Reviews

Skyfall – Spoiler Warning with a Bullet

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As if to prolong the viewer’s fascination with the text, a resolution is dangled like a carrot by a script that knows well enough how much more there is to transpire. The villain is captured, all is well and answers will soon be gleaned; beneath the charade, we know as well as the characters do that nothing is ever this simple. When the hostile has been neutralised, what satisfaction can be derived on the part of those toeing the line between casual distance and complete absorption in the narrative? What we want, what we crave, is for this adversary, this agent of chaos to run rampant again, to defy logic through his labyrthine, nonsensical masterplans and subsequently defy the authority of our onscreen ego and his wish for closed endings.

Silva – the blond-haired sociopath chillingly portrayed by Javier Bardem in this 23rd Bond outing – is one of those irresistible onscreen villains drawn from the recesses of the id, an embodied distillation of contemporary fears brought to the fore and fully acknowledged. He is what Bond could concievably be, a potential evident in his voracious sexual appetite that thirsts for men and women alike and in his deathly confrontational disposition towards matriarch M (Judi Dench); it is a perspective that Daniel Craig’s 007 perpertually fears to tread over the course of the film, and on each occasion Bardem’s ghoulish villain is more than happy to indulge the undeniable anxieties on his behalf.

Silva’s penchant for giggles, his superfluous disfigurement and propensity to be captured at the midway-point of the film and thusly set up a twist-cum-escape, sets him firmly in the company of Heath Ledger’s Joker from ‘The Dark Knight’; indeed, when one becomes enlightened at the point of Silva’s capture as to the extreme similarities between this section of the narrative and the same point in Nolan’s Bat-film, the floodgates of recognition open until a dozen more unsubtle references to the aforementioned franchise rear their head. Ben Whishaw’s Q taps away at undecipherable, gargantuan data screens a la Morgan Freeman’s Lucius Fox; a visit to Bond’s home mansion, complete with its own Alfred figure in Albert Finney’s Kincaid, calls to mind Wayne Manor; even the trite subtext of state secrets and justifiable action are lifted directly from the thematic concerns of Nolan’s Bat-domain.

Director Sam Mendes has more or less admitted that ‘The Dark Knight’ and its preceding entry, ‘Batman Begins’, have had a profound influence in the way he interrogated the psychology of Bond and the ethics of MI6 for this outing. There’s little reason to be angry at the man other than on account of slight plagiarism, for he possesss a considerable capability in moving the camera and capturing action setpieces, far moreso than the jerky-edit tendencies of Nolan; and, aside from painfully cringeworthy, though fully expected, dialogue between Bond and his cohorts – most notably with Moneypenny in scenes of zero chemistry – and cliche action entrances where almost everyone deems it wise to wait in the shadows for their company, the script is far more servicable, punchy and efficient than the expository drawl of Jonathan Nolan’s treatments. The pic’s MVP, however, is legendary cinematographer and longtime Coen Brothers collaborator Roger Deakins, who lavishes the film with crisp, elegant visuals that bring to life Shanghai, Macau and most importantly, London and the Scottish Moors with vivid, sumptuous colour and vibrancy. Thanks heavens the task was laid upon Deakins to render our nation, in both rural and concrete extremes, so competently, removing the bad taste of the shaky, blurred camerawork that plagued the Bond franchise’s darkest hour, ‘Quantum of Solace’.

Credit is duly due to the capable ensemble of Dench, Fiennes, Craig and co, and the manner in which Mendes pays close attention to them as fully dimensional characters and not simply avatars for asinine action and quick quips, delving into the psychology and chemistry that tethers these symbolic espionage archetypes together, along with the dark secrets that threaten to burst them apart. It is upon this backdrop that Judi Dench takes centre stage along with Daniel Craig, assuming her rightful role as the quintessential Bond girl, to enable the text a delivery of the final statement as pertains to her character’s relationship with Bond before she perishes in a conclusive moment of transition that began right from the opening minutes with Bond’s apparent demise at the hands of Moneypenny’s botched sniping. Bond and his cohorts have been reinvented here at the 50th anniversary of the franchise in a symbolic resurrection that installs the familiar faces and tropes that many longtime fans have grown accustomed to, right down from the vintage cars to the coat rack in Moneypenny’s office.

So Bond has found it necessary to reinvent itself again, even after the reboot of ‘Casino Royale’, to appear relevant and in step with the current spate of blockbusters and the relentless onslaught of superhero franchises, themselves beginning to confront the ideology of their own construction. How fitting does this reinvention appear when the film’s eponymous protagonist finds himself up against a villain that changes his plan in the face of every obstruction; who upon being thwarted seemingly adapts his nature to get one over on his foes? Silva’s weapon of choice is cyberwarfare, a contemporary threat that mirrors his own slippery, amorphous nature. And so we have the underlying tension between a Bond tied to tradition, dragged into the twenty-first century to combat with monstrous byproducts of a society increasingly conditioned by technological advances and at the mercy of a capitalism that changes daily to adapt to every conceivable contingency.

One traditional Bond trope that will never subsede even into the 31st century is the depiction of women as willing playthings to our impeccable hero. It is assumed that as fans of this pop culture icon, we are to accept his actions as harmless romp; following this, a double take is almost nearly bypassed in ‘Skyfall’ at the moment in which 007 sneaks up on a troubled sex worker in the shower and takes full advantage of her. Familiar territory it all seems, and can be dutifully explained away as part and parcel of the franchise tick-box, but the whole episode takes on a decidely disturbing turn upon the poor girl’s subsequent unceremonious execution at the hands of Silva, and Bond’s pithy one-liner in response. The agent’s humour was always embraced and encouraged even in the darkest incidents of the series, although in this instances it feels woefully misplaced. To have this scene occupy an hour which also sees M displaced as head of MI6 to make way for patriarch Ralph Fiennes, and Moneypenny relegated from field agent to mere secretary, it becomes fairly apparent that females have drawn the short straw in this entry, far more than in any Bond film previous.

See past the sexism (as many will, gleefully) and the poorly concealed attempts to borrow from recent box office successes, and we are left, in ‘Skyfall’, with something audiences yearned for at the very least since the 007’s dismal 2008 outing: competency. Mendes, Deakins, Craig et al are all qualified elements that have been brought together to conjure up the perfect storm that would ignite this franchise and send it roaring back into life, primed and ready for more instalments across the decade. When the stars align as well as this, one can harbour great fear that the series’ next film could be passed onto a less qualified director and consequently damage the consistency of the Craig-era. In a tidbit of hopeful news, it is reported that ‘Skyfall’ script contributor John Logan has delivered a treatment to the studio for a two-parter that would see Craig complete his contractual obligations to the franchise; one can only pray that Deakins and Mendes are given another go-around, though ideally on the proviso that events proceed on their own terms and not along the agenda and templates set by any other franchise. And with the probing of psychology – albeit fairly shallow – inherent to this particular outing, it would be advisable for the series’ next helmer to raise the bar even further and give Bond and co something vital to say about our current malaise, and how we respond in kind – outside of tired, borrowed Batman metaphors. 007 has landed back in the present day once more, his MI6 backdrop and supporting characters firmly in place. The time is ripe for him to continue to engage with the anxieties of our global climate in new, incisive ways, or else risk regressing to the Brosnan days of old: flash, bang and bollocks.

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