SKYFALL: a bit of a downer

Spoiler Alert

Skyfall   I have mixed feelings about Skyfall, the new James Bond film directed by Sam Mendes (American Beauty).

Since 1963’s Dr. No, and until the current set of three (Casino Royale, Quantum of Silence and Skyfall), Bond films have given audiences beautiful people, cities most of us will never see, and fantasy. Evil geniuses hatched outlandish plots to rule the world, requiring ridiculous amounts of money, often wagered in elegant casinos full of tuxes and evening gowns, up-dos and bow-ties.

There was always a seduction, with Bond making love to a dangerous goddess-like bad girl.

He would growl and of course, she stretched and purred as the music crescendo-ed. Then, there was the action, involving Secret Agent gadgets, long stretches of chases, fights, dodges and jumps moving through exotic streets and narrow alleys crowded by costumed extras. All of it was played out by vivid characters, whose barely there emotions let us thrill to the stunt because we owed them no empathy when they met their cinematic ends.

We expected dreamy, gleaming surfaces that offered an occasional flash of something darker, a secret, a hint of the forbidden. Or at least we did until the last few with a new Bond, and a new kind of Bond.

James Bond has become emotionally complicated. Now he has a past. There’s still some fantasy. The chases, as always, are entertaining, but the convoluted plot, takes us to all those far away places for show, and they have little to do with what is at the heart of the Skyfall plot–betrayal and abandonment of both Bond and the bad guy, Silva, by “M,” whose cold pragmatism allows her to apply the cost/benefit dynamic to those who serve the Crown so valiantly. The resulting blow-back (literally) is caused by Bond’s seeming death and Silva’s (Javier Bardem) transformation from a dedicated agent to a relentless enemy.

Underneath M’s steely professionalism there’s a maternal caring that both Bond and Silva perceive.

And that makes her betrayal and abandonment of each all the more painful–a pain we the audience can see and understand. No more mere glimpses of dark secrets, we learn of the sacrifices both men make and it makes us and them question M’s decisions.

And so I was never sure how to feel.

Javier Bardem, as usual, was the best thing in the movie. Daniel Craig is growing on me. I’d had my heart set on Clive Owen for the new Bond, but Craig has this battered charm that works. I wonder if the scripts are going to get even darker in tone, sort of in keeping with the reality of the world today. If so, the character may be named Bond, but he will no longer be the same tuxedo-ed hero we knew. I did like Judi Dench’s “M.” Along with the crisp manner, she brought a light humor to the more recent Bond offerings, before they became so dark. Sorry to lose Judi Dench, (if you’ve made this far, I hope you took the spoiler alert seriously), but Ralph Fiennes can send me on a mission any time.

The script could have been way tighter. I did like the youth versus age and experience theme., but I found myself wanting to keep Bond a mystery.

I hope they can find a way back to that cool spy and lover we found so irresistible, the man who was unknowable.

As director Kevin DiNovis, recently commented, “There’s a place in the world yet for exploding pens and volcano lairs.”

I agree, but perhaps that place lies in the “discovered country” of the movies that spoke to who we were–moviegoers relishing a new world that was breaking away from the rules of the past and we were breathless at the idea of all that glamor and sex. Change has sped up and it’s a little disconcerting.

We may not be able to jettison the past so easily now.

For the time being, I’ll look for the gleam in those Arctic- blue Ralph Feinnes eyes and the steely pale blue gaze of Craig’s as the new “M” sends 007 out to save the world again.

Ah the mysteries behind those sexy blue eyes. In the next Bond film, I hope they reveal a secret formula or two.

 

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