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?