The trailer for the latest Bond film, Skyfall, is throwing you off the trail, and as much as that is hardly unexpected, in this case its a rather unfair trick. Trailers are not something I’d usually mention in a review at all, but in this case the manipulative effort is indicative of the curious trend at play in the film, and in fact, in the last three.
Watching Bond in an interview playing the old word association game while his superiors look on leads us to suspect that he’s in some sort of trouble. When the interviewer repeats the word “Skyfall” over and over, only to have Bond say that he’s done and storm out in a huff leads us to believe that some mission with that code name has gone wrong, and Bond probably screwed it up somehow.
The reveal of “Skyfall” doesn’t come until late in the film, so I won’t give it away, but its the maneuvering involved that matters anyway. It very nearly becomes a theme of this installment of the now 50 year-old franchise, that we’re going to suggest elements that are not in attendance, and move in directions that veer wildly from what you expect. There are countless smaller examples of this, like when we pretend we have Bond girls on the bill, but the film doesn’t bother keeping everything below the surface, and goes so far as to have our new Q tell Bond that we don’t do gadgets anymore. Which, if it wasn’t clear enough on its face, leaves us with a character that the formula dictates we need, but which we’ve decided to include in a world that really dictates that there is no such job.
What’s worse, if we give the film the benefit of the doubt and play along with its apparent “update” mentality, the film aims to distance itself wherever possible from its own franchise, because, those early films are often pretty corny, but it gets rid of the good in order to showcase the bad. A komodo dragon takes out a bad guy, and a ludicrously well-timed explosion turns a subway train into a weapon. Bond still has a martini, but all we have left is the shlock popping up in a film that otherwise has little to do with the franchise.
The question then becomes how well a viewer can distance themselves from Bond while watching Bond, and then whether or not it’s possible to let the odder moments pass by without getting thrown.
It’s a question that does need to be asked, much as I might seem to suggest otherwise, because stripped of everything holding it down, it isn’t a bad film. It’s just one filled with puzzling decisions and themes and motifs that seem to hope to distance audiences.
We enter with Bond chasing down a hard drive that contains the identities of secret agents, and in the grand scheme of Bond openings, this one does pretty well… until the end. Bond gets shot, falls off a bridge, and disappears, eventually presumed dead by the home office. It looks as though he’s decided to stay out of the game, but then MI6 itself becomes the target of some sort of terrorist, Bond returns to the fold, but it’s been several months and he naturally has to be certified for duty.
This kicks off Skyfall‘s main theme, which is old vs. new, and the main player is the aging Bond, who can’t really do quite as many pull-ups as he’s supposed to, and after this long in the game, it’s probably unlikely that he’s going to pass any psychological exam, no matter who gives it, or for what purpose.
Nevertheless, Bond is soon back in the field, and what follows is in fact quite an interesting dance with that overall theme. While our villain has a certain number of nameless henchmen, his real weapon is a computer. M finds herself defending the existence of agents like Bond, because, of course, we don’t really need them anymore. When we need a break from bigger schemes, Bond will have to run somewhere and find himself out of breath, which is so un-Bond. But, these things do come through well, and most of the time it’s a fun ride.
As pure action-adventure vehicles go, this one has a lot to recommend, and for those who have always wished Bond movies would have something to say… and/or (gasp swoon) sub-text, you’re in for a treat here as metaphors fly fast and loose throughout.
Daniel Craig certainly give us an impressive turn in the role, which is not necessarily something I would have agreed to in the last two films, and Javier Bardem manages a workable villain (although villains who are simply insane are a pet peeve of mine), but it may be difficult for some to figure out why they, and everyone else, are playing these characters, in this film, in this franchise.
Beyond whatever other nitpicks Bond purists may bring up, much of the focus here is on Bond’s inner workings. His issues, his childhood traumas, his age, and his relationship with M as maternal placeholder. This alone is enough to make one scratch one’s head. These are fine enough details that create an interesting investigation of some spy, and the psyche involved when looking at the comings and goings of someone with, if nothing else, a license to kill. But Bond does not age, and nothing could be more out of bounds than an examination of his “issues”.
I can’t actually bring myself to not recommend this film, because a lot of works, and you’re bound to have a pretty good time, but the drawbacks are as common as the obvious points to our deeper efforts, and at the end of the day, it just isn’t really a Bond movie.
Check out our Skyfall podcast review here. Shane likes it more than I did, so if you aren’t in love with my review, tune in and get his take on things.