Who doesn’t love a good action flick with hunky guys in suits and sexy girls in…nothing… that actually makes you feel smarter in the end?
On the surface, Skyfall feels like the kind of fun, Friday-night movie that allows you to just shut off your neurotic mind and enjoy a tub of popcorn (and a soda that would make Bloomberg cringe with sugary resentment).
But lo and behold, the end credits start rolling, and not only do you have the sudden urge to drive , but you also have that weird sense of accomplishment that you get after watching some smartsy, well-written, possibly New Wave, indie drama. Where the hell did that come from?
Skyfall manages to be an artful movie without shoving it in your face, unlike another anticipated action film featuring our favorite Gothamist, which felt like a bunch of I AM A COMPLICATED, SOCIALLY OBSERVANT, AND SMART MOVIE exclamations, when really all it really was was needlessly complex (TDKR fans, please don’t hurt me). More in the vein of The Dark Knight, Skyfall shows that you don’t need a million subplots or in-yer-face social issues to make a good movie.
The first thing Skyfall did right was have a recurring theme to frame the plot. This theme was, of course, the opposition between the “old ways” and the new, high-tech world of espionage. This is the frame for the ENTIRE MOVIE. It sets up the locale : Shanghai versus Scotland, MI-6 versus whatever island Bond ends up in at the beginning, the evacuated island where Silva has set up headquarters, and the most modernist place ever… the London tube . It frames the opposition between the more traditional spy Bond with the more modern Silva, the Tennyson-quoting M and the sardonic PM. It gives us a new-and-improved Q who, despite his wondrous technological ability, is still able to acknowledge that a radio is the most important gadget that 007 will need.
The whole film plays on this discourse of old vs. new and never quite chooses a side. For all its romantic notions of the countryside and the old ways of espionage, where would MI-6 be without its IT department?
Sam Mendes is just as concerned with the stylistic experiment of this opposition as with well-choreographed fight scenes and hearty suspense. If I could pick a moment when my smarty-pants flashbulb started blinking, it would be when Bond is fighting the mean assassin man in Shanghai. Did we expect a badass fight?…Sure. Did we get one? Um. I don’t really know because it was all in the dark and there was a giant, creepy, neon jellyfish who REALLY wanted to be the center of attention and, whaddaya know, he got it. This scene-stealing meduse was no mistake, nor an example of bad film-making. What we have, tying back to the old vs. new theme, is the epitomy of our contemporary world- a big, blinking advertisement- hovering ominously over our hero. AND it also ties into the ocean imagery at the beginning of the movie. You could really spend a whole article talking about the significance of that darn jellyfish. Mendes ain’t concerned with no gimmicky exploding pens, fancy fighting, or giant flying Batmobiles (oops, sorry, wrong movie).
There’s also that whole pesky theme of killing each other. Who kills who? How and why is it justified? Eve “kills” Bond, which is also probably the best way to flirt with him. M indirectly “kills” Silva, Bond, and arguably, her other exposed agents. Bond almost kills hot Asian chick, who starts out as a Dragon-Lady stereotype but has enough time to just barely escape it before she’s conveniently killed off. Again, so much of the movie is framed around this question.
What did you say? A well-rounded movie? Indeed.
And now I come to my favorite part of the movie, and one of my favorite things EVER. No, it’s not Ben Whishaw in a flouncing cardigan, reading off a bunch of computer stats like it’s Shakespeare or Tolstoy or something- though that comes in a close second.
It’s DOUBLING! I FRICKIN LOVE DOUBLING! For those uninitiated in my Doubling cult, Doubling is awesome because not only does it open the way to a whole lot Freudian theory, but it enables a quick and easy close reading of two characters whose trajectories parallel, and thus enhance, each other. Today’s double feature is *drum roll please*….. Silva and Bond!
You think you know where this movie’s going right up until Javier Bardem walks slowly out of his temple-esque surroundings, looking like some weirdly computer engineered actor from Cloud Atlas. He upsets everything when know/think we know about Bond. In case you thought M’s “murdering” of Bond at the beginning was justified, well, now we’ve got yet another guy she REALLY DID ACTUALLY try to murder! So much for good and honorable espionage! Then, you’ve got the kinky stroking happening, our first blatant instance of 007 homoeroticism, where Bond even playfully suggests he’s had his fair share of the other sex. Wait WHAT! AMAZING! BOND? JAMES BOND? When is he NOT screwing some hot foreign girl? Well, Silva’s flirting brings out a side to Bond we haven’t yet seen, and it’s totes awesome.
But, on another note, both characters must go into their pasts to work out their sad, disillusionment with espionage. Silva’s got the rat-eat-rat story that his grandmother told him when he was a young boy. Bond literally heads back to his childhood home to give him an advantage that doesn’t involve Google Maps.
Okay, that’s enough of my annotation. Can anyone recommend their favorite Bond movies?