I suppose it’s come to the point where, when talking about a new James Bond movie, one feels compelled to start with rankings. Well, Skyfall is not as good as Casino Royale, but it’s far better than Quantum of Solace.
Now that that’s out of the way, whatever else Skyfall is, it’s very enjoyable and exciting, expertly acted (with a sharp, little turn at the end by that old curmudgeon Albert Finney) and extremely well made. You will be more than entertained. At the same time, I also feel I should start out with a bit of deconstruction; so fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.
Obama may have been reelected POTUS, but Skyfall is definitely in the Romney camp. It’s a movie that pits the old white guys against women and minorities. Yes, I’m prepared for the ridicule and accusations of taking an escapist film a bit too seriously, but there was still for me a slight, uncomfortable tang of misogyny, homophobia and racism simmering somewhere slightly below the surface. None of it on purpose, I’m sure, but I still maintain that it’s in the air, lingering around like an afterthought of perfume.
Skyfall is about a crisis at MI6, which at this point is run by M, played by stalwart Judy Dench. She is the cold, distant mother who works outside the home and considers her job more important than her children. In fact, she’s willing to sacrifice them Medea like to achieve her goals. As a result, one (a tres amusing Javier Bardem, in equally tres amusing blond tresses that first made me think of Donald Trump and then wonder if the carpet matched the drapes) turns out to be gay and can’t handle the situation so he does what all gay men do when their mother turns against them—go mentally unstable and vow revenge (the Norman Bates route), while her other son (Daniel Craig, as stoically handsome and damned sexy as ever), grows up straight to do what every good hetero son does when caught in the same situation, bury his emotions deep within himself until he can’t create a meaningful relationship with anyone of the female persuasion (or as he’s more commonly known, James Bond).
Now the old white guys want to take MI6 back. And M can find little support. Even the token female on the inquiry board into M’s performance is a bitch and is more unforgiving of M than the men, with M’s only support coming from a condescending old white guy (Ralph Feinnes, not given a lot to do emotionally except for one scene where he finds himself rising to the occasion of a gun battle; but hey, it’s a paycheck). But will the OWG’s win? That’s the real question—not whether Craig will defeat Bardem, a conflict which is only there to distract the audience from the real apocalyptic issues facing the survival of the nation.
Okay, now that I’ve had my fun and left all my friends rolling their eyes at me, I do reiterate that Skyfall is enjoyable and exciting. Sam Mendes, perhaps a long ways from American Beauty here, does a very commendable job as director, keeping all the various elements together, by hook and by crook if he has to. The film opens with a riveting chase and fight scene choreographed to within an inch of Bob Fosse’s life, followed by a title sequence that would put Saul Bass to shame.
After this, though it never gets boring, the story does slow a bit. This is mainly for two reasons. The first is that the writers, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and John Logan, keep bringing up some claptrap about the real crisis at MI6 being that the intelligence agency is stuck in the past and that the old must make way for the new (these scenes always felt forced and were never that convincing, especially since one can hardly imagine a more up to date and with the times organization than the computerized MI6 presented here).
And this emphasis seems a bit misplaced. Much more interesting are the psychological make ups of Bardem and Craig’s characters, each of them given a traumatic past that is suppose to have made them what they are today. But so little time is devoted to these much more complex aspects of the story, that these through lines don’t really have the emotional resonance one wished they would have had.
The second reason for a slight tediousness here is that the story, at least at the beginning, feels a bit made up as it goes along. The action sequences and look of the film tend to overpower character and clarity of plot, so that even if the set pieces are pretty neat, a little energy seeps out when one scene doesn’t clearly lead to the other. In fact, one almost gets the idea that the writers were given a group of locations (wonderful, amazing, startling to the eye and other senses locations—a skyscraper overpowered by electronic billboards; an isolated pagoda styled casino that feels like it’s floating in air and is lit by a million candles; an abandoned building on a deserted island with an Ozymandias statue in its courtyard; Winston Churchill’s bunker sans cigars), and told to create a story around it. One has to give them credit for doing as well as they did (though one could wish for a bit more wit) and as the story goes along and once Bardem’s fey villain is introduced, the story gets tighter and tighter and marking time is replaced by true excitement.
The ending is a bit of a mixed message. The old ways of hunting rifles and primitive knives win the day over the more modern weaponry of hand grenades and choppers (both of the flying and shooting kind). But the symbol of Britain’s past, a huge, decaying monstrosity of a mansion in the middle of nowhere (or the English countryside as it’s more commonly known), is reduced to rubble. So out with the old and in with the…old?
Because the final scenes say it all. The gay man dies; the women are removed from their places of greatest skill (an expert female marksman is reduced to being a, wait for it…secretary—but, hey, even if she can’t type, at least she has a great figure for the men to ogle over); all racial minorities have been put in their place; and a typical father figure, as reserved, white and straight as 007 himself, takes over…all as the Founding Fathers intended, if the Founding Fathers had founded England, which they didn’t, but the principle’s the same.