Movies. Monday Movies.

Skyfall is the twenty-third Bond movie and the third featuring Daniel Craig as the priapic spy. It argues the superiority of field agents over computer nerds, HUMINT over SIGINT, the old school vs. the new kids on the motherboard. And for all the thumbs that it puts on the scales — the Aston-Martin ungaraged to save the day after the hackers are out-hacked, the shaking-not-stirring — it winds up making its case against the spy game in toto more than for either the jocks or the nerds. It’s ambivalent to the point of nihilistic.

It’s not too spoilery to give away that James Bond, though we see his obituary in the trailer, is dead neither after the first ten minutes of the movie nor by its end. But it is striking just how much the villain accomplishes, and how little terror and death the spies prevent. Javier Bardem’s fey villain is a rogue MI6 agent who wants nothing but revenge on the agency. He has no ideology, nor even any client — there are no red herrings of Yellow Peril, only the barest mention of terrorist cells. He doesn’t even want to take over the world or blow up the moon. He represents blowback without empire, as if the sins of spies could be committed without involving others.

It’s a peculiar fantasy, and one that matches up well with Daniel Craig’s portrayal. Skyfall is the first Bond movie (as far as I know — my parents banned them on feminist grounds, and I’ve not caught up) to display an interest in Bond’s psychology, and it turns out his folder is filed next to a superhero’s. Like Batman, Bond was a traumatized orphan who has too much house. All Bond’s winking fun and games of chance stand revealed, in Daniel Craig’s joyless interpretation, as compulsive tics, showy hurdling in a race against the Reaper. Even when Bond, presumed dead, washes up in the anonymous embrace of a Mediterranean vagina, he doesn’t seem to be having a good time at all. At least the suits still look good.

As David Graeber puts it, “Almost never do superheroes make, create, or build anything.” Movie spies are the same, although for slightly different reasons — spy stories require an hysterical forgetting of the thing that their real-life equivalents do make, create and build, which is empire. The hermeneutic study of Bond’s soul is of a piece with the contextless villain. Skyfall is existentialist Bond. It strikes me as unnecessary, but I guess people appreciate the variation.

The movie is entertaining. Bardem proves that he can play a villain with more than one type of weird hair. Judi Dench is a divinely stiff-upper-lipped M, and Ben Whishaw is a cute Q. The opening sequence has a great backhoe fight on a freight train moving through Istanbul, and the London Underground gets used and abused with style and wit. The locations, from a traditional shiny-red Macau casino to a Shanghai office tower fight staged in a hall-of-mirrors of reflections and projections (including of a seven-story jellyfish), are classy. Even if our hero seems at times to be punching the clock.

So. You see any movies?

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6 Responses to “Movies. Monday Movies.”

  1. John McNassor Says:

    Thanks for the review. Great movie, especially the motorcycle chase. Nod to Freud.

  2. Adam Kotsko Says:

    The disavowal of empire might be one reason that the archetypal Cold War spy is precisely British.

  3. Brennan Breed Says:

    I remember reading an article once on Bond and Postcolonialism — it was saying that Britain compensates for the loss of real territory in the British empire by giving the appearance that Britain is really controlling things around the world, not by military might but by strategic force and intelligence. The article, if I remember, said that the gambling scenes in Fleming’s novels serve to prove Bond’s superiority over the powerful but dumb nouveau riche of former colonies (he’s always playing against people from India, for example.) What is interesting is that Britain (and the US) remain very involved over the world *by using actual military force.* it’s the strategic stuff that’s actually been harder. And one could say that the legacy of the colonial powers remains strong, since dependence on foreign powers was baked into the division and decolonization of Africa, etc. Perhaps it’s more true to say that Bond allows the British to believe that small, strategic uses of force for the common good are *all* the legacy that Britain leaves behind — disavowing the rest.

  4. Will Says:

    My take…

    Given that the franchise 50 years old a certain degree of Nostalgia would not have been out of place. However I think such sentimentality, is sucked into naval gazing brought upon by an existential crises of the franchise itself – where to take it next?

    The interest in Bonds psychology was more prominent in Casino Royal, and was stunted in Skyfall by the existential quagmire which lends the film its peculiar stasis like quality. I would suggest that this borders on self-indulgent as exemplified by the relative muteness of the geopolitical backdrop, a signature of Daniel Craig’s Bond films thus far which instead favours the intra-familial drama of Bond identifying M as a phallic mother.

    Given the change in personal, I would like to see the next Bond film to put a lid on his personal crap, and get back to saving the world.

  5. Josh K-sky Says:

    Ben, good link. There’s really nothing forgivable about the use of the sex worker character.

    The Moneypenny thing was dumb, although to be charitable you might infer that in this universe, “M’s secretary” is actually a job of some responsibility, more than calendar and miniskirt. But it’s an effortful inference.


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