Skyfall: Bond re-Bourne and Oedipal

November 2, 2012 at 9:32 pm (adventure, cinema, film, Jim D, scotland)

Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
– From Tennyson’s  ‘Ulysses,’ quoted by M in Skyfall

For once you can believe the hype. This is not just the best Bond film ever, but it’s a bloody good, intelligent thriller by any standards. Under the direction of Sam Mendes, the Bond franchise has caught up with, and maybe overhauled, the Bourne brand that looked set to consign 007 to the dustbin of history.

Actually, a central theme of Skyfall is the idea that Bond may be past it, rendered obsolete by modern technology, the end of cold-war certainties and -not least- by advancing middle age, too much booze, and declining physical prowess. Judi Dench’s M is similarly threatened with enforced retirement as the politicians question her competence, MI6 having unfortunately allowed a list of its top agents round the world to fall into the hands of a vengeful lunatic who also manages to blow up their London HQ. Said lunatic is ensconsed with his henchmen on a deserted island and bent not so much on world domination (so passé) as upon the humiliation of those who failed to appreciate him when he was himself an M16 agent. Played with evident relish by a camp, giggling Javier Bardem, this may just be the most interesting Bond villain yet, and certainly the first to display such a degree of sexual and emotional ambiguity.

In fact the triangular love-hate relationship between the baddie, Bond and M is the other leitmotif of the film, culminating in a suitably Oedipal penultimate scene that is actually rather moving.

There are, of course, the required high-octane action scenes: the opening sequence in Istanbul is a buttock-clenching chase by car, motorbike and train before the action moves to the vertigo-inducing skyscrapers of Shanghai. There are a few self-referential jokes at the expense of previous Bond films (the new Q – a spotty young nerd – says “we don’t go in for exploding pens these days”). Even the old silver DB5 is retrieved from a lock-up, giving Dench/M the opportunity for a joke about ejector seats.

There are, naturally, the obligatory Bond girls, one of whom is pretty, black, British and a good sport. The other is sultry, foreign, untrustworthy and clearly destined for an unpleasant end. Bond’s relationship with both is fairly superficial but not blatantly sexist. And for the first time ever, Bond has an intelligent and profound relationship with a woman: M/Dench, of course.

I won’t risk giving any more away and spoiling it for you, but I must just add that in many ways you get two films in one. The final action-scenes move to the Highlands of Scotland as Bond decides he can only win by fighting in “the old fashioned way.” This is more Buchan than Fleming and the pace slows (in a good way), the film becoming austere, brooding and almost elegiac.

No question, then: the best Bond  film ever. And in the complex, troubled and intelligent portrayal by Daniel Craig, the best 007 ever.


  1. Faster Pussycat Miaow! Miaow! Miaow! said,

    Best Bond ever? It’s not exactly a high bar is it?

  2. Jim Denham said,

    “It’s not exactly a high bar, is it?” Maybe not, but we do populism occasionally here at ‘Shiraz.’ And after a while, it’s possible to tire of Ingmar Bergman.

  3. Pinkie said,

    I used to love Ingmar Bergman. Then I bought a colour telly.

  4. Martin Ohr said,

    granted it is a hugely enjoyable film, but I would suggest that is more with the fact that it looks and sounds stunning (rather like Downton Abbey which enjoys/suffers from the same thing) despite the plot and acting.

    I know I’m more or less alone in finding Judi Dench the world’s worst actor, but the new Q gave her a pretty good run for her money this time and the villain was shit – think David Walliams pretending to be a camp Blofeld and playing every line for laughs.

    Although Naomie Harris and Daniel Craig can not only act but are very easy on the eye ( and I’m sure much of the appeal of the film is the exposure of their flesh spread across a giant screen; I could go on about this at length, but I had better not.)

    As for the plot; well most of the scenes are coherent within themselves until the ludicrous IT stuff with David Walliams and Q kicks in. “But you work in IT and find even the tiniest inaccuracies in that sort of thing unforgivable” – I here you cry; true but really some level of correctness would be good (on a government project I worked on last year we had to change the minimum password length from 8 characters to 10 characters, because that changes the time it would take to ‘crack’ the password from less than a day to years, yet Q manages to crack the encryption “the hardest I’ve ever seen” within about 10 seconds. The typical encryption you use when paying for your books on amazon would take all the worlds computers combined more than a trillion years to crack. etc etc.)

    True as Jim correctly says the central theme is interesting but Q’s comeuppance is predictable; the denouement relies on good old fashioned ingenuity and a huge shootout in the best bond traditions.

    I left the cinema hugely entertained by a pretty but crap film, I guess that is the whole point of the Bond franchise.

    • Martin Ohr said,

      you might find this website briefly entertaining

    • James said,

      Oh dear, I am not sure whether literalists like you should go to films. (It is all about suspending disbelief, particularly when going to see a commercial film.) The fact that you urge us to visit a site explaining how to set passwords really says it all. Or not quite: you seem utterly ‘conflicted’ – on the one hand thoroughly enjoying the film, but on the other hand determined to be seen to be above it.

      • Martin Ohr said,

        erm ok, but there is a difference between suspending disbelief and accepting miracles. I enjoyed skyfall, but not because it is a ‘good’ film.

        I also happen to love the current Taylor Swift single but it is genuinely terrible; I’m not conflicted, just human.

  5. Faster Pussycat Miaow! Miaow! Miaow! said,

    It’s not the populism I object to James. Even if you ignore the nasty politics, the entire premise of an MI6 agent running around attracting attention to himself and fighting pitched gun battles here there and everywhere is risible.

    Sean Connery is a simply dreadful actor, can’t think of anything I have liked him in. At least Roger Moore played it for laughs. Brosnan had the looks to carry it off although the plots were increasingly ridiculous. I can’t offer an opinion on Daniel Craig as I haven’t seen the films.

    • bler4egHH omceonmretatry said,

      Interestingly, the last Bond film, Quantum of Solace, had quite left leaning politics given the franchise. The villains of the piece are the CIA, pseudo-green corporations and their corrupt rightwing military backers. There are critical references to US imperialism in Haiti and Bolivia and there’s a sympathetic portrayal of the new Latin American left. Bond, far from being a hero, is at best portrayed as a deeply flawed and highly morally dubious anti-hero at best. Nothing groundbreaking, but probably still more subversive than anything you’re likely to see at shiraz socialist for a while.

      All that being said, Quantum was absolutely terrible in every other way – a real stinker of a movie. The critical consensus appears to be that Skyfall is the film that’s saved the franchise. Whether it’s a good thing that the fanchise be saved is a another question – like you I’m not a fan – but I think I’ll give this one a chance.

  6. Rosie said,

    Someone told me that there was a scene in Glencoe and I was hoping for a scene where Mountain Rescue came to lift Bond off Aonach Eagach, scolding him for being inappropriately dressed and equipped.

  7. Rosie said,

    A new Bond villain suggested here:-

    an information-obsessed Australian with a diabolical plan to nuke rival email servers in order to artificially drive up the value of his own holdings of sensitive electronic traffic. His ambitions thwarted by Bond armed with several international arrest warrants, he’s sucked out of a depressurising aircraft while trying to escape to Central America.

  8. Jim Denham said,

    “I can’t offer an opinion on Daniel Craig as I haven’t seen the films”: do yourself a favour, Pussycat, and go see it. You may even think Daniel Craig is, in his way, as good looking as Piers Brosnan. Of course, I wouldn’t presume to express an opinion.

    • Faster Pussycat Miaow! Miaow! Miaow! said,

      Too blonde, too much time in the gym.

  9. Jim Denham said,

    I don’t spend *that* much time in the gym.

  10. Abu Faris said,

    Bond may be past it, rendered obsolete by modern technology, the end of cold-war certainties and -not least- by advancing middle age, too much booze, and declining physical prowess.

    That fits me to a tee, too.

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