James Bond goes full circle: Skyfall (#SFWApro)

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It’s kind of funny that right after “rebooting” Bond in Casino Royale, SKYFALL gets us back to the original set-up of a male M (Ralph Fiennes) with administrative assistant Moneypenny (Naomi Harris) and a snarky Q (Ben Whishaw). Not that I object, but getting Judi Dench as M in Goldeneye was a lot more of a change from what went before.
The story: In the teaser, Bond and Moneypenny (though we don’t learn her name to the end) are hunting down Patrice (Ola Rapace) who swiped a hard drive identifying British agents in terrorist organizations. When Moneypenny can’t get a clear shot, M tells her to shoot anyway—and she hits Bond.
Bond spends the next several months drinking and sleeping around in the tropics. Meanwhile, the first agents on the drive are identified and killed, and someone contacts M, making it clear this is a campaign against her personally. The same unknown villain blows up MI6 HQ—at which point Bond returns. Although Bond fails all his recertification tests, M sends him after Patrice, whom he catches and kills. From Patrice he follows the trail to Severine (Berenice Marlohe), who leads him to her lover, Silva, the film’s villain. A former MI6 computer wizard, Silva (Javier Bardem) has now turned criminal hacker, boasting that his ability to destroy companies or reputations with the click of a switch shows his superiority over Bond. He kills Severine before Bond captures him (Bond doesn’t try very hard to save her).
But it’s a trick! Once locked away in MI6’s substitute HQ, Silva only has to wait until Q tries to hack his computer. The preset virus frees him, and he meets up with his kill squad to attack M as she faces a departmental investigation. Bond gets her out and they flee to his old family estate, free of computers and Internet. Silva, of course, follows for the showdown, which leads to Judi Dench’s departure.
This was a vast improvement over the plotless rambling of Quantum of Solace. As with Casino Royale, it relies heavily on the characters, but Silva has an actual endgame—killing M, obviously—that gives Bond something concrete and imminent to stop.
The downside: As a villain, Silva underwhelms. The smirking Bardem is annoying until the end, when he’s as deadly murderous as in No Country for Old Men. A bigger problem is that while I can accept computers-are-magic (I don’t see how his hacking managed to blow up MI6, but I can live with it), Silva’s plot only works if he’s also a precog. For his plan to succeed, he has to know what MI6 is going to do, and exactly when it’s going to do it: If Q waited half a day to check Silva’s laptop, it would fall apart. When he confronts Bond underground, he’s able to blow the ceiling at exactly the moment a train falls through and almost crushes 007.
Another weakness is that the film makes a big deal of Bond not being up to snuff (Silva says he scored 40 percent on his testing). Yet it has no effect on the action, and by the film’s end, it’s forgotten. Die Another Day tackled the idea of a broken Bond much better
Computers and Bond: The subtext of the film is the role of a field agent like Bond in a world of hackers and intel. Which is a good topic, though not that fresh (Goldeneye raised the issue two decades ago), but I rather wish they’d stuck with it. The ending is great, but Silva’s pretty much interchangeable from any other killer at this point: Having Bond stop him doing something computerish would have fit the theme better.
The Future of Bond: At this point, I suspect pseudo-realism is going to mark Craig’s tenure as much as campy humor marked Roger Moore’s. So far we’ve had Bond vs. Terrorism Financing, Bond vs. People Seeking a Water Monopoly, and now Bond vs. Hackers. Likewise the poster images are little more than Craig with a gun rather than anything colorful). Apparently it’s the right tone for the times (Skyfall set a record for the series’ box office) but I do look forward to the day when someone goes retro and Bond’s once again trying to thwart and orbiting death ray.
(Rights to the Skyfall image with current holder).

3 Comments

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3 responses to “James Bond goes full circle: Skyfall (#SFWApro)

  1. Pingback: Movies and TV(#SFWApro) | Fraser Sherman's Blog

  2. Pingback: The hybrid Bond: Spectre (#SFWApro) with spoilers | Fraser Sherman's Blog

  3. Pingback: Blind Spots and satisfying endings (#SFWApro) | Fraser Sherman's Blog

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