Mommy Apocalypse, or: No Country for Gay Men
SKYFALL (Sam Mendes, 2012) When we last saw him, James Bond (Daniel Craig) was saving the world from men of color: Mr. White in Casino Royale and Mr. Green of Quantum of Solace. They were part of a rainbow coalition of terrorists called Quantum, if I’m not mistaken, the first worldwide enemy organization to hit the series since 1971’s Diamonds Are Forever, when Ernst Blofeld’s SPECTRE — Special Executive for Counterintelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion (whew!) — threatened to blow holes in the planet from a super laser in space. Some may argue that Blofeld popped up again years later in the opening of For Your Eyes Only, but that faceless bald guy who offers 007 “a delicatessen in stainless steel” was less a nemesis than a painful reminder of how far the franchise fell during the Roger Moore years. To use a wobbly political analogy, Moore was to Bond what G.W. Bush was to the White House. In Skyfall, Bond is up against the nefarious Mr. Silver (Javier Bardem), but all ties to the Quantum organization and the previous two movies end there. This is a Bond film of alleged substance, it reminds us every so often, of the glories of tradition. Not the traditions of the James Bond series, all that wisecracking and gratuitous sex and outlandish action, but rather the traditions of Great Britain’s conservative core. Under the staid direction of Sam Mendes, who’s still known for being the guy who made American Beauty, there are blunt references to Churchill in the hideous bulldog figure gracing M’s desk, of Savile Row in Ralph Fiennes’s stiff upper Brit tailored suits, and let’s say nothing (please) of the Scottish castle on the moors and Albert Finney. There are arguments against the gun toting ‘Double O’ section lobbied by a pack of shortsighted liberals in a hearing wherein Judi Dench goes full bore Dame and recites Tennyson through quivering lips, preceding a rash of gunplay when the conservative right bears arms to protect their whiny detractors. All this in a film released just days after the Presidential election in North America witnessed the left schooling the right and sent them packing. Gleefully flamboyant, Bardem’s Mr. Silver strives for gay iconography but stumbles rather quickly into caricature. (Imagine Paul Lynde playing Goldfinger.) In its political cartooning, Skyfall lumps him in with the tragic errors of a progressive world gone to hell; rather than give Silver an outrageous plan for global domination à la Blofeld, he’s stuck with suffocating mommy issues out of Psychology 101, the kind of pap Orson Welles used to wave off as ‘dollar book Freud.’ Blaming Dench’s M (get it? ‘M’ for mommy!) for wronging him, Silver plots her demise in a series of convoluted schemes we try to muster enthusiasm for as they’re overturned by Bond, often in some of the cheesier examples of CGI I’ve seen lately. (They totally blew it with the Komodo dragons.) Given her ample screen time, the seventy-one-year-old Dench becomes the ‘Bond girl’ here as the scenario’s two younger women are relegated to thankless supporting roles. Bérénice Marlohe is given relatively little to do in thick black makeup reminiscent of Caligari, Naomie Harris (as Eve Moneypenny) appears ready to kick off her own weekly series. Not long ago there were rumors or wishful thinking of a Bond film directed by Quentin Tarantino; there was also the time Angelina Jolie was approached to appear in one but said she would only if she played 007 herself. All of which surely had franchise bigwigs Barbara Broccoli and Michael Wilson rolling their eyes. A series immersed in such high finance as this will never tip its cash cow into the dung heap of experimentation. But Jolie as 007 in a Tarantino Bond movie would be incredibly cool, and a lot livelier than this.
Text copyright © Ray Young