REVIEW: Spectre

15 11 2015

Sam Mendes made a great Bond film with writers John Logan, Neal Purvis, and Robert Wade in “Skyfall” because they embraced a tricky opposition between the past and the future.  Could the unabashedly old-fashioned spy James Bond survive in a more gritty, grey world without sacrificing his core identity? They found that the answer was yes by striking a balance between these two forces vying for the soul of 007.

The band gets back together for “Spectre” (plus an additional writer in Jez Butterworth, architect of many a frustrating script in the past two years) and finds themselves preoccupied by the same kind of debate. This time, instead of the fear of age leading to obsolescence, the anxiety stems from post-Snowden malaise.

When a government has the ability to do its dirty work with drones and collect information on all its citizens through their devices, who needs human intelligence likes James Bond? This question is being seriously debated outside the world of the movie, and kudos to “Spectre” for not ignoring the elephant in the room. But the way Mendes and the writers choose to resolve the tension feels rather disappointing.

They use this threat as an excuse to retreat to some of the most outdated aspects of the character. Womanizing abounds as Bond pity romances a grieving widow to extract a key plot point. And Bond’s reward for neutralizing a key opponent? The “Bond girl,” Lea Seydoux’s Madeleine Swann, immediately feels the need to let him take her to bed. Simply put, there is a way to let James Bond be the ultimate man that does not require denying women agency. “Spectre” does not care to find that way as “Casino Royale” did, justifying lazy misogyny because of a rather facile challenge to Bond’s relevancy.

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REVIEW: Skyfall

22 11 2012

2012 marks the 50th anniversary of James Bond’s first appearance on screen, and while Sam Mendes’ “Skyfall” doesn’t explicitly make you aware of that fact until the ending credits roll, the landmark loomed large over the entire film for me.  Perhaps I’m an extreme case as my consciousness of the anniversary was no doubt raised tremendously by all the celebrations of the franchise on the beach at the Cannes Film Festival.  But it’s practically impossible not to notice the filmmakers’ awareness of the superspy’s legacy and how the very nature of the character is being precipitously torn in two drastically different directions.

Funny enough, the two previous iterations of James Bond with Daniel Craig inside the carefully tailored suit reflect the two competing forces for the future of 007.  2006’s smooth “Casino Royale” saw a return to an old-fashioned, suave Bond that harkened back to the glory days of Sean Connery.  You know, when a Bond film could bring in nearly $600 million (adjusted for ticket inflation).  And then, 2008’s “Quantum of Solace” took Her Majesty’s finest in a dirtier, muddier, grittier direction that resembled a Jason Bourne movie.

The makers of “Skyfall” were faced a choice: classic or contemporary, timely or timeless.  The decision was sure to be scrutinized by critics and semi-notable bloggers like myself who realized the importance of the film in the James Bond canon.  Thankfully, Mendes and writer John Logan (who seems to be the one garnering the most credit for the final product) realized that the concepts are not mutually exclusive and found the most intellectually rewarding experience came from examining the interplay between these binary oppositions.  The result is a remarkably contemplative movie of how the nature of James Bond has been determined by the time in which he serves whilst some essence of British class always remains.

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