Saturday, 10 November 2012

Skyfall; some spoileriffic afterthoughts

I've already taken a first swing at Skyfall, but over the course of the past week I find myself coming back to some of its less obvious influences and implications. There's no way to tackle any of them without blowing the gaff completely on the plot of the movie, so read on at your peril if you're one of those delicate souls who hates to know what happens in a movie before they see it.

As  I said earlier, it's thematically a remake of Casino Royale. Let me spell that out in clearer terms. Like all Bond movies, it begins with a big set piece chase-cum-battle, and like all Bond movies, there's a bridging bit in the middle where Bond finds out more about the big bad by bonking his fancy woman, which inevitably leads to the fancy woman getting schwacked. So I won't make too much of a fuss about the precise echoes between those bits of the plot of Skyfall and Casino Royale. That would be like complaining about him introducing himself as Bond, James Bond. [Though you have to kind of wonder why the word hasn't got round international terror/espionage circles; I'd have thought by now that the management of every villainous bar would have standing orders to add cyanide to the Martini of anyone who introduces himself as Bond, James Bond.]

One big, can't-get-away-from-it parallel is that both movies feature the climactic total destruction of a moderately sized decrepit house in scenic surroundings; one in Venice and the other in the Scots Highlands. It's particularly noticeable because while Bond movies invariably end with something getting blowed up real good, in all other movies it's the villain's enormous lair. I'll get back to the house in a moment, but first I want to talk about the other parallel, which is the one I approve of. One thing I like in Skyfall is that the sakes are wonderfully small and intimate, and thus far more believable than usual. It's just one pissed off and tooled up ex-spy out to get his old boss, not some ludicrously powerful megalomaniac setting out to control and/or destroy the world. The stakes in Casino Royale were similarly manageable; nobble a money launderer, and then - and far more importantly - save the woman who'd betrayed Bond but still meant everything to him. Bond does his damnedest, but still can't quite pull it off.

Skyfall's Vesper Lynd is "M", and the strongest part of the movie is that even though M betrays Bond, he'll still put his life on the line to serve her and ultimately to try to save her. It's a tribute to the skills of Judi Dench, Daniel Craig and Javier Bardem that you can see how that might work; this is why you get the actors in. Craig, ever taciturn, never explains what he really feels or why he's doing anything, but he's a good enough actor to suggest what's going on, especially in his reactions to Bardem, whose wonderfully wordy villain explains exactly how he feels about being strung along and then hung out to dry. And yet, when Barden has scenes with Dench, we see just how that much hate has to be built on the kind of love that never really goes away; right up to the end it's clear that if M would only apologise, Bardem would be hers all over again. That's an emotional complexity and power you don't expect to see in a Bond film, and if they had to repeat a theme from another movie, they've amped it right up to 11 in the best possible way.

Now, back to the house, because someone's gotta say this; it's only Home Alone, innit? The house gets rigged and booby trapped with improvised munitions and then the bad guys get shredded as they try to break in. A slightly more confident movie might have tried to get Macauley Culkin to do a cameo. 

The other weird thing about the house - Bond's family home, apparently - is that it's as close as we've ever come to seeing a Bond origin story, and I know at least one person who's gotten himself very hot and bothered about it. The house has a priest's hole in, with a secret tunnel leading off the back of it towards a nearby chapel. "But this,", my colleague has screamed to the heavens, "Means Bond must be from a Catholic family! The very icon of Britishness is Catholic, not Protestant!". This would be true if we lived in a world where no-one ever moved house, and if Scotland was a place where people didn't spend several hundred years running each other off their ancestral lands. Since we don't and it wasn't, and since Bond doesn't even think of himself as anything other than English….

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