Skyfall: Bond about Bond



Skyfall is a Bond film about Bond, both genre and man. It critiques, deconstructs and celebrates the genre it inhabits. Sam Mendes and company have created probably the most important and clever Bond film of them all, well deserving of its place atop the 50th Anniversary. Skyfall is the type of film that shouldn’t happen and it’s the type of Bond film that, up until now, doesn’t exist. There’s a whole variety of ‘parody’ movies, even the Bond spy sub-genre has been mocked by the likes of Johnny English, but this is possibly one of the most unique films ever created. I honestly believe that this could only be accomplished by such a franchise that has now lasted for half of a century, and will continue to last forever thanks to such raw energy that has been thrown into this series once more.

What am I talking about? To understand what I’m about to say you must consider for a moment the meetings building up to pre-production. Who should we get to direct the new Bond flick? How about the guy who did American BeautyGreat!

There’s a trend that picked up from the mid-2000s which seems to becoming the simple ‘norm’ nowadays. Big budget franchises with all of their attached iconography are handed off to independent directors who’ve made clever, intricate films and projects chock full of ideas. Think Sam Raimi and Spider-Man, Christopher Nolan and Batman, think Joss Whedon and The Avengers, Marc Webb and… Spider-Man again, and now James Gunn with Guardians of the Galaxy. It’s one incredible high-risk strategy; hand off hundreds of millions of dollars to some independent talent that the target audience, more than likely, won’t have a clue about. People don’t go to Skyfall expecting something on the level of American Beauty, nor do most folks go into Nolan’s The Dark Knight Trilogy wanting some ideas about revolutionary thought, police state, terrorism, hope and the misuse of ideology and bureaucracy.

Skyfall manages to pull off one of the greatest moves of the past five years, and I’m not sure if people have noticed. I’ve read some great critiques of the film; how it explores the Oedipal relationship between Bond and M, the recurring themes of ‘age’ against ‘youth’ and evaluations of the stellar performances within. This is not an essay about any of the above, this is an essay about how Skyfall mocks, berates and celebrates the genre by using the genre itself. Sam Mendes has certainly pulled off an intellectual caper.


Even in the film’s advertising there was a sense that this wouldn’t fit into the rest of the franchise. There seemed to be a wider emphasis on the ‘elements’ of the Bond film; fast cars, glamorous women, exotic locations etc. It was largely perhaps out of the franchise’s impending 50th Anniversary with Skyfall being the firm flag to mark the series’ long history. Journalists, reporters and film critics seemed to get caught up in the ruckus around the ‘elements’. You need not Google ‘Bond’ for but a few links nowadays to catch Top Ten Bond Girls, Top Ten Bond Cars. The fact is, this was the setupSkyfall requires you to know the elements, it demands you know what a Bond film is. At the same time it’s an absolutely perfect entry point for newcomers, with only cute references and nods to the concrete past. Skyfall‘s critique of the ‘Bond’ film is more interested in the abstract theory behind what makes a Bond film. The setup began long ago, probably not even intentionally.

From the film’s opening moments we find Bond failing to do his job. Failing to defeat someone in hand to hand combat. Failing and falling to his death. This was all over the trailers, and I would’ve relished to have been surprised by this actually. It makes more sense really. Bond has to fail, he has to fall to his death so that he can rise again. It’s important to note throughout watching the film how much time is spent underwater, underground and inside buildings. This is about Bond’s psychological condition as much as it is his physical and meta-condition. Sam Mendes shoots Bond in the first fifteen minutes to give us a sense that he’s not worthwhile, that he can’t keep up and (perhaps) there’s a degree of antagonism shown towards Bond. Indeed, the next time we’re introduced to him he’s shagging some nameless bird up a wall and necking alcohol. The film makes a definite swipe towards Bond’s martini indulgence and painkiller needs, remarking at one point that Bond has been shown to be a perpetrator of “Substance abuse” and “Alcohol” abuse. He further fails his physical and psychological tests when he comes back to England, shattering a core principle of the Bond franchise: the macho male power fantasy.

The very root fact of Indiana JonesTransformers, superhero movies and every long-standing ‘action movie’ protagonist is the projection of the ideal man. The perfect man. Strong, handsome, muscular, witty, clever, well-traveled with arms around big-breasted babes and toes dipped in gold. ‘Men want to be him, women want to sleep with him.’ That old, heterosexually orientated near-Victorian filmic idiom. Why on Earth should we celebrate Bond then? Why should we care and want to be Bond anymore when he sexes strangers, necks alcohol, pounds the painkillers and is generally just too damn old. For the first time, Bond is shown to be nothing but a pathetic waste of man. He’s called “Old dog” by Moneypenny, and Silva remarks that he’s “Not bad for a physical wreck.” I imagine some of this would stem from the fact he did fall off a goddamn bridge in the film’s opening, but it’s more interesting to link both Sam Mendes’ involvement and the fact that this is the fiftieth year of Bond. Why on Earth would anyone want to be this particular Bond? Bond answers it himself, “Sometimes the old ways are the best.”

One clever scene, which deserves analysis in itself, is the introductory sequence between Q and 007. Note the huge disparity of age, I agree with other commentary that age and youth is a recurring theme of the picture, but note what they’re looking at. “An old warship” being “hauled off” for “scrap”. What does Bond see? “A bloody big ship.” Q explains, in this age of cyber-terrorism, that Bond’s role is simply to fill the shoes of something almost expendable, almost worthless. “Now and then a trigger has to be pulled.” The shelf life is showing, the old ship has to prove itself worthy. This actual painting comes back at the film’s final scene in the background of the new M’s office. Well worth seeing how the ‘age versus youth’ theme comes full circle. By the film’s end, indeed, Bond proves himself more than worthy of the double-0 mantle.


The Aston Martin DB5 rears its head again, with one pretty humorous note revolving around the ejector seat. The film is rich in references to the past, but it also delves a little deeper. We go straight to Skyfall manor, the very core of James Bond’s upbringing. Only when Bond wields his father’s old rifle does he truly get his aim back. Only when he dips into his own history does he find his ability return to him. Notice an underwater sequence is both at the start of the film and end of the film. Notice the touted ‘exotic locations’ pillar of the franchise reduced, in the third act, to encased in the British Isles. It’s shot beautifully and the locations themselves are used wonderfully, but this is clearly not your typical Bond film.

The martinis and booze are to show him raggedly alcoholic, the injuries and physical wreck to show him aged and old, the locations are to show him out of touch and out of pace with the modern cinema, the cars are to show just how long he’s been around and the gadgets point and laugh at the franchise. Even Q remarks that there’s no “exploding pen” to be found here.

This is a Bond film that uses the Bond genre to reveal things about the character and genre. It shows the ridiculousness behind the various elements and, honestly, did you ever consider Bond to be an alcoholic? Did you ever think for him to be this old? The film points and laugh both at Bond, and at the audience for believing in him. When James himself says he “knows all there is” about “fear”, there’s a truth behind that. He’s been around for that long. He’s seen the Cold War end and terrorism stirs. But the films thus far haven’t been that self-conscious. Lazenby’s Bond remarked himself “This wouldn’t have happened to the other guy.” in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service in reference to Connery. Pierce Brosnan’s Bond was called a “Cold War dinosaur” at one point. The film’s have certainly been self-referential, but they’ve never used the genre itself to show just how ridiculous and out of touch the franchise is. At the end of the picture, however, there’s a sense of celebration. Even when Silva manages to wipe his M off the Earth, Bond has exterminated the last rat.

Silva’s appearance may be an actual nod back to ‘Jaws’, who funnily enough is Bardem’s favorite villain. The cyanide and psychological scars may be an attempt to modernize the villain, to try and usher Bond into the new age.

Further still, Silva’s flamboyance hilariously deconstructs any trace of the heterosexual ‘macho-male power fantasy‘ still residing in Bond. He feels him up, and even Bond remarks “How do you know this would be my first time?” A direct undermining of the idea that Bond pursues girls, and Bond girls only. Bond’s very sexuality crumbles under the weight of Skyfall‘s prods into the genre’s elements. One could comment it’s an attempt to modernize Bond, that he should always encompass our times and our society.


What is Skyfall? It’s a self-conscious Bond film about Bond. Not just the man but the man beyond the man. The figurehead agent who has become a figure of British cinema and irreversibly influenced the ‘action movie’ forever. You may see the film differently, and I encourage you to do so, but the film’s approach to common Bond elements certainly directs it to be both a critique and celebration. Even when Adele is channeling Shirley Bassey with her ‘Skyfall’ song, the purest kind of Bond theme, there’s a sense of over-indulgence. The women, the quips, the physical wreck, the alcohol; “Age is no guarantee of efficiency”. Skyfall points out just how ridiculous it is to believe in this genre, to believe that it is of any worth. That this horrible man can be revered by many. The macho-male power fantasy crumbles in wake of the film’s smashing criticism, it literally slaughters Bond only to bring him back to life and push him to find his place in the modern world. And he does it. Not just ‘modern’ or ‘post-9/11’ but 2012. Bond remarks himself that his hobby is “Resurrection”, a double nod both to his Skyfall comeback and the very fact of the franchise. Like a Timelord he resurfaces with a new face, film after film, actor after actor, year after year after year. He keeps coming back, I really wonder if there’s a sense of agony in his meta-immortality. Alike Deckard in Blade Runner he may be stuck across versions, in some being human and in some being Replicant; never free or sure of who he is. He is trapped in ambiguity, across faces and spaces and forms from the film franchise to Fleming’s spy masterpieces. The film is Bond turned up to eleven, and while it critiques itself it still absolutely delights in it.

I think this was both the most impossible and appropriate Bond to make at its fifty-year inning. It’s a film that takes an axe to the genre but, by its end, enjoys itself. It lets Bond win because he is worth more than just a “trigger” in this world. He is a figure of the past, present and indeed future. To Skyfall, Bond is an ‘icon’ and one that can be used; it chooses to let him live so that he can go on to embody new ideas and shift his tastes. Existing long past history. It’s a re-evaluation and celebration of the genre, and this is the film’s greatest triumph. It belongs beyond the genre, as both an onlooking critique and a sharp romp through its heart.

One sequence that sums up the whole film is the incredible ‘Tennyson’ poetry overlapped by scenes of an aged Bond rushing to save M from Silva’s reckoning.

“Though much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”

It’s beautifully interlinked with the franchise’s history and perfectly summarizes Skyfall itself:

“Though much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days

A nod towards the franchise’s history. That “much is taken”, that so many lives have taken on the double-0 suit. Still, past actors and history, “much abides”, there’s still strength in the old dog (significantly, M’s final gift to Bond is that of the British bulldog ornament she has on her desk throughout the film). “We are not now that strength which in old days” is a direct reference to the franchise’s history, and indeed the true strength of Bond was once considered how it was both a mish-mash of Cold War paranoia and romps within.

Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,

“Which we are, we are” Almost admits that this is Bond, that this is what it always will be. That he will remain an icon; a suit to be filled. That it is there to be mocked and celebrated and watched by all. The “heroic hearts” is a further nod to the ‘macho-male power fantasy‘ crumbling, but Bond still remaining a hero.

Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”

“Made weak by time and fate” is a fantastic way to show the film’s self-consciousness. It knows its own history, it knows how “old” its hero is, but it is still “strong in will”. It still strives, seeks and finds new ways to fight its own corner in the cinema world. Even among Batman and Bourne, it will not “yield”. It will not die.

Skyfall can, in short, be seen as a spin on the aged “Can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” In some cases using literal reference to Bond as an “old dog”, but otherwise trying to show Bond as (both the man and genre) capable of change. Capable of rebirth. It all comes back to the film’s opening, that Bond will continue his path of “Resurrection”. It’s a Bond film about Bond, just as Spec Ops: The Line is a video-game shooter about video-game shooters and Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey is a gothic novel about gothic novels. James Bond has finally entered the age of post-modernism.

And don’t get me started on the film’s links to current political events and Britain’s position in the wider world. This is one clever film.

Let the skyfall.

When it crumbles.

We will stand tall.

Face it all.

Together, let the skyfall.

When it crumbles.

We will stand tall.

Face it all, together.

At Skyfall.

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