In this post cold war era where rebel networks (national, political, or religious) are often called terrorists, a secret service agency like MI6 should be safe from scrutiny, and moreover, lavished with resources to ensure appropriate national and allied security.
Not so. In the latest Bond flick, Skyfall, England’s MI6 is under fire, and with it, M (Judi Dench), the stalwart, stylish and biting commander whose detractors find her long in the tooth, but dare not call her ancient or inept.
M makes no apologies for the past, but understands that MI6 is facing a reckoning, not only because of her actions, but also because of her agents’ (past and present).
In her business, you expect success, primarily to safeguard your reputation and therefore your existence, but you don’t ballyhoo the losses. There’s no time for that. It could lead to your destruction, as surely as a cyanide pill will corrode your brain.
This standing tall in desperate times, I presume, is what Adele is singing about in the theme song; and M bravely does so. However, her aging though equally committed agent, James Bond (Daniel Craig), is not nearly as unwavering. In fact, at times he appears more vulnerable than her. He is a tempest though, that James, preferring unapologetically to chart his own path, even as he faces the resolute and neurotic but witty former secret agent, Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem), who endeavours to teach M contrition and moral responsibility.
Juxtaposed with Silva, Bond’s vulnerability is palpable because its not just a face-off between good and evil. They need to know, as much as we do, if they are really that different from one another?
They share an appetite for beautiful women; but womanizing doesn’t seem to bring Bond the satisfaction seen in the past, and this might be a refreshing indication of maturity in a self-aware man, if it were by design, and neither a failure in the actor nor the script.
The women are not the problem. There are fine women in Skyfall, like Sévérine (Bérénice Lim Marlohe) whom Bond predictably dallies with, but apart from the bar scene where he taps into her psyche, she is obviously a means to an end. Eve (Naomie Harris), on the other hand is a capable ally, who intrigues, not only for her beauty and soft British accent, but her ability to charm or repel him at whim. Unfortunately, it is Bond who doesn’t seem to have the will; but then love’s been no featherbed for him.
Presumably, as James and Eve face challenging life-or-death situations in the future (situations which require them to work together for their survival) the tension between them will blossom to great effect, because cradled in Eve’s dynamism, is a more liberated Moneypenny than those past. A promise which could bring out the best in 007.
Don’t care about romantic tension? Then you might enjoy Skyfall‘s man-to-man combat, cursory high-speed chases and hellish firepower from TNT and automatic weapons. The problem here, however, is predictability. Call it the pink perspective, but the damage seen towards the film’s finale is overdone. Could one more thing blow up?
In contrast, the audience collectively gasped when Bond revealed and utilized sentimental gadgets, like the Aston Martin DB5, itself a sleek sleeper agent. The nostalgia, which is present throughout the film, works best here, where few words are necessary and the fiery M is almost loveable. Unfortunately, those who have little history with the Bond franchise might not recognize its significance from earlier films such as Goldfinger; The reaction of those in the know suggests, however, that well-placed, old-fashioned gadgets thrill even the i-gadget generation.
The film explores this theme of progress from various perspectives: person to person, person vs object, and command and control systems vs anarchy. For example, Q, Bond’s tech-savvy comrade from R&D, would rather archive Bond as a relic of another age, much like his DB5 with its ejection-ready passenger seat, but the audience, while understanding the need to modernize, has something to teach Q about valuing relics. Likewise, M borrows from poet (Lord) Alfred Tennyson as she elucidates MI6’s position and purpose in the modern world, spouting not the selfishness of a resigning Ulysses, but the man’s blinding raison d’être.
Be not fooled by her poetry, however, Skyfall is no staid retirement party for either M or Bond; It just doesn’t convey the same depth of passion Adele delivers in the theme song. Maybe the lyrics propelled my expectations too high.