn Judi, about ten minutes later, she's too prideful to go to a secure location. And also too prideful to warn the building security that some killers dressed as policemen are on their way to murder her, and maybe they should lock down the building, just to be on the safe side.

Wow, she really is awful at her job, isn't she?

So James Bond gives chase and manages to catch up to Javier, who's dressed as a policeman. Interestingly, James Bond doesn't simply shoot Javier at this point-


Although I'm not sure why. They don't need him alive, and even if they could capture him they have no reason to believe they could get him to co-operate. So is there any reason not to shoot the guy dead? From a writing standpoint this is another ridiculously easy fix - Javier ducks behind a pillar as Bond enters the room shooting, then escapes up a staircase while Bond is dodging rubble from the train. Same outcome, only it doesn't make Bond look terrible at his job.

What's that? Oh, right, the train-


Isn't it amazing that Javier was able to blow a hole in the ceiling just in time for a train to plummet through it? That's inconceivably lucky, huh? After all, the timing of his plan was entirely dependent on when/if New Q plugged his laptop into the MI6 mainframe, so there's no possible way he could have known that a train would be there just seconds after he detonated his explosives. Even with an absolutely maximum frequency of one train every two minutes, that's still a huge window of time wherein James Bond could have just shot him after the hole in the floor was blown without incident.


Then Javier heads to parliament and proceeds to shoot his way into one of the most-guarded buildings in the country because no one bothered to warn security that he was on his way. Then, after his obsessive love for Judi renders him unable to shoot her and a gunfight with Bond drives him out of the room, he's able to escape the building because - again - no one bothered to warn the entire metropolitan police department that they should secure all of the exits to the government building that the terrorist dressed like a cop is presently shooting up.

Everyone in this world is terrible at their jobs, including Javier.

Since Javier's master plan to walk into a government building and shoot an unarmed woman (which he could have done at any point in the past decade, BTW) had been foiled by his undying love for that woman, Bond has an idea - use Judi as bait to draw Javier out! They want to head up to the Bond estate in Scotland, but they need Javier to follow him - so they switch cars to one without a tracker and then have New Q create a fake tracking signal to lead Javier up to Scotland after them.

The plan? Lead him to a manor house on an isolated moor, and then spring a trap! In theory, this should be a great plan. In practice, it's terrible. Why? Here's the trap they plan to spring: James Bond and two elderly people will fill a house with Heather Lagenkamp-style traps and then hope that they'll somehow be able to defeat a few squads of mercenaries and a helicopter.

Here's the thing - why try to do this on your own? Even armed with a car that had machine-gun headlights, you're still incredibly outmatched. Would it really have been so much trouble to have a division of Royal Marines waiting to deal with Javier when he arrived? Javier is working without most his organization, remember. His computer island has been seized, many of his men have been killed, the whole world knows what he looks like. Javier's running on fumes at this point, pulling together the last of his resources for a suicide mission.

James Bond is in no such dire straits. He has an entire government on his side. Javier has a helicopter? Bond has an air force. Obviously they don't want to scare Javier off, but there's no reason they can't monitor his approach by satellite, and once he's on the moors with no possibility of escape, why not move in force and wipe all of Javier's men out? After driving a certain distance into Scotland Javier is trapped without the possibility of escape, so why aren't they using that fact to their advantage? Wouldn't literally any plan involving the armed forces of the UK be better than hoping that you can take on a small army single-handedly?

Which brings me to my final point-


What is Judi doing there at all? The plan is to use Judi as bait by making Javier follow a 'trail of breadcrumbs' involving Bond's trip up North. What part of that plan requires Judi to actually go North with Bond? Since Javier is following the fake car tracker trail, he has no idea whether Judi is actually in the car with Bond at all. Couldn't Bond have stopped in any of the dozens of villages and hamlets they passed through along the way and let Judi rent a room for a couple of days until Javier was dead?

What could Bond possibly hope to accomplish by bringing Judi along, other than getting her killed, which is exactly what he does?

This is a James Bond movie where everyone is terrible at their job and nothing anyone does makes sense. Bravo, filmmakers, you've managed to turn out a James Bond movie that's not only worse than Quantum of Solace, it's actually worse than Octopussy.


I suppose that the last scene of the movie is supposed to convince us that the worst James Bond movie ever was necessary to pave the way for a return to form, in which James Bond actually performs espionage and foils supervillains in gorgeous international locations. That's nice, but maybe you could have skipped wasting eight hours of our lives with one passable and two awful movies, and just started with classic Bond films? Dr. No wasn't an origin story, morons, and Casino Royale didn't need to be one either.

So that's it for 'Why Skyfall was the Worst James Bond Movie'. Join me next time for 'I can't believe that terrible movie Skyfall is a remake of THAT movie!'

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