Conventional wisdom about writing is conventionally wrong.
The latest 007 film misses the target—despite having the same ingredients as SKYFALL: great actors, great director, great action scenes.
Whether it’s a novel, a movie or a speech, one rule is absolute: End things with your strongest punch.
The biggest fight scene in SPECTRE is a train battle between 007 and that green shirtless guy from GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY.
So when the climax comes, the final confrontation is between Bond and the supervillain, who’s crippled and crawling away from his burning helicopter.
It’s a non-fight with no tension or suspense. There’s a 0 percent chance the villain will find a way to win and a 100 percent chance Bond is triumphant.
If a super villain keeps trying to kill me, and just sent a ginormous assassin on my train to say hi, why would I show up at his secret lair expecting dinner and a drinks?
This is exactly what Bond does. He has no plan other than to rely on the villain’s generosity and stupidity.
In SKYFALL, Bond does travel to Silva’s secret lair, but in that case he does have a plan: find the man, then activate Q’s tracker beacon to bring in special forces in helicopters and capture Silva.
When 007 manages to escape and blow up the entire desert lair in SPECTRE, it feels cheap. It’s also premature. The First Law of Secret Super Villain Lairs is, You can’t blow up the lair until Act 3.
In SKYFALL, you saw what happened when Bond gets shot and loses faith in his job. He’s not the same. He’s not even qualified, physically and mentally, to go back in the field.
And when he goes out there, he does suffer and sacrifice to win. Silva destroys his family home and M dies.
In SPECTRE, Bond breaks the rules by breaking half of Mexico City, and getting sacked by M doesn’t affect him at all. Q and Moneypenny help him out. He still gets his cars and gadgets. To win, Bond doesn’t suffer or sacrifice one bit.
There’s a great stinger ending in FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE where the femme fatale, a Russian spy, has to choose between shooting her mentor, the evil woman with the poison-tipped shoe, and shooting Bond.
There’s real suspense there. It matters.
SKYFALL had a wonderful femme fatale, and I’ll always remember the tremble in her lips as she tried to smoke a cigarette and keep it together once Bond asked about Silva.
SPECTRE has no femme fatale.
Any movie or TV show can have amazing special effects now. What made SKYFALL so good was the beautiful colors and framing of every shot and the mood created. Cinematographer Roger Deakins made that happen.
Deakins is also the cinematographer for THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION and NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN. Check out this story for how Deakins worked magic in ten iconic shots.
Every 007 film costs $250 million or so, right? Spend an extra couple million, every time, to hire Deakins.
Great cinematography is also the secret behind the success of MAD MAX: FURY ROAD.
Great actors + a brilliant cinematographer = a classic film, something you’ll happily watch again and again.
And that’s my acid test for any movie: Would I pay to watch it again?
Thrillers are about betrayal. Always have been, always will be.
Half the fun is trying to figure out who the traitor is and how the hero will escape the trap.
They stole Moriarity for the betrayer in SPECTRE, and he was great standing up to Benedict Cumberbatch. In this movie, though, he’s obviously a bad guy from the first seconds you see him, and he’s not scary at all.
In the end, Bond doesn’t take him out. Voldemort does. Always a bad story decision, having a sidekick do the work.
Average 007 movies split up roles: (1) a smart villain with an army of minions, (2) a tough killer and (3) a traitor from within.
Once you watch Bond slay the tough killer, you know it’s a cakewalk to mow through the army of minions, punch out the nerdy super villain and blow up his volcano base.
Bad 007 movies split up those roles and divide them even more, with two villains, three different killers, four femme fatales for Bond to sleep with and two different traitors from within.
Brilliant 007 movies combine those roles into one juicy package for the villain.
Silva from SKYFALL was the criminal mastermind, the deadly assassin and the traitor from within.
006 from GOLDENEYE (Sean Bean dies again!) was the main villain, just as tough as Remington Steele and a traitor you didn’t see coming.
Both those movies saved the biggest fight for the end, with Bond versus the villain in an even fight. Doing this right is the difference between ending the film with a shrug or a bang. I believe 007 deserves to end movies in style.
More goodness about 007:
Reformed journalist. Scribbler of speeches and whatnot. Represented by Jill Marr of the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency.