Now I'm wishing I hadn't used the e e cummings quote for yesterday's subject line, because I should have used it for today's. Because, what the hell is going on with Skyfall? I finished watching it last night, having been distracted the night before at the point where the train comes through the ceiling by the sudden arrival of herne_kzn, and it left me with a rather scattered set of impressions mostly along the lines of "WTF??"
- I'm calling a moratorium on fake movie deaths. The elaborate fake hero death is the province of the superhero comic book, where it is frequently lame but should bloody well stay. Didn't work in Dark Knight Rises, didn't work in Skyfall. In Skyfall it's obvious, apart from the bit where it has no obvious point.
- It's a bit late to be doing restrained ironic postmodern takes on the Bond myth, postmodernism is so last century. A film which nods ironically to the Bond gadget frenzy by going completely old-school and resolutely refusing to give him any gadgets, is not nearly as much fun as a film full of Bond gadgets. Q should not be a hipster. I liked Q, but he was definitely a hipster.
- Was it just me, or were the movie's twists telegraphed too damned much? I totally saw them coming. The villain was excellent and extremely creepy, but ridiculously predictable. (Although his Big Plan made no damned sense. I fail to see why he had to be captured, it did nothing except necessitate an elaborate break-out, and he could simply have hopped on a plane to London with the same result).
- If you're doing ironic postmodern takes on the tech, was that supposed to be an ironic postmodern take on the gender politics? Because if so, it failed dismally. Dear film, your concessions to female presence (other than a stridently unreasonable MP in the court scene) boil down to the following:
(a) sexualising Bond's interaction with his female co-agent in terms probably circa Roger Moore (initially as back-up to his ridiculous motorbike chase, then screwing up as part of a female collaboration against the hero, and every single other interaction he has with her subsequently is randomly flirtatious);
(b) supplying an extended scenario with a woman who ticks all the boxes of prostitute, captive, slave, terrified, duplicitous, used, bound and shot as well as being intrinsically a sexual object; and
(c) constructing Judy Dench's M, who should be kicking butt and taking names, almost entirely in terms which re-figured her as a maternal icon, switching slightly wildly between being Too Harsh A Mother, Too Invested A Mother, and A Vulnerable Mother Who Needs To Be Protected By Her Son. Female power has a fuckload more possibilities going for it than roles which resolutely link it to its sexual function, even metaphorically.
If these are your concessions to female presence and agency, film, you fail hard. As hard as you fail the Bechdel test, which is somewhat catastrophically.
- The hint at the possibility of male rape was interesting, but I think flawed. The threat of women being raped is a commonplace of a lot of action and horror films, but it's comparatively rare to see male action heroes themselves facing the possibility of rape. This absence is unrealistic, given the actual stats on male rape in contexts such as prison or war, as this excellent article points out, but obviously male rape is much more of a taboo subject in our culture than is female. So it was weirdly refreshing to see such a disturbing element introduced; nonetheless, I don't think it quite addressed the issue in the terms in which I think it needs to be addressed. Rape is not about sex, it's about power. Prison and war rape of men is a commonplace of dominance, it's not an expression of homosexuality or of mental disturbance. Silva is set up as a deeply disturbed character in terms which are absolutely Oedipal: he is fixated on M as a loved/hated mother figure, and his interaction with Bond has resonances of sibling rivalry with elements of "can't relate to women because of his mother issues". His threat to Bond becomes "creepy disturbed character pawing hero because of creepy disturbance", which is not at all the same thing as "violent dominant male using sexual assault as another form of violent dominance". That is, it pathologises it as an outlier, rather than accepting it as a standard. If the discourse of so many action films accepts the rape of women as a standard, it bloody well needs to do the same for male rape. IMNSHO, anyway.
- Enough gender politics, what about the narrative? I quite enjoyed the claustrophobic, stripped-down feel, the focus on personal revenge and the absence of Plots To Take Over The World!, which is rather done to death. But it's not really what one expects, to see a James Bond film suddenly take a hard left about two-thirds of the way through and become, lock, stock and barrel, a Gothic piece: bleak moors, isolated old house, mist, night, tunnels from the chapel, incestuous families, family tragedies, wizened retainers, monsters and men in black stalking through the fog and flames, the whole toot. If the Hound of the Baskervilles had galloped over the horizon I would have shrugged, thought "oh, well, then" and simply accepted it. I can't say I hated it, Gothic always grooves my ploons and whatever its problems Skyfall was beautifully shot, but I think my neck is still a bit stiff from the whiplash.
- Was it just me, or were the action sequences a wee bit lacklustre? Or were they supposed to be exciting minimalist low-key postmodern fight scenes? Not, again, something I watch James Bond for.
- Damn, that theme song is a lovely thing, and that woman has a lovely voice. "Moonraker" flashbacks, though, in texture as much as tune.
I can't say I hated this film; it was an entertaining few hours, and Daniel Craig is always watchable (although he also always reminds me of my dad, which is simply weird). But it's not a good sign, when I found myself doing a lot of this analysis and deconstruction while I was actually watching. Action movies should blow you away sufficiently that their flaws only occur to you once you've emerged, quivering and energised, from the showdown. Not so much.