The James Bond franchise is 50 years and 23 installments long. Purely from a scientific approach, the franchise should be long dead, or at least walking dead, trailing an array of overused and misused plots and subplots behind it, but, surprisingly, it’s very much alive with the latest addition of Skyfall, which is solidly impressive, from the haunting lead song by Adele (prepare for non-stop radioplay) to the brand atmosphere of death, danger, sex, speed and cheeky humor James Bond movies are known for.
Skyfall is breaking all sorts of records right now; that’s testimony to the fact that the audience doesn’t need to see anything new to be entertained. Skyfall is a monument to postmodernism where deconstruction, pastiche, quotations and metanarratives are thrown together to bathe the viewer in all things Bond yet do it in a way that is decidedly 2012 thanks to skilfully used intertextual references to the Bourne franchise, The Dark Knight and, gasp, 28 Days Later, to mention just a few. The familiarity of the Bondian chases, the usual plot developments and traditional one-liners are comforting and satisfying, because Skyfall isn’t just an addition to the franchise but a sum total of all its predecessors, plus the movies that are hot right now, which makes it better than all the previous Bond films.
The Near Death Experiences
From the pre-credit sequence it is clear that this film is a reinvention, since Bond plunges to his death when Eve Moneypenny (Naomi Harris, who kicked major ass in 28 Days Later) takes a bad shot at him. When the Daniel Kleinman designed opening credits roll with tombstones and skulls to foreshadow misfortune and death, instead of the usual gyrating girls and guns, it is clear that Bond has indeed evolved. Mortality surely isn’t something previously associated with agent 007, so when he gets his chance to be ‘dead’, he enjoys it to the full (booze and babes, shot gloriously by cinematographer Roger Deakins).
But when M16 explodes, Bond is back in the game, even if his strength isn’t back in his body. We have never seen Bond at such a low – he fails test after test, his mental health shaken and his shooting arm unsteady. But M (Judy Dench, at her best) is ready to sacrifice anything for the greater good, so she lets him pass, putting him right into the line of fire, and it’s difficult to blame her with a villain like Silva (Javier Bardem).This guy could pass as a regular business bee in the street, with his blond hair and nice suits, but when he turns vicious, he is a 100% creature, not a flake of humanity in his pitch black soul.
He steals the names of all the agents infiltrated to the terrorist organisations worldwide, and he will be posting their names online unless he gets to M, who he hate-loves to death (literally). Silva is a guerrilla villain, able to do more damage from a tiny room with a single computer than all the previous villains put together, which questions Bond’s ability to challenge him and brings in the new Q (Ben Whishaw) who is very young and very geeky. The pairing of Bond and Q is a good excuse for some comic relief, and their meeting in an art gallery is already iconic.
Q and Bond go around intelligence and security committee chairman Gareth Mallory (Ralph Fiennes) and out-trick Silva their own way. The action never stops to entertain, and when M and Bond are boarded up in the Skyfall estate with wonderful Kincade (Albert Finney), it all goes very apocalyptic dystopia (both in the sense of zombie dystopia with survivors boarded up in houses full of DIY traps, and World War II movies with guerrilla fighters armed with forks and shovels vs. the highly technological Nazis) and is satisfying to the highest degree.
No More Sex Escapades Galore
The plot by writers Neal Purvis and Robert Wade along with John Logan is as real as Bond gets. Bond was a sexual (male chauvinist) fantasy before; now he is a real man who bleeds, hurts, loses his mind, questions his authority, and even jokes about the possibility of being gay. Marching in step with the developing gender studies and exposures of sexual addiction not being all that sexy, in Skyfall, Bond has the least sex (Bérénice Marlohe’s beautiful Sévérine brings on the heat) and yet is sexier than ever by underplaying that theme of the franchise (who is going to forget the ridiculous sex screams of Xenia Onatopp in Golden Eye?). This is probably thanks to director Sam Mendes, who is expert at portraying tasteful sexuality (Cabaret and American Beauty), and also brings theatricality (he directed Chechov and Shakespeare in the West End once upon a time) and elegance to the franchise, being the first real auteur to take over a Bond movie. Javier Bardem is at his demented best since No Country for Old Men but this time he is also a sexual threat, and to none other than Bond himself.
The Survival Of The Fittest
The world is changing and movies are changing with them. TV is so dope today (I am looking at you, The Walking Dead) that it’s impossible to have kept Bond the way it was even ten years ago. Against such chicks as Salt and Alice (from Salt and the Resident Evil franchise respectively) old Bond looks cartoonish and idiotic. Just like the title character, the Bond film saga has no chance but to evolve if it wants to survive in the modern age. The fact that M, Bond and Albert Finney revert to making their own weapons out of objects they can fathom in the Skyfall estate testifies to the changing threats they have to face today. Bond is no longer ‘a sexist misogynistic dinosaur, a relic from the cold war’ – he will have to push his limits with these new cyber villains and clandestine, ‘invisible’ war tactics, and the best part of it is that we are eager to see him do it, again and again.
The Bond Brand: Watches, Cars And Tunes
No matter which year Bond it is, you can always count on a good song, because Bond is a brand, and perhaps should be to blame for the rampant product placement we see in movies today. In Skyfall the limited edition Omega watch is basically thrust in our face, long enough for it to seem like an actual commercial, but Heineken drinking Bond is a departure from the old format (what will the poor Martini people say?). The Aston Martin makes a grand entrance but only to be molested ruthlessly by machine guns and helicopters.
The music is spot on this time, full-on Adele, but full-on Bond as well, and goes beautifully well together with Thomas Newman’s score, which is moody and atmospheric but finds time to incorporate Monty Norman’s iconic theme. But the brand that really gets established in 2012 is Daniel Craig. He doesn’t just own Bond; he becomes Bond, making him the hottest spy commodity in theatres right now.
Verdict: Skyfall is perfect entertainment, but this time with a brain. It’s (almost) better than sex.