This is not really a review, just my thinking notes. Here be spoilers. If spoilers bother you, please see the film first. Also, it’s long.
I’ve seen all the James Bond films, most of them more than once. I’m fully aware that James Bond is an annoying sexist bully (cue the “seduction” of Pussy Galore), but in spite of that they still fascinate me. I wasn’t sure that I wanted to see Skyfall too, probably because I’d been reading lots of feminist blogs, or at least blogs by feminists, that gave me preconceived ideas about how bad the sexism and bullying in this one were. I watched it anyway, with “we can always turn it off” in the back of my mind.
Yes, it has issues, but in my opinion they’re less bad than in some earlier ones. (Jane Martinson, in the Guardian, has the same opinion.) The sex is mostly implied, and the one scene that writers I read have called rape turned out to be on the woman’s invitation (not “come and rape me” obviously, but “I’ll be waiting for you on this boat, if you don’t come it will cast off at [time]”).
A few minor gripes in that category: the woman who started out as an independent agent got decommissioned after a mistake –not even hers–, was demoted to secretary work, declined another active commission and turned into –surprise!– Miss Moneypenny. My other half thought that Moneypenny would be the next M, but I think she’d have been too young, the two people likely to be on the shortlist (both men) were twenty or more years older. I call them “Babyface” (Tanner) and “Hatchetface” (Mallory) in my mind to keep them apart. I’d have liked Tanner for M if we couldn’t have Moneypenny, but it was Mallory, who we thought for a while might be the villain because the villainy looked like an inside job. Hard-nosed female M’s successor is a male pen-pusher: a big step backward.
Daniel Craig’s James Bond isn’t so suave as (most of) his predecessors, and it didn’t help that he was portrayed as damaged –emotionally even more than physically– for most of the film. This is probably deliberate, to make him more human and thereby his exploits more dramatic, but I think that much of the appeal of Bond is that he’s superhuman. Perhaps the being-damaged was even a bit overdone. I liked him much more in the casino scene when he was doing a sleek-Bond impersonation– because that was what it looked like, impersonating himself. Now, writing this, I realise that what annoys me most about Bond is not his misogyny but his assurance that he can get away with anything. I can accept that from a superhuman James Bond, but from a fallible human James Bond it’s grating. On the other hand, it makes the character much more tragic, and perhaps that’s how Bond was intended all along. Certainly it shows in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and in Die Another Day. (Coincidentally, these involve some of my favourite movie women: Diana Rigg and Halle Berry.)
Eve Moneypenny. Wow. It’s such a pity that she ends up as a secretary, however high-placed and confidential and competent. Someone who can drive like that, and shoot like that –even if she hit the wrong person because she got the wrong command from someone who couldn’t see the situation– is wasted on a desk job. I’ll wonder forever whether a man in the same predicament would have taken the desk job too.
I have had an unashamed crush on Judi Dench for a long time, and in this installment her M is better than ever. Yes, she’s past her best (M, not Dame Judi) and shows bad judgment more than once, but it’s all completely in character and in context. And what she and James feel for one another can only be called love, fraught with all kinds of issues but ultimately pure Aristotelian philia: “wanting for someone what one thinks good, for his sake and not for one’s own, and being inclined, so far as one can, to do such things for him”. Peter Bradshaw, in the Guardian, rightly calls her “the Bond girl to end all Bond girls”. Touching moment: the old family gamekeeper (Kincade) calling her “Emma” after he’s heard James Bond address her as M.
Mallory and Tanner. Yes, in one breath, they may be very different but they’re apparently in the same compartment of my brain. They started out as “the one I like” and “the one I don’t like”. It doesn’t help that Ralph Fiennes (Mallory) will forever be Lord Voldemort to me.
Raoul Silva. A classic Bond villain, exposition-to-tied-up-enemy and all. His joker tendencies were rather unfortunate: I’d have preferred him more evil and less mad. But then I dislike jesters and jokers, anyway. In some scenes he reminded me a lot of my (well, our, my other half has fleshed him out considerably) villain Lyan from Rizenay; Lyan would be like this if he’d lived ten or twenty years longer. Died very satisfyingly with Chekhov’s knife in his back (and I knew it was Chekhov’s knife when Kincade laid it on the table).
The new Q. Perhaps a bit over the top as the nerd to end all nerds. Cute, though. It’s just possible that previous Qs were as outrageous in their time. Running gag: James Bond did lose his gun, to a Komodo dragon this time. The vintage car was a nice homage to the previous Q.
Places and Things
- The house in Scotland seems to have been made of plywood and plaster. No wonder bullets got through it so easily. The interior was pure Harry Potter.
- So was the trial-like object with the minister presiding (what kind of thing was that? a parliamentary enquiry?). I did like some of the action in that scene, though: people looking out for each other –Tanner, I think, pushing M under the table– and James Bond shooting the fire extinguishers.
- Apparently the wooden scaffolding in the tunnel didn’t serve any purpose: when the fire had destroyed all the wood there was no sign of the tunnel collapsing, or even losing any part of its structure.
- It seems to be a movie conceit that fire can pursue a running person through a tunnel or similar narrow passage, and that the person can just outrun it. Here’s looking at you, Hornblower.
- Bad, or at least excessive, CGI: the underground train running into a hole. (But it was perhaps the only thing meant as funny that actually made me laugh.)
- Silva’s hideout island really exists, though it’s actually off Japan instead of off Macao.
Yes, this is a real James Bond film. I rather liked it and I expect I’ll want to watch it again, but probably not very soon. It was too long in places, scenes drawn out too much, even action scenes. I’m used to long chases in James Bond films, notably the one on skis that I can’t place right now, but long shootouts are just boring and make me stop paying attention.
One question: does James Bond need another reboot? I don’t think Daniel Craig’s version of him can last much longer. He did go back to active service at the end, but he’s definitely getting old.