Latest Bond film in which Daniel Craig tries to track down a list of his colleagues targeted by an ex-insider Silva (Javier Bardem). He is shot chasing an enemy agent in Turkey. He goes into hiding and when Silva attacks MI6 headquarters killing six employees. Bond returns and fights with his foe from Turkey in Shanghai, and in Macau meets Severine (Bérénice Marlohe). Silva’s a prisoner, escapes and searches for Bond and Q (Judi Dench) who stays in Skyfall Bond’s Scottish home…
I read somewhere that the author of the Bond books, Ian Fleming, overheard his wife and the critic Cyril Connally laughing aloud from a Bond novel. Then in 1962 Dr No turned up and Fleming did not care for Connery as Bond. Skyfall is the 50th anniversary film. From hack lowbrow paperbacks Bond has achieved cultural significance. From being a working class fantasy the franchise has now become a popular cultural phenomenon yet in content it’s still the same old escapist infantile nonsense. What’s interesting is how the film has tracked cultural change over the years. From the ’60s consumerist aspirations we get the jaded effeteness of Moore, then the classier hi-tech Brosnan, and now we get Daniel Craig competing with Batman, Bourne, Bruce Willis and co. The Bond movie has gone from self parody to self congratulatory self referencing in occasionally poignant ways. One heart tugging plot of this Bond film is the relationship between M and Bond. She is his mother, sister, and overall confidante. M is threatened with retirement by Ralph Fiennes’ Malory, then she is up before a government enquiry into MI6 activities. She eloquently (if not too convincingly) fights her corner as she explains the changed nature of the enemy: not cold war transparency but the opacity of the terrorist who can be anybody, the case for hi-tech paranoia. How do you, though, make war on terror if terror is the result of war in the first place? War makes war on the result of war? This leads us to the strange business of cold war espionage as such, it is inherently futile since neither side could be allowed to win because both cold war enemies were symbiotically sustaining bureaucracies, mirror images providing a mutual raison d’etre: M then quotes from Tennyson to illustrate her beliefs then we cut to Silva and his goons intending to kill M (this is borrowed from Coppola’s Godfather christening scene cutting to gangster killings).
Q is now played by Ben Whishaw. The lab clowning has been replaced by a serious young computer nerd equipping Bond with a gun only he can use. There are rueful comments on youth and age. Moneypenny is played by Naomie Harris, she starts out in the field but goes back to the office. Bond himself has to retrain in MI6’s new underground headquarters. The icy killing machine of previous films is still there but now he is self lacerating, the human flaws more apparent beneath the flippant thuggish-ness. The heterosexual athlete of the 20th century is even prepared to admit being gay. The franchise is in the confessional box even as it continues to wallow in Brit smugness (after its helicopter stunt in the 2012 Olympics). Javier Bardem as the villain is plausibly complicated, he is wounded by what he sees as M’s capacity for treachery and deceit, the villain-good guy boundaries have become more nuanced and uncertain.
The killer gadgets here are the computer, a tube train, and a Shanghai elevator. One fight sequence is back-dropped by a giant screen showing a jellyfish, so we go from cold hi-tech to tortured family issues in a grimly austere Scottish house. I suppose this is meant to be a journey from sin to redemption. We get more sentimental referencing as Bond uses the Goldfinger Aston Martin (M makes a joke about being ejected from it). Nature’s dangers are macho fetishes: the scorpion poised on his hand as he drinks, the fight in a Komodo dragon pit.
There is frantic action enough for the Bond fan, and it could be the best of the lot as it raises a glass of fifty year old malt whiskey. It is after all directed by Sam Mendes. Reliable action man nonsense.