A quick note: When I write about movies they are not reviews. I am not telling you go or don’t. They are just my thoughts and usually have spoilers and may assume you too have seen the film. This one is more stream of consciousness and has not been proofread.
Skyfall and a Continuation of the Looper Phenomenon
Over the last couple of decades James Bond has had a strange time of it. Global politics has changed drastically and having a charming imperial spy dotting around the world solving problems is getting to be a much harder story to tell in a world in which “blowback” is becoming a concept of common currency. So they have recast him. The stories are smaller and more personal. As of late the dynamic between Bond and M is falling soundly in the unstable cop genre. It may has well have been called Lethal Weapon England Edition. Perhaps this is not the worst strategy. There is probably no more consistently profitable formula in film. And they do it fairly well. Daniel Criag and Judi Dench are super overqualified to pull off these sorts of rolls.
Another shift was the location character of the film. Historically the villain’s lair has often been one of the best characters of the films giving depth and scale to the evil that is being fought. We encounter the lair early in the film but it never becomes central. Instead Bond’s own Scottish childhood home becomes the only true location character of the film. It is a stately dilapidated manor in a valley that looks like it has seen its better days. (I’m gonna skip the obvious post-colonial conversation here.) The most interesting part about this is the fact that that we are being given background for Bond. This is the most significant character change yet. Bond never talked about his past. In fact for many of us he had no past he is a constant character that never dies but just changes form (a little like Dr. Who- perhaps these eternal characters with changing faces is a Brit thing). Now, suddenly, he is an orphan child from a wealthy family with a stately manner outside the city trying to make his family legacy proud even if it means blowing up the family manor. Oh yeah, I hear those Batman movies have been doing quite well lately. Everyone likes the shallow pop psychology of traumatic childhood events effecting characters in the here and now.
In the end I don’t have that much of a problem with the Batmanization of Bond because it was done fairly well. Perhaps the thing that bugged me most was the new Q. He is a young computer hacker kid who joked when he gave Bond no gadgets. They insinuate that it is all computers now and that kind of espionage is a thing of the past. Of course there is some truth to this and in all reality half of Bond’s assignments would be handled by drones now. Unfortunately it takes two important elements out of the film. First it removes a tangible visual element. Instead of seeing bond use a gadget to foil his opponents we are given the same MacGuffin laptops that every other film has now. How many times have we seen the two best hackers anywhere doing battle? They sit and type or click or do other frantic things while the other one outsmarts them. But the viewer is not expected to know what is really going on because it is purely a plot device. We all know that computer hackers exist and that we don’t understand what they do. One can have a pretty successful career in Hollywood if they have a decent hackers expression. It is so much cheaper and easier than coming up with gadgets. Especially because of the second thing it takes away from the film. Bond has always been clever. How often does he use a gadget in a manor that was not expected when it was handed to him? This resourcefulness is so much of what defined him and set him apart from a normal cop. Letting this go was a mistake. Also there is no reason to let it go. There are dozens of new cutting edge inventions that have come into existence lately but not yet to the masses. Last year a company developed an invisibility cloak for shits sake! And a dozen different magazines put out a list of best inventions of the year. There have been a lot of interesting ones and a non-lazy writer could sit with the list for a few hours and come up with some way for Bond to use one and use it unconventionally. All of this is lazy and it leads to us watching movies of computers with suspenseful status bars as something good or bad uploads or downloads maybe in time. In the future communication will be faster and all these scenes will date these movies into a distinct period. People will have to explain it to their children. It has been done and done very well at times going back to War Games but that came out 30 years ago now. It’s kinda getting boring after the 500,000th time.
In the end though the new Q’s snarky statement about gadgets is the same kinda statement that I discussed in the earlier Looper article. It is a statement that shuns its own genre and pretends to replace it with a higher degree of realism but in the end just detracts from the character and the interest of the film in general.