Skyfall is climbing in both the domestic and international box offices right now. I don’t think I really need to tell you why, but shockingly, there are some people out there who have claimed they just don’t get the “hype” with James Bond movies. Because I am personally floored by such comments, I’m going to take this introduction to break down why there is a James Bond hype…
People don’t see the James Bond films for the action sequences, the beautiful women, the incredibly fast cars, and the campy jokes. Yes, those things are awesome, and they draw in an audience that Ian Fleming’s books might never have reached (since some people are too stupid to imagine things for themselves); but those things are merely embellishments to keep the unimaginative moviegoers in their seats. Besides the fact that the Bond films surround one of the most classic literary figures of all time, the reason so many people line up to see the Bond films is because James Bond is the ultimate man (Sorry, Tom Cruise).
When I say James Bond is the “ultimate man,” I don’t mean he has a three-foot penis; I mean he has all of the characteristics that make him both multi-dimensional and enviable. Men and women collectively want to be him and want to be with him (It’s okay to admit you want to have naughty sex in the shower with him, guys). Even though James Bond seems like an unattainable perfection of both masculine and feminine traits, there’s something about him to which we can all relate. Sure, we’re not all trained killers, amazing lovers, or smooth-talking debonairs, nor do we have the ability to wear a suit better than we wear our own skin. But James Bond embodies a kind of reckless human nature that we all share, one that makes us do stupid things that people have told us not to do simply because we felt like doing those stupid things.
Why else would Bond constantly sleep with women who he knows are also working with his enemies? Because lust is one of the most reckless and uncontrollable traits of human nature. Why else would Bond chase down a villain so wholeheartedly only to miss the signs that he’s about to be caught in a villain’s trap? Because that adrenaline rush in the midst of danger and a possible victory keeps us in the moment so much that we lose ourselves. But despite all of that recklessness and disregard for authority, there’s a sense of morality to Bond’s nature. No matter how questionable the act, we’re always certain James Bond has good intentions—that he is the “good guy.” Tell me how such a character is not unlike you, or unlike the person you want to be. THAT, my friends, is why there is hype.
Well, now that I’ve written a partial master’s thesis on James Bond, let’s talk about Skyfall, itself. Here’s how the official Skyfall website describes the plot: “In Skyfall, Bond (Daniel Craig)’s loyalty to M (Judi Dench) is tested as her past comes back to haunt her. As MI6 comes under attack, 007 must track down and destroy the threat, no matter how personal the cost.”
Unlike the previous Daniel Craig as Bond films, Skyfall‘s story focused a lot more on 007’s relationships within MI6. With the scenes between Bond and Q (Ben Whishaw), we were given a taste of the beginning of a long-standing camaraderie between 007 and his quartermaster. I thought it was excellent that director Sam Mendes chose a younger, up-and-coming actor to play Q because it really drove home the contrasting personalities of the experienced, cold-blooded agent and his younger, wittier quartermaster—which, of course, means lots of great dialogue in the upcoming Bond films.
With the scenes between Bond and Gareth Mallory (Ralph Fiennes), who will be the new M in the upcoming Bond films, we were shown a tense yet respectful relationship between Bond and the former Chairman of Intelligence and Security Committee, much like the relationship between Bond and Judi Dench’s M. Having been a former lieutenant colonel in the British army, Mallory will obviously try to bring more of a tactical and disciplined approach to MI6’s missions, which we all know will not work well with Bond, who traditionally likes to do things in a more spontaneous, shoot-first-ask-questions-later way. Like Bond and Q, this will be another budding relationship to watch in future films. I’m going to save the relationship between Bond and Eve Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) for another point down below, as Bond Girls always deserve their own discussion.
So let’s move onto the big relationship in this film between Bond and M (Judi Dench). Because this movie focuses so heavily on Bond’s relationship with M, I’m going to go ahead and state that I think this is the most personal storyline we’ve ever seen in the Bond films. Throughout all of the movies, we get a sense that M is unattached when it comes to her agents. The only time she really shows emotion toward MI6 agents is when they’re lined in caskets before her, which we assume is only because she feels the weight of those deaths on her shoulders as the leader of MI6. So it comes as no surprise that Bond and M are often distant with each other. But in Skyfall, we really see some serious, unspoken depth into their relationship.
As I mentioned with Ralph Fiennes’ new M, there’s always been a certain tense yet respectful relationship between Bond and M. He rarely follows her instructions, which irritates her, and yet he gets results, which is why she relies on him so heavily for their missions. As much as Bond talks back to M and disregards her authority, he clearly cares about her, which we saw in his dedication to keep her alive when former MI6 agent Silva (Javier Bardem) was trying to kill her. When M tells Bond about how she “betrayed” Silva (She got six other MI6 agents back in return for giving Silva up to the Chinese after he had been doing some unethical work with them), it seems like M has no problem getting rid of agents in order to do what’s best for MI6; however, paired with the scenes that happened before this one, including the scene where M lies about Bond failing the tests required for secret agent field work, it suddenly becomes clear that M is really attached to Bond.
M’s favoritism of Bond goes beyond just the standard boss/employee favoritism though; it’s more a combination of mentor/protégé and mother/son. In the last half of the movie, that relationship is demonstrated even further when Bond whisks M off to safety in his family’s abandoned estate in Scotland and then cries as he holds her dead in his arms. Even though a lot of people will probably get pissed that M dies (though they probably didn’t know that Dame Judi Dench didn’t sign on for more Bond films because she’s slowly losing her vision and can’t even read her scripts anymore), I think this was a necessary conclusion for Bond’s relationship with this M. After all, the whole point of Bond getting close to anyone is that they always die. Remember Vesper Lynd?
Bond Girls, like Vesper, are tricky characters to create. Make them too feminine and sex-toyish, and you lose the interest of the female viewers. Make them too independent and masculine, and you lose the interest of the male viewers. You need a good combination of sex, career determination, and skill to match Bond. For example, my favorite Bond Girls are Vesper from Casino Royale (2006), Xenia Onatopp from GoldenEye (1995), Wai Lin from Tomorrow Never Dies (1997), and Pussy Galore from Goldfinger (1964) because I think they best capture the right mix of these traits.
Funnily enough, there’s a general formula you can follow when it comes to figuring out who the Bond Girls are and how their stories are going to turn out in the movie. First, there’s usually two of them. Second, one of them is good, and one of them is bad. Third, at least one of them will have sex with Bond. And lastly, at least one of them will die.
In Skyfall‘s case, the Bond Girls were Severine (Bérénice Marlohe) and Eve Moneypenny (Naomie Harris). Severine was the sexy bad girl working for Silva with absolutely no use to Bond other than for sex, to meet his enemy, and to die. Eve Moneypenny, however, was the sexy good girl at MI6 (who eventually is promoted from field agent to the new M’s secretary), and she provided witty banter with Bond, as well as some great sexual tension.
I really, really liked Naomie Harris and Daniel Craig together. I thought they had excellent chemistry, and I can’t wait to see her appear in the other Bond films, so that we can get more witty banter and maybe (fingers crossed) a hot sex scene with her and Bond (maybe on her desk?). Also, I’d like just to say that I totally knew Naomie Harris was going to be Moneypenny when she denied playing Moneypenny only to have her character slowly reveal information about herself in the movie until she confirmed at the end of the movie that she was, in fact, Moneypenny.
But back to that whole Bond-M “mother-son” relationship thing (Sorry, I got off on a Bond Girl tangent). At some points during the movie, I felt like I was being bludgeoned over the head with Freudian references. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, it was moments like when Silva referred to M as “mom,” “mommy,” or “mother,” and the fact that he kept talking to Bond as if they were competing to show M who was the better agent. It was just like, yes, Sam Mendes and Skyfall screenwriters…I get it. Silva and Bond are trapped in a psychosexual competition for the love and possession of their mother figure.
Speaking of Javier Bardem, there’s something about him in a crappy wig that turns him into a great villain, right? Like he wore a crappy wig in No Country For Old Men, and he was both terrifying and brilliant. Needless to say, Bardem brought more of his charming, creepy, and psychotic villainy to Skyfall as betrayed former MI6 agent Silva (with some creepy ass dentures). Although he wasn’t nearly as fearsome as Severine (Bérénice Marlohe) said he was, Silva was an interesting villain.
He wasn’t the typical Bond villain, trying to take over the world by funding terrorist organizations with his millions or by having nuclear missiles stockpiled in Russia or North Korea. No, he was just a villain out for blood, which, in my opinion, is much more frightening because those kinds of villains will stop at nothing to fulfill their revenge. I wish Javier Bardem had gotten a little more screen time with his character; however, he stole a lot of the scenes he was in, like his very first appearance where he told his island rat infestation story and put slightly homoerotic moves on Bond.
Overall, I think Skyfall should have been the movie to follow Casino Royale. Typically with sequels, you want the sequel to either match or go above the level of its predecessor. I would say Skyfall definitely matched Casino Royale. Both movies’ characters and plots were so strong and well-developed that it makes me remember that the shitty Quantum of Solace came between them (I try to pretend that movie doesn’t exist).
If you really like the deeper, more character-centered Bond films, then this is the one for you because Bond and M’s relationship goes way beyond the other Daniel Craig-starring Bond films (and you get the excitement of budding relationships with Q and other MI6 agents). The action sequences, as always, were thrilling. The sex, however, was cut short (I was really hoping to see more naked Daniel Craig scenes). But you’ll get some great tributes to the classic James Bond films, like the Aston Martin DB5 making its reappearance. Be warned though—there are some pretty big twists (all of which I think are awesome).