07 November 2012

Skyfall: A Non-Formulaic Bond Movie

Skyfall, first of all, is the Scottish estate where James Bond was born, raised and subsequently orphaned. And I always thought that 007 was English. Of course, I never really read the Ian Fleming novels; just watched the movies as everyone else did.

As a Bond movie, Skyfall is curious. In a manner of speaking, the movie is more about ‘M’ than it is about James Bond. For the benefit of readers who may never have seen a Bond movie before, M is the character which has been played in recent Bond movies by Dame Judi Dench.

The character is Bond’s ‘controller’ or the person who coordinates clandestine or espionage operations for MI6. This is the Ministry of Intelligence Department which conducts offshore intelligence operations and is the British equivalent of the CIA.


In fact – in Skyfall – Bond is shot and presumed dead and is later seen as an ageing agent having difficulty with a physical test. This makes Bond less of a superhero, which in turn makes the movie less formulaic, more believable and – most important of all – very, very enjoyable.
I am not about to spoil the movie for those who have yet to see it by actually revealing what happens to M; but I will say that the character attains resolution in this movie.

In fact, there are seeming hints that Bond has become too old and is about to be retired; but any fears that Skyfall will be the last Bond movie are dispelled at the end by a reassurance that James Bond will be back.

In many ways, Skyfall is a very contemporary movie – James Bond very much in the 21st century. Among its main subplots is a hacking into MI6’s high-security database and from this the exposure of the department’s undercover operatives.

There are also glorious shots of Shanghai in all its contemporary modernity; a recognition, perhaps, of China’s current geopolitical status and in stark contrast to the early Bond movies which were set in the Cold War and Iron Curtain era of the West’s relationship with Eastern Europe.

There are also throwbacks into James Bond’s glorious half-century of movies such as a sports car that one was used in an earlier Bond movie. “You can eject me and see if I care,” is M’s punch-line as Bond holds a thumb to the eject button as a warning for M not to talk too much.

The movie’s number one bad guy is also from M’s past, an agent who she gave up to the opposing side so she could recover five of her own operatives and who in Skyfall is hell-bent on retribution.

The movie is somewhat atypical of Bond movies in that it plays down on Bond’s virility. There are still sexy girls, but no obvert attempts to portray Bond as the womanising debonair agent of old.

In fact, when the bad guy makes apparent homosexual innuendoes by stroking Bond’s thighs and saying, “There is always a first time,” Bond responds by saying in an un-Bond-like manner, “What makes you think there has not been a first time?”

Skyfall also plays down on the gadgets. “If you were expecting exploding pens, we’re not into those anymore," says another operative assigned to work with Bond. The relative absence of gadgets, however, and the return to old-fashioned guns and rifles actually give the story depth and believability.

For a Bond movie, Skyfall is surprisingly a feast for the eyes. Bond movies – or, at least, in my opinion – have not always been cinematographic works of art. Skyfall is different because apart from the usual action as one can only expect of a Bond film, it is also visually pleasing.

I personally feel that Skyfall is so much better and more watchable than Casino Royale, the earlier Bond movie that introduced Daniel Craig to a worldwide audience.

Craig is not in the same league as previous Bonds in terms of looks and suaveness; but it is Craig’s roughness around the edges that gives his interpretation of Bond believability.

In fact – in Skyfall – Bond is shot and presumed dead and is later seen as an ageing agent having difficulty with a physical test. This makes Bond less of a superhero, which in turn makes the movie less formulaic, more believable and – most important of all – very, very enjoyable.











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