Lowdown: Old school Bond is back to save an M he may no longer be able to trust.
Daniel Craig is back to his James Bond shoes for the third time, but is he going to be third time lucky? His first Bond, Casino Royale, was a solid performer; the second, which I commonly refer to as Quantum Menace, has been a disappointing and quite a forgettable flop. So how will Skyfall fare? More interestingly, how will the Bond formula receive its revival this time around?
The answer is provided via M (Judi Dench). Skyfall starts with the usual highly explosive James Bond opening scene, this time taking place around and on top of the roofs of Istanbul. At the end of it Bond finds himself at a stalemate with the baddie of the moment, and with the clock ticking M orders another agent to take the shot. That agent misses and hits Bond, who is then presumed dead. Yeah, right: haven’t they seen enough Bond movies to realize the impossibility of this particular hypothesis?
Back home in London, with Bond now “dead” and the mission lost, M has to face the political witch hunting that comes as a result of the mission’s failure. She has to answer a set of politicians (including a Ralph Fiennes playing a character whose last name starts with an M; just saying). She repeats her stand that good old espionage is the only answer to a world of hidden baddies (as opposed to old style threats such as the USSR). However, she is not doing too well at that, particularly not when a new villain (eventually turning out to be Javier Bardem) seems to have set his particular sights on M as he manages to hit her at M’s most vulnerable – MI6’s headquarters. Have no worries, though: Bond may have been betrayed by M, but he’ll be back to defend country and heavily milked up tea. And although Bardem offers a particularly nasty and scary Bond villain, Bond will travel across the world and back to save the day for the homeland.
Plot usually takes second stage role with James Bond flicks. That is not the case in Skyfall, though. Sure, it has its high octane action scenes, but the main event is the clash taking place around M. It’s the clash of tradition, doing things the old way, the M way, as opposed to doing things the new way. That new way is represented in the film via the Internet coupled with modern technology and is personalized through the new Q, a computer geek that is made to look more like IT Crowd’s Moss. Q and Bond do not see eye to eye, with Bond standing for the good values of tradition, covert operations and zero transparency. In Skyfall, those old ways win the day for Bond and for the Union Jack, but am I really expected to accept the statement this movie is making in favor of tradition, the mockery it is making off us latte sipping folk hooded over our smartphones to read the latest news in Twitter? Well, F you too, Bond; if tradition was so good it could have solved our modern day problems as effectively as Skyfall is trying to claim, then we would have never had to refer to it as “tradition”; we would have just done it. But no, your tradition and backroom dealings in order to save us from the hidden baddies of this world have brought us pleasures such as the war in Iraq.
My problem with Skyfall’s arguments in favor of tradition and against technology go further than this film. All too often I find myself in defensive positions, accused by people stuck in the Stone Age of spending too much of my time in front of computers and my smartphone in particular. What they fail to realize is how mountains can be moved through these smartphones, a failure they make because of their inability to grasp the potential of having the bulk of human knowledge accessible in people’s pockets. Sure, the Internet alone won’t solve the world’s problems, and there are bad people out there to be dealt with; however, mocking the Internet and standing up to tradition for the sake of tradition will not help, either. In other words, does anyone seriously think the world was a better place before Wikileaks came out with its piles of American cables, giving us a glimpse of the corruption taking place behind all those doors closed in the name of state security?
The other problem I have with Skyfall is more cinematic in nature. On one hand this is a very polished production, directed by Sam Mendes of American Beauty fame and shot by the guy who is probably the most proficient cinematographer out there, Roger Deakins. On the other, and perhaps because of the former, I have found the action scenes suffering: they are over the top, which is normal as per James Bond standards, but almost all of them peak at some stupidly unbelievable moment that stood in contrast to the rest of this film’s seriousness and general level of polish. For example, I’m talking a scene where a couple of tough goons find themselves dragged to their deaths by lizards. Indeed, gone is that hard but authentic edge Casino Royale’s action scenes had.
Funniest scene: The end credits say that Adele, who sings the title song, appears "courtesy of [some record label name]". Yeah, right. I'm sure Skyfall's producers had to beg the label to have Adele sing their song.
Overall: One can enjoy it for its almost two and a half hours of rollercoasting action, but at its core Skyfall is compromised by corrupt ideology. 3 out of 5 stars for this technophobe's delight.