I want to preface this review with a caveat: I didn’t hate SKYFALL. I actually enjoyed it. The second caveat is that there are spoilers ahead. I’m sorry, it’s unavoidable. The major elements that aggravate me are the reason why I’m writing the review, as a result I cannot talk about the movie’s major failings without revealing those elements.
So, let me say that the initial premise of SKYFALL was a good one. We all know M has a past, and so must Bond. These histories feature as important plot devices and are delightful. Where Sam Mendes’ 3rd installment of the new Bond series falls down, however, is in its re-introduction of elements that the Bond franchise frankly should have left in the past.
The restoration of patriarchy in the front office of MI6 is highly problematic and it is compouded by re-introducing the Moneypenny character in an utterly undeconstructed role as personal assistant to M. All Mad Men evidence to the contrary, this is not the 1960s. The injection of testosterone into M’s office is most unwelcome since M has in the past two movies been a scathing critic of Bond’s sexual exploitation of women — and rightfully so. Dench’s M perhaps didn’t go far enough in that critique, but we are talking about Hollywood so it was an admirable start. The gravitas Dench has brought to the franchise and the thorough shattering of the glass ceiling in the fictional intelligence world was squandered in this movie by the introduction of the Mallory character (played by Ralph Finnes).
Even Mallory’s accusation that M has become “sentimental” about Bond is a thinly vieled swipe at M’s gender. As though the fact she is a female spy master and he, as a male agent are some how tied in something other than a professional relationship.
Other elements were similarly problematic. I’m thinking here about the exchange between Bond and Silva about homosexual sex as part of Bond’s fieldcraft: “who says I haven’t?” While cute, the opportunity to question the decidedly hetro view of Bond’s seduction training, is wasted. Especially in light of the ultimate restoration of the decidedly heteronormal sexual politics at the office later in the film.
And then there’s the car. I understand that the rights holders for the franchise want their little piece of nostalgia but trotting out the ejection seat loaded, machinegun headlamped Astin was again a step in the wrong direction. Yes, it’s symbolic demolition hinted at the distance the Craig Bond has come from Connery’s whiz-bang gadgetry, and yet if it was supposed to imply that we cannot go back, it failed. It failed because of the other elements in the film pointing so clearly to the fact that Sam Mendes either didn’t get what the rebooted Bond was supposed to be or because the franchise holders couldn’t help themselves. I do not know which it was.
The one element from the past that did not seem inapprorpiate was Q branch. The tight reign on deus ex machina devices implied in the film is sensible given the tenor of the past two movies, but at the same time Bond needs kit. Even if that kit is as unexciting as a Walther PPK.
So not an atrocious movie, but there are worrying signs that the new franchise will not stay the course of an austere Bond. Moreover, the small amount of progress in the realm of sexual politics that was made over the past two movies, sadly seems to have been flushed away by a nostalgia for a Bond of a bygone era.