Some random thoughts on…
Skyfall (many massive spoilers)
Considering the reviews and box office this film generated I was rather surprised by this film. It’s certainly the biggest departure from the series template since Licence To Kill, and possibly ever. Which perhaps proves that audiences desire a bit of variation in the template. What’s curious is the strange lack of confidence that Eon seems to have in their franchise. Everyone noted at the time that Casino Royale was strategically designed to cater to audience demands for grittier, more action-focused spy films like the Bourne series. But this led to the almost entirely action-oriented Quantum Of Solace, which barely seemed to have a plot or dialogue. It’s hard to ignore the echoes of Christoper Nolan’s Dark Knight films in Skyfall. Bardem’s villain, with his disfigured face and masochistic yet masterful plans to use his own capture as a strategic asset is extremely redolent of The Joker in Nolan’s films. And Thomas Newman’s music also riffs heavily on the nervous energy of Hans Zimmer’s superb Batman scores. But another, less noted, influence on Skyfall surely goes to the unlikely candidate of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, another film in which the M16 is betrayed by one of its own. Like TTSS, Skyfall is dialogue heavy, and exudes a fascination with process and psychology. The fact that Skyfall is the least globetrotting Bond entry yet, and focuses predominantly on British settings is likely to be symptomatic of the reduced budget the film had as a result of MGM’s financial travails*. I imagine the producers looked at the money TTSS made and deduced that a slightly less ostentatious Bond entry needn’t necessarily be a failure, just as the London Olympics organisers realised they didn’t have to compete with Beijing’s billion-dollar fireworks to produce an inspiring opening ceremony. It seems that since the crunch we’re all willing to accept a but less exuberance.
It turns out Eon were right and the audience hasn’t noticed any reduction in budget, and in fact have lapped up Skyfall‘s strange and expressionistic final half hour, which seems to see Bond recoiling into his inner psychological landscape to overcome a nemesis. While these differences are attractive, in other areas the film’s attempts to define it’s departures from the template are less convincing.
In fact the whole series seems somewhat confused about whether it’s been rebooted or not. Casino Royale was supposed to be a year-zero redefinition, yet Judi Dench returned as M. In Skyfall Q returns but he explains to Bond that newfangled gadgets are out and that all you need is old fashioned intelligence (TTSS?) and technology to beat your enemies. This chimes with the thematic principle that the “old ways are the best” which seems to run through the film. But the old way was gadgets, far-flung destinations and bond girls. A the end of Skyfall we have the return of Moneypenny and an overturning of one of the series more modernist traits – the female M. So is the series, after one of the most distinctive and refreshing entries to date, going to return to its traditional roots? The message to the audience seems confused to say the least. Finally, Casino Royale was supposed to signal a new direction by showing Bond’s emotional vulnerability as a result of his doomed relationship with Vesper Lynd, yet this isn’t referred to in the new film. If the device was only ever implanted in Casino Royale to explain his womanising and nihilism in future episodes, I think that’s a shame, and it would make the series more engaging if the emotional baggage of the Lynd relationship surfaced from time to time.
My only other observation about the film was that Bond uses the sarcastic comeback line “course he is” about three times. Surely overuse and unusual this wasn’t picked up in the script-editing stage.
*The causality of Skyfall‘s production intrigues me in a number of ways. Did the limited budget inform the plot’s reduced approach? Also did Dench decide that she’d had enough of M and did that inspire the story in any way. It would be interesting to know.