‘Skyfall’ Discussion: Action Film, Bond Film, Or Neither?

OBVIOUS WARNING: THERE ARE SPOILERS BELOW!

Skyfall made a boatload of money ($87 million) this past weekend. It has received fantastic reviews and as of Monday afternoon, a 92% on Rotten Tomatoes. Our Digital Director, Mike Mierendorf and Chief Film Critic, Drew Morton, use this opportunity to discuss the movie and their reactions.

Skyfall: Bond Film vs. Action Film

Drew Morton: I’m curious to see what you thought about Skyfall as both a Bond film and an action film. Does it work well as both?

Mike Mierendorf: First off, it was a much different film than I thought it was going to be. My initial reaction at the end of the film was that it wasn’t a Bond movie—it was a lot more. It felt like a Bond movie only in the playful canon callbacks, but as a whole, I thought it functioned on a deeper level. More inline with Mendes’ Road To Perdition. It was a character drama with moments of action.

Drew: I thought Skyfall worked more as a Bond film and less as an action film. The frequent callbacks to other symbols in the Bond mythos—in particular, the Aston Martin from Goldfinger which, (spoilers), is destroyed in a particularly heartbreaking manner [here’s how they did it]. Moreover, M’s (Judi Dench) rationale for why MI6 matters is a meta-moment in which she essentially defends the relevancy of Bond in the 21st century. Finally, the introduction of established players from earlier incarnations of this universe made the film undoubtedly “Bond.”

However, the film also walks away from the overwrought gadgetry of many of the films. When Q provides Bond with a gun and a radio transmitter, Bond remarks that it isn’t exactly “Christmas.” Secondly, the finale relishes in its low-techness and finds Bond utilizing the methods of Kevin McCallister from Home Alone to defend himself. I saw Skyfall as much more of a commentary on the history of Bond on the eve of his 50th birthday than the typical Bond action flick.

Which brings me to one of the shortcomings of the film . . . the action scenes. With the exception of the Shanghai assassination (which is particularly memorable for Roger Deakins’s cinematography and less so for its choreography), much of the film’s action felt less-spectacular than what we have come to expect from the Daniel Craig Bond era. Casino Royale, despite its bloated run time, has some incredible moments of spectacle, specifically the opening chase. Quantum of Solace, which I am a vocal defender of, deconstructs the action scene through formalist abstraction, giving it a visceral punch. Nothing Sam Mendes offers here is of the caliber of those two films. However, nothing Casino or Quantum offer in the way of performances comes close to Skyfall. So it’s a welcome trade off.

Mike: All of your points confirm my opinion that Skyfall (while being a Bond movie) is about finalizing who James Bond is. Skyfall’s lack of action scenes work because it emphasizes that the world in which Bond lives has changed. It establishes detailed back stories for our characters, giving them depth and considerable motivations to drive the franchise forward, not just the film.

I think it’s easily the most visually stunning Bond film yet. Throughout the entire film, I was in awe of the cinematography. Bond, who has always been very black and white in his persona, is contrasted against bright colors. But when Bond showed that he is a person, not just a killing machine, fighting with his skills and ingenuity (i.e. at Skyfall), he’s contrasted against the dark monotone of Scotland. For the first time in the film, Bond blends in with the scenery. It’s that moment that he finally becomes the new 007.

The Bond Girls and Sexuality 

Drew: Did you come away with the interpretation that Bond films no longer oversexualize the Bond girls? That Bond, in fact, seems to be the chief object of desire (hence Bardem’s actions in their introduction)?

Mike: I think you absolutely hit it on the head that Daniel Craig’s Bond is the actual center of sexual attention. The transition is very clear from Casino Royale to Skyfall. Between the introduction of Silva, and the shaving scene with Eve, it seems clear that Bond is our “eye candy” of these new Bond films.

Drew: The sexuality of the Bond film has been fundamentally altered since the arrival of Daniel Craig. Just as Skyfall addresses the critique regarding the relevancy of the spy in the 21st century, the Craig Bond films have taken it upon themselves to reverse the sexual political formula established across twenty other films. In the Craig Bond films, Bond is the object of desire. This goes back to Casino Royale where he is given the “slow motion” moment as he emerges from the ocean like Honey Ryder in Dr. No, and it continues here in Skyfall when Silva (Bardem)—not the women of the film—traces his fingertips along Bond’s scarred pecs and cops a feel.

Skyfall takes it a step further than Royale, deemphasizing the young, beautiful Bond women by sidelining them from the plot for the majority of the run time. Moreover, Mendes does not formally emphasize their physiques via costuming, editing, or cinematography. Oddly, Skyfall establishes M (Judi Dench) as the Bond girl. Bond spends the bulk of the film working to protect her. Admittedly, we still get a sequence in which a woman who has copulated with Bond dies, but it’s an afterthought. Mendes follows in the footsteps of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and makes this film about the coupling and disintegration of one of the richest moments Bond has had with a member of the opposite sex . . . his “Mum.”

Skyfall and The Dark Knight

Drew: Sam Mendes has stated that Skyfall owes a great debt to Christopher Nolan’s Batman films and this is realized both superficially and with more depth than one might initially think. Towards the superficial side, we have Bardem’s villain who, like Nolan’s Joker, has his own distorted rictus and taunts Bond from the confines of a jail cell. Yet, this is not an overwhelmingly superficial linkage. Bardem utilizes terrorism not to unleash havoc upon the city of London, but to taunt M and Bond, just as the Joker does with Batman. This taunting, as was the case with The Dark Knight, is an attempt to get Bond to break his own rules by forcing the realization of how similar he is to Bardem’s Silva, and how the people he protects will ultimately abandon him. Yet, as Batman does, Bond remains true to his goals and, in a sequence similar to the parade scene in The Dark Knight, fights off Silva—who like the Joker—disguises himself as a police officer to assassinate the authority figure at the center of the hero’s world.

Mike: I agree that Silva and the Joker share some obvious traits. Thematically, it seemed very clear that Silva intended to be caught in order to get closer to M and taunt Bond like you said. Despite what the Joker said about not planning his actions, he was very meticulous in his goals. The same is with Silva. It was merely an appearance of chaos.

The only difference was that Silva wanted to die as long as he took M with him. As you said, his intentions were to suggest that all MI6 operative are essentially the same and that Bond only needed a push to cross that line. But just like Batman, Bond sticks to his ultimate goals and code. The knife in the back worked on so many levels to leave Bond with closure in terms of the fine line between good and evil in operatives.

*

Mike: I have just one solid complaint about the movie, Drew– Adele’s “Skyfall” is terrible! Other than that, I love Skyfall something fierce.

Drew: I’m mixed on the theme.

Mike: It felt underwhelming and boring for an Adele song, let alone a Bond theme. But honestly that is my only big complaint, so Skyfall is a total winner in my book.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=StJLvbPIvTw]
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