November 30, 2012

Not dead (Skyfall)

Just as the Dark Knight films aspired to be Bond (as Chris Nolan explains here), so the new Bond, the Sam Mendes-directed Skyfall, aspires to be a Dark Knight film, with Javier Bardem (camp, bleached, monstrous) as its scene-stealing Heath Ledger. They come together in other ways. In the Dark Knight films Nolan wrestled with the comic-book implications – they were superhero movies that didn’t really want to be superhero movies – and, equivalently, Skyfall is an espionage thriller that takes in almost supernatural elements, especially in its depiction of the villain (his island of ruins, his techno-omnipotence). The hero – Bond (Daniel Craig) – seems overshadowed, blandly mechanical, barely present. Apart from M (for mother), the women are superfluous and even the sex isn’t fun. The Craig-era Bond is never enjoying himself; the Roger Moore-era Bond was only ever enjoying himself. Like Nolan’s Bruce Wayne, this Bond confronts and exhumes childhood memory and trauma – recurring image: tunnels – with Albert Finney’s Kincade as his Michael Caine and the ruins of Skyfall in Scotland as his Wayne Manor. As in a Nolan film, the lines are clean and the palette is limited – shot by Roger Deakins, this is at least the best-looking Bond film in years, possibly forever – and the sense of Nolan-like ambivalence and sombre psychology dominates. Since Goldeneye in 1996, the Bond films have had to face their own redundancy; in this instalment, re-evaluation of espionage values has turned into resentment for both Craig’s Bond and Bardem’s Raoul Silva. Action cliches? Yes, two of the worst – car chase through crowded market in foreign country, endless fight atop a train – but both are done before the opening credits, before the serious business of death-resurrection-death-resurrection gets going. “With pleasure,” Bond says at the very end, to his new boss, incongruously but almost convincingly, perhaps anticipating a happier film to come in two years, with the past out of his system and more people dead.