(Here should be a politic disclaimer that James Bond and MGM do not love Jesus, we should guard our eyes, and shouldn’t we be reading the Bible—or at least watching Janette Oke movies—instead? If you have to ask, then yes, you should.)
Skyfall won’t generate riotous Oscar buzz, but Javier Bardem oozes perverse psychopathy, it’s Judi Dench’s swansong (oops, spoiler; like you didn’t know already), and the writer, director, and composer are established Awards contenders, so lightning might strike. If Adele is nominated people could actually watch the Academy Awards.
Disclosure: Lest I pretend any objectivity, my reasons for liking Skyfall are twofold:
Our friend J.A.C. Redford orchestrated the film and title track (700 pages of music, his wife says). J.A.C. was presenting his sacred music at a St Andrews graduate theology seminar the very hour Adele’s track went straight to #1 in the UK. That’s cool. So I’m a fan. And the music rules!
The Scottish exteriors are Glen Etive which I have hiked and paddled and love best in all the Highlands.
More critically, the film-craft of Skyfall is top notch. I have nothing further to add now except this film won’t follow pre-2006 Bond suit to immediately look camp and dated.
Thematically, Skyfall continues the resistance begun in Casino Royale to old Bond clichés. Daniel Craig elevates his craft as a wounded, unstable, outmoded spy. Now his loyalty is in doubt. He is bitterly cavalier. Any charm is affectation.
In this context there is some surprising return to the old school films dominated by Cold War nemeses. When MI6 is compromised they go underground in Churchill’s war rooms. When cyber-terrorism—the crisis of this story—compromises the one person Bond cares about, he entraps Silva the baddy where bullets and bravado trump technology. Bond has a flash Aston Martin, but it’s the iconic DB5. It’s his, and he’s kept it secretly for such a time as when the latest model is too sophisticated. Bond’s recovery and redemption come through the same brutal return to the fundamentals of spy versus spy. But unlike Bond of old, it’s now personal.
If there was any character arc to the pre-Craig Bonds, it was mostly aging out of the role. Casino Royale rebooted the franchise by troubling Bond with a heart. Skyfall opens with Bond trying to save a dying agent at the expense of his mission, and culminates in him returning all the way back to his childhood for M’s sake, the only person who has understood and cared for him since he was recruited. For Silva, M is an inverted Freudian mother. For Bond she has been, and in Skyfall formally becomes, the synecdochic representation of family and country. Only M’s crisis is enough to bring Bond back from the dead. This is a masterful stroke. Judi Dench has played the feminine M to perfection since 1995, but Skyfall turns that inversion to significance. The end of her run as M will test Bond’s personal ties to agency and country.
Therein is what I suspect will be both Bond’s restoration and downfall. In the new MI6, Dench’s feminine authority is divided unto the understated militarism of Ralph Fiennes and the flirtatious wit of Naomie Harris. Bond won’t be devoted to either of them the right way. All ties to the past are burned.
Prediction: Bond 24 will see Craig at his most cold-blooded. The violence, misogyny, and detachment of vintage Bond will rear their ugly heads. We now know what he’s capable of: Vesper Lynd was the girl he loved and lost. Quantum of Solace’s Camille was the one he loved chastely to help with a complimentary vendetta. Skyfall’s Sévérine (note the continued humanizing of the ladies’ names) is the one he tried to rescue for his own purposes. She has gone from the worst of industries to serving the worst of villains (“What do you know about fear?” / “All there is.” / “Well not like this. Not like him.”) to serving Bond. He woos and overthrows her. His fault is to use her as the villain did—a fault he was above in Quantum of Solace. We should expect the same or worse in subsequent films. His character is on a downward trend.
How good is this movie? Awesome, but it needs critical eyes and discretion from viewers. The Bond franchise continues to up the caliber by disrupting its own status quo. In the context of the Bond corpus, Skyfall is a superb production and promises strong things to come.
Fr Micah Snell has a day job writing a PhD on theology and Shakespeare at the University of St Andrews’ Institute for Theology, Imagination and the Arts. Sometimes he has deluded fantasies about being a spy. You too can join the very exclusive cadre of his Twitter followers.