Wednesday, December 12, 2012

A Night Of Bond-ing

I saw Skyfall tonight.  It was a decent installment--not quite as intelligent as Daniel Craig's last two Bond movies, but enjoyable nonetheless.  A few spoilers, er, thoughts:

--I continue to enjoy the opening montages wherein the main plot points of the film are set out, if one knows how to decode them.  For instance, there are the images of stone arches which forecast the fight in the sewer, the Chinese dragons which intimate Bond's fateful trip to Macau, and the storm of slowly descending, flaming sperm which clearly presage his tryst with a former Macanese sex slave.

--I appreciate that the villain's motivation had nothing to do with conquering the world.  I maintain that that was the most satisfying part of Casino Royale (where Le Chifre's prime concern is market manipulation and avoiding the edge of an African warlord's machete) and the least satisfying part of the otherwise compelling Quantum of Solace.  The world is too big, too abstract, which makes seeking to possess it not menacing but campy.  That's why it's so often used in conjunction with comic book baddies; comic books trade in melodrama.  This is not a suitable row to hoe for any franchise looking to call itself "gritty."

--That said, may we please place a moratorium post-haste on the villain being a former agent/teammate/co-worker/squash partner of the good guy(s)?  It's not just that someone else has already done this angle better, it's that another Bond movie has already done this angle better.  See: Pierce Brosnan, Goldeneye.  I mean, c'mon people, it's not like you're lifting something from the George Lazenby era; Goldeneye was out barely thirteen years ago.

--And speaking of moratoriums, let's throw a heavy rug over the trope that the villain, while supposedly languishing in the hero's clutches, actually "meant to get caught! omg!!!1!!"  Let's especially consign to the Dustbin of Anemic Writerly Devices using one of the good guys to blurt this aloud while turning in place amid the bodies of nameless guards and the general bedlam surrounding the villain's escape.  This gimmick was the weakest point of the otherwise masterful Dark Knight Returns, and if Heath Ledger's Joker couldn't make it a believable-sounding plan then you can't either.

--Thanks to the final scene, we finally have an answer to Bond's dysfunctional relationships with women: while giving Vesper Lynd clear pride of place in his overflowing gynecic menagerie, 007's ain true love has apparently only ever been M.  At least, she's the only woman he has ever shed an actual tear for.  (His reconciliation to the idea that Vesper's affection was indeed real, and not another spy game, is the terse statement "Congratulations, you were right...about Vesper" uttered almost monotone to M at the end of Quantum.  No waterworks there.)  Dunno about you, but I'd also suffer from a myriad of psychosexual maladjustments if Dame Judi Dench was my paragon of the feminine.

--Sadly, it seems my favorite fan theory, that "James Bond" is actually a code name given to successive agents over the course of the last 50 years, is false.  The grave markers at Bond's auld Scottish home clearly give his family name as "Bond," and I highly doubt the parental units buried beneath were a full 1/5th of their era's double-0 branch.  This revelation was both surprising and sad, especially since Javier Bardem's character makes a point of forcing the issue, with his insistence that M call him by his real name, not his MI6 moniker.  Having "Bond" as a code name answered so much and so nicely, as far as continuity goes; it's a shame to see it discarded.  Besides, isn't it dangerous for an assassin to be handing out his real name?  I know mom and pop are pushing up thistles, but surely there are other loved ones and acquaintances that would be put in danger by the practice?

--Lastly, I mentioned above that this go-round is "not quite as intelligent" as the last two Craig installments.  Casino and Quantum were both defined by Bond's coldblooded devotion to his given mission; he either bent the people around him to the ends of this mission or he discharged them (and often a bullet at the same time).  Skyfall doesn't have this same kind of rigor.  For example, in the previous two movies, Bond's choice of lovers was strategic, i.e., the seductions moved him closer to his goal.  (Vesper Lynd was interesting in that she fell outside the pattern, which made their relationship seem to be genuinely emotional.)  The sexual conquests in Skyfall (three in the first 45 minutes, no less!) are, rather, perfunctory: here's a beautiful woman in the same room as James frickin' Bond, what d'you think is gonna happen (bwoh-chicka-bwoh-bwoh)?  Me, I prefer my Bond to be a calculating killer who just happens to be on the side of the angels over a James Bond who's basically a kind of AXE Body Spray in a special edition MI6 bottle.

That said, it was a nice ride, especially on an iMax screen.  Go see!

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