Skyfall: 007 — Shaken and Stirred

By Sandra Olmsted

The heady cocktail of the new James Bond adventure has a lot to recommend it: nods to earlier incarnations of Ian Fleming’s cinematic 007, a peek inside Bond’s psychology, and a theme of old vs. new spying. Director Sam Mendes fulfills most expectation by including most of the standard Bond film elements such as beautiful Bond girls; a nail-biting, popcorn-munching opening scene; big, exciting action sequences; tangled-plot espionage; exotic locales; a John Barry score; and a great villain, Silva. Javier Bardem perfectly embodies Silva as the quintessential Bond bad guy, while Daniel Craig returns for his third time as Bond to somewhat mixed delight.

However, there are a few Bond film elements which are missing, and the question is whether the trade off is worth that peek under the bonnet of 007’s personality.  What isn’t seen is a consistently debonair Bond, who is never shaken or stirred by anything that happens, and not a many new gadgets; meanwhile, plot twists undermine the sophistication and prowess of 007 in favor of screenwriter John Logan’s more human Bond. Logan, who is writing the next two Bond films, does treat Bond as a modern, more complex character than earlier Bond screenwriters.

Although Bond’s character is modern, his gadgets are decidedly retro and include the famous Aston Martin car, and, instead of incredible gadgets, Bond being given only a tiny radio to call for backup and a gun, which only he can fire. While Craig’s Bond does make one appearance wearing a tuxedo and ordering his famed martini, he is generally a bit scruffier in appearance, which won’t delight those looking for the urbane Bond. The fights royale also fall back on that hallmark of English film, the train, for added tension, and good, old-fashion dynamite provides the thunderballs as often as not.

In Logan and Mendes’ defense, the plot explains these missing elements, such as the absence of the gadgets because of the bombing of MI6’s headquarters, without belaboring the points, and the retro use of dynamite also ties into the theme of counter-terrorism spying is more like the early days of country vs. country spying.

For Bond, M (Judi Dench), and MI6, the new spying game is more about cyberterrorism and terrorism, and spies don’t know their enemies by the countries they come from, which makes identifying the enemy much more difficult. In this uncertain landscape, 007 functions much as he always has — by his wits and intuition, but the question of whether old spies can learn the new tricks remains a question, which will probably be developed further in Logan next two Bond scripts. There are also new faces with Ralph Fiennes as Gareth Mallory, who has been assigned to head MI6 after M is criticized for telling field operative Eve (Naomie Harris), who can really drive a car and shoot a gun, to take a shot which jeopardizes Bond and him feel betrayed.

Albert Finney, a Scottish retainer left to oversee James Bond’s estates, appears as Kincade, and Ben Whishaw plays a young cybersuavy inventor who takes the role of Q. In this new world of terrorism and computer hacking, it does seem appropriate that James Bond should get re-imagined as a modern and flawed hero whose both good and bad, capable of being fooled, and even, perhaps, not such a great shot anymore.

Skyfall explores the psyche of 007 and what made and makes him who he is as no other Bond film has is. With hints of death and sex tied together by the opening-credits montage of tombstones, skulls, and dancing naked women and with a startling scene between Silva and Bond which hints at homoeroticism and sexual intimidation, this Bond seems less the straight-arrow, super spy from the earlier films. Aside from the more psychoanalytic reading of the film hinted at, the real psychology of M’s spies is tied to their idealizing M as a mother figure, which has many complication for M, whose character is obviously more important in Skyfall. There is also some exploration of Bond’s tragic childhood which is intended to explain his cold, steely demeanor and which conflicts with his transference of feelings reserved for mothers to M. Whether audience will like a Bond who hurts and bleeds both emotionally and physically remains to be seem, but Logan and Mendes do bring excitement to the franchise.

Mendes focuses more on the characters than the action, so the performances are top-drawer.  Dench has more screen time to develop her M and deal with the character’s authority issues and relationships with her agents. Naomie Harris proves that Eve could be a 007 spy herself in the opening action sequence, but then is relegate to a less interesting role. Bardem gives Silva a lunatic quality that is rooted in his mommy complex for and years earlier betrayal by M, which doesn’t explain him betraying western agents embedded in terrorist organizations by releasing the names and causing their deaths. Bond is weakened by M’s so-called betrayal and returns to duty an alcoholic who can barely shoot straight, and who is not Ian Fleming’s’ unshakable Bond at all. The new Bond’s flaws also lead to many plot twists and failures to stop Silva, which add at least 30 anticlimactic minutes to the film before the delightfully, grandiose finale. Apparently, well-developed characters may not improve all genres.

Skyfall is Columbia Pictures release of MGM and Albert R. Broccoli’s Eon Productions film. It runs a lengthy 143 minutes and is rated PG-13 for intense violent sequences throughout, some sexuality, language and smoking. Skyfall is in theaters now and is worth the time and money for those dedicated to the franchise and interested in the developments to come.

More of Olmsted’s reviews can be found at www.thecinematicskinny.com.

 



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