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Bond in Darkness

Gloom seems to have become Hollywood’s ambience du jour.  The last two films
I saw,
Les Miserables and Lincoln, were both bathed in sepulchral
tones.  Now, with
Skyfall, I discover that even James Bond has been plunged into
stygian darkness.

It is true that the extended opening sequence of Skyfall takes place in daylight, in Istanbul, with a mandatory
car chase through the streets, followed by a motorcycle chase across the roof
of the Grand Bazaar, and finally a fight on the roof of a train.  So far, this is standard Bond fare, if unashamedly
derivative.  (The car chase, causing
mayhem in a street market, with fruit and vegetables flying all over the place,
comes straight out of Raiders of the Lost
Ark
, among others, the train fight from Mission
Impossible
.  And to add insult to
injury, a later scene, in which the villain is held in a glass cage, echoes
Hannibal Lechter’s confinement in Silence
of the
Lambs.)

But from then on, much of the action unfolds in
deserted buildings, night-clubs and underground tunnels, and even when our hero
does finally emerge into the open air it’s in the Scottish highlands, in dead
of winter, most of the scenes set in the middle of the night.

Someone please switch on the lights.

Skyfall has a dark shade in other respects.  Bond himself, after surviving a near-death
experience in a failed mission involving the retrieval of a computer-hacked
list of MI6 agents, is depicted as exhausted, alcohol-dependent, washed up.  He looks terrible.  He has even grown a beard.  His boss, M, has fared no better.  Having taken the heat for Bond’s failure, she
is under pressure to retire with a nice pension and a string of honours.  “You’ve had a good run,” her superior tells
her patronizingly. 

The film now started to take on a valedictory
tone.  What were we being told here?  That this is James Bond’s last outing?  Midway way through the film, I was half
expecting him to end up being bumped off for real – as opposed to the incidents
in previous films in which he ‘died’, only to be revived in the nick of time,
as in Casino Royale.  But no, the final credits carried the
reassuringly familiar message that ‘James Bond Will Return’.  After Skyfall
I somehow don’t find this as exciting a prospect as I ought to.

Is it a terrible film, scuppered by the twilight?  No, it isn’t. 
But I didn’t find it nearly as riveting or exhilarating as most of the
leading reviewers seem to have done (including, I am disappointed to say, my
favourite critic, Antony Lane of The New
Yorker;
though his colleague David Denby, who I also respect, didn’t much
care for it).  

It’s just that Skyfall
is not the kind of Bond I had hoped for after Daniel Craig’s fine reworking of
the role in his debut in the splendidly entertaining and finely-tuned Casino Royale ,though I suppose there were
clear signs that all was not well in the disappointing follow-up, Quantum of Solace.  

Perhaps the producers of Skyfall, in hiring Same Mendes to direct, made a poor choice.  Mendes is competent and clever but each of his
previous films, American Beauty, Road to Perdition and Revolutionary Road
projected the same relentlessly gloomy introspection that permeates Skyfall
    

Craig is a fine Bond, perhaps the best, but having
revived the character reduced to bovine vapidity by Roger Moore and to mechanical
smart-Alec coyness by Pierce Brosnan, he is in danger of making us nostalgic again
for the cynical, roguish insouciance of Sean Connery, the impeccable screen
original. 

Connery gave us the sophisticated and amoral swagger
that Ian Fleming surely intended.  Craig,
especially in his odd, vaguely Oedipal relationship with M, has far too little
Fleming and a little too much Freud.   

The villains are not helping these days, though it’s
hard not to enjoy Javier Bardem’s over-the-top turn as Raoul Silva, a bleached
blond, simpering faggot.  He obviously
had great fun, too.  But Silva’s
ambitions are surely too limited for a Bond baddie.  A former MI6 agent, he doesn’t want to rule
the world, he merely wants to exact revenge for being ‘betrayed’ to the Chinese
years earlier by M.  He hates M as much
as Bond apparently loves her.  In that
respect they may just have reversed roles.

A disappointment all round then, but, as we have been
promised, there will be a next time.

To this we look forward – but lighten up a little,
boys.

 

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