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Can We Nitpick Skyfall’s Evil Plan for a Moment?

Daniel Craig (left) and Javier Bardem star in Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures/Columbia Pictures/EON Productions? action adventure SKYFALL.
Photo: Francois Duhamel/United Artists Corporation, Columbia Pictures Industries

In June, Kyle Buchanan bemoaned the intricate yet utterly illogical villainous master plans of last summer’s blockbusters’ baddies. The new James Bond film, Skyfall, has received largely delighted reviews (including from New York Magazine’s own David Edelstein), but Javier Bardem’s Silva seems to have attended the same school of overelaborate doomsday planning as The Avengers’ Loki, Brave’s Witch, and Snow White and the Huntsman’s Ravenna. This does not make it a bad movie, mind you. But when looking back on the many steps of Silva’s operation, each one perfectly anticipating and undermining his wannabe foilers’ reactions (except, of course, those critical countermoves at the end), one is left wondering if someone really needs to put together a Learning Annex class for our planet’s supervillains called, “Start the Insanity! (But Keep it Simple, Stupid).” Spoilers follow in this post, if you have not yet seen the film.

To review, here is the quick rundown of Silva’s to-do list, rife with complicated preplanning, followed to achieve his simple endgame: to tell M how angry he is at her, and to kill her.

1)      Scare an entire population into deserting their island home, then turn it into a largely unfurnished and very roomy base.

2)      Hire an assassin to steal a list of all undercover NATO agents and blow their covers, so they will be killed. This will get M in trouble with her government overseers.

3)      Blow up M’s office to further get her attention, and put her career further in jeopardy.

4)      Fly assassin to Shanghai to kill person (and then be killed) as an elaborate way to get Bond to have a meet-cute with Silva’s sex-slave-cum-personal-assistant Sévérine. She will eventually lead Bond to Silva’s techno-island, where he will be captured.

5)      Kill Sévérine, but then be seized by MI6 … on purpose!

6)      Get put in a glass cell, have M brought to him so he can make sure he has a quiet spot to explain his everlasting grudge and highlight his dental work.

7)      Have Q attempt to decrypt his Trojan horse of a “master plan,” which will release a virus that shuts down power and allows Silva to escape.

8)      Know that when this happens, Bond will come after him: Find the exact spot where Bond will catch up, and arrange for a subway train to fall on his head.

9)      Dress up like a policeman. You’re nearly there!

10)   Only then, after all of these boxes have been ticked off — a process that likely took months and billions of dollars — will the pieces be in place for Silva to administer the coup de grace: Barge into a crowded courtroom and shoot up the place, hoping to nail M.

After all that masterminding and ne’er-do-welling, one would hope for a more high-tech or intricate climax. If you’re the kind of bad guy who can predict fourteen steps ahead as to what James Bond, all of MI6, a former sex slave, a couple of aggressive, man-eating lizards, and an entire island of incredibly gullible people would do, and then account for it with pinpoint accuracy, would you not look at the whole “storm into a crowded Parliamentary hearing and start shooting” idea and think, “Hmm, there are an awful lot of unknowns here.” If you’re gonna go low tech, why not skip all the assassin/thief/train-fighter subcontracting and just kidnap M, air your grievances, and then kill her?

Okay, so maybe the island aspect of the plan is just too good to give up: Fine, kidnap M, bring her to the island, show off your media room and then shoot her. Heck, see how many shot glasses you can stack on her head before you pull the trigger. Play Jenga on her head: It’s your moment, enjoy it! But do it somewhere quiet where you don’t have so many screaming people, not to mention the many armed guards who tend to frequent government buildings. (Though Silva’s common sense does go on holiday when it comes to shoot-‘em-ups: He later has his henchmen march towards Bond’s childhood home in lined-up, easy-to-mow-down lockstep. Did you learn nothing from The In-Laws, Silva? Serpentine! Serpentine!)

Yes, James Bond has a rich tradition of villainous masterminds with elaborate, preposterous plans (in fact, the franchise may well be the Patient Zero of all movie-supervillain hubris), so to nitpick it for being far-fetched is to spit in the wind (wind created by evil Russian oligarch Boris Narisikov’s SuperGust 5000, which he will use to destroy the World Bank!). Skyfall is a fun ride, provided viewers hold up their end of the action movie–moviegoer contract of enjoying envelope-pushing stunts in exchange for turning off their internal-logic warning lights. There is nothing inherently wrong with Silva having such a complicated master plan, one would have just hoped that it was in service of a bigger finish: It doesn’t have to be a laser to the crotch, just something that warranted all that groundwork.

Although that said, both sides have some explaining to do when it comes to follow-through. Hey, Albert Finney’s Kincade: Good thinking on the subterranean tunnels, but maybe when you get out and are running across a wide-open plain in the pitch dark, you might want to turn off your flashlight.

Can We Nitpick Skyfall’s Evil Plan for a Moment?