1. Presentation of the opponents (a.k.a synopsis):
Skyfall: Although his name is Bond, James Bond, and he still drinks his martini stirred not shaken, it doesn’t mean he is in top form and infallible all the time. Yes, in this continuation of adventures of the most famous secret agent of Her Majesty the Queen, 007 is left in the serious lurch, mainly because his colleagues are less efficient than him and his boss is an insensitive, stubborn old lady.The movie kickstarts with an uproarious chase scene in Istambul during which James is wounded by his glamorous partner, Eve, who was ordered by M to shoot their opponent, no matter what. As it wasn’t a clear shot, she hurt Bond instead. Presumed dead, James hides in an exotic country and enjoys a well-earned respite in the arms of an anonymous exotic beauty and in a river of alcohol. Not for long, though. When he finds out that the MI6 headquarters in London have been attacked and nearly blown sky-high by a terrorizing computer hack of incredible reach he knows it’s time to move. The upshot of this disaster is a request for M’s resignation from a higher-up bureaucrat played by Ralph Fiennes. “Like hell,” is the short version of steely M’s answer and it will be hell, no problem. At which point the presumed-dead Bond returns, a little worse for the wear after his partying sabbatical. M sets him loose despite his shakiness, shamelessly doctoring the results of his physical and psychological tests; the quest for a villain who knows too much begins. What secrets will be revealed this time?
Argo: 1979. Antonio J. Mendez, a Central Intelligence Agency officer, is tapped to help free six State Department employees stranded in Tehran. While revolutionary forces (or rather an angry mob) were overrunning the embassy and taking hostages, including the 52 men and women who were held for 444 days, five Americans fled undetected, joined later by the sixth one. Eventually, they made their way to safety, hiding at the Canadian ambassador’s house while the C.I.A., the State Department and the president struggled to find a way to ferry them home. Mr. Mendez, an unorthodox wizard of disguise, came up with the cover story for the six escapees that improbably stuck: they would pose as a Canadian movie crew, shooting one of these cheesy space operas. Set in, surprise, surprise, Iran, because there is no safer and better place on Earth, especially during a revolution, right? To make the movie idea work, Mendez flies to Los Angeles, where he brings in an old colleague, John Chambers a real makeup artist who received an honorary Oscar for “Planet of the Apes.” Next on board is a producer, Lester Siegel who helps make the fake science-fiction flick called “Argo,” look legit. Still it is Tony who has to actually travel to the very mouth of the lion and snatch the victims away, outwitting the enemy. Will he manage to do it on time?
2. Round one: reality check
Skyfall: James Bond, a creation of Ian Fleming, has never been real, not to me anyway. How could he? The guy changes faces like girlfriends and girlfriends like tuxedos and other spying gadgets. At first he looked like this:
|Ian Fleming’s image of James Bond; commissioned to aid the Daily Express comic strip artists. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)|
…and the rest is the silence. Can you really trust such a character? Nuh-huh. Can it be considered real? No way.
Argo: Antonio J. Mendez, on the other hand, was based on a real CIA officer so here he wins, hands down.
James: 0 points
Tony: 2 points
3. Round two – likeability factor
Skyfall features a Bond who has something to prove, and who could be damaged goods, physically and mentally, like any other mortal. He also is not exactly handsome – jug-eared and bandy-legged, definitely older and weary. Did it work? Yes, it did – I was impressed, James! What a change compared to the previous Bond movies full of agressive males in their primes! You are no longer fit but even at your lowest you were still capable of pulling off a very scary drinking trick involving a scorpion. Overall you become attractively human (though never humane) which really suited me fine.
Argo‘s character is based on a real hero so it should have been even better but somehow he wasn’t. I admit Ben Afleck tried and tried to make his Tony three-dimensional and likeable. A bit of personal drama? Here you go, he and his wife are in separation and it is obvious he misses her rather badly. Not even a whiff of an office romance, no clubbing, just pure depression. A cute kid to make the soft-hearted ladies swoon? Not a problem, Tony has a little son and he loves him dearly, trying to relate to him even if they live apart (aww…a family guy!). Did it work? No. It sounded spurious and somehow, looking at the smooth, thoughtless face of Mr. Afleck, covered so becomingly with facial hair, I didn’t care or liked his character.
James: 2 points
Tony: 1 point
4. Round three – visuals
Skyfal is hands down the most visually beautiful Bond movie I have ever seen. Usually such flicks are watched just for action and fighting scenes, guns and babes. This one is different. From the opening in Istanbul to the final siege shootout in the Scottish Highlands, this film is a supremely enjoyable when it comes to the landscapes, presented. My favourites? Shanghai at night and the deep Scottish countryside in the mist. Incredible!
Argo’s crew evidently had a lot of fun with the Chia Pet facial hair, oversize glasses, wide collars, fat ties and earth-toned threads – so did I while watching it! The movie takes us to Hollywood and to Iran. Hollywood is more or less well-known but Teheran shots were really interesting. Still nothing can match Scotland!
5. Round four: secondary characters
Skyfall: Say what you might but Dame Judi Dench stole the show, at least for me. Playing M, Bond’s boss, she dominates every frame with her character, being 100% better and more interesting than any Bond girl and/or associate, featured so far. She is so irritating at the opening, so poignant and admirable at its end that she turns into a kind of fulcrum of the whole movie. A great performance!
Argo: There are plenty of secondary characters which were better/more likeable than the main hero. Which was kind of weird because well, aren’t you supposed to support the lead the most? Instead you laugh and cheer John Chambers (played by John Goodman, breezy and reined in), a real makeup artist and a curmudgeonly Jewish producer, Lester Siegel (a wonderful Alan Arkin) – two Hollywood beasts who help make the fake project sound real and legit.
James: 2 points
Tony: 1.5 points
6. Roud five: the ending
Skyfall shows once again the wisdom of Godard’s dictum that all you need to make a movie is a girl and a gun and once the girl is dead or married and the gun – shot the movie ends. Still I liked the ending far better than the antics connected to your common and garden James Bond movie.
Argo is a very optimistic thriller – in the end, this is a story about outwitting rather than killing the enemy, making it a homage to actual intelligence and an example of the same. Very uplifiting! Still the director didn’t manage to avoid some cheesiness so my rating is lower a bit.
James: 2 points
Tony: 1.5 points
7. Duel results
James: 8 points
Tony: 7 points
James Bond prevailed but it was a close-run contest – in my opinion Skyfall was only marginally better and, mind you, it was pitted against a rather weak movie too. In fact both filcks can be described as examples of decent cinematic workmanship but nothing special. In the case of an Oscar-winning movie it’s criticizm, in the case of another James Bond installment it is a compliment – here I see the main difference.
What do you think? Have you seen any of these? If yes, did you enjoy them?