Valya - 122412

Over three weeks ago I wrote about my growing up with James Bond.  I am only seven years younger than him and to the extent that movies can influence how I view myself in relationship to the world, Mr. Bond was a big part of it.

I now want to write on the recent Bond offering, Skyfall.  I went and saw it alone on opening night and again a few weeks later with my wife.  In it, I noticed four key themes and observations.  Below are my thoughts on each.  Warning - tons of spoiler alerts.  Don't read if you don't want to know.

Bond is aging.  Daniel Craig took up the role in his mid-thirties and is now in his mid-forties.  I feel that Bond is living a parallel age to both Craig and me.  Mr. Bond is still probably in the top 1% of fitness for men his age (and any age) and looks amazing, but all the wounds, bumps, bruises, drugs, alcohol, travelling, stress and age are catching up.  He has to contend with loss of martial mastery, a young quartermaster who thinks he is barely of use, and his own cynicism taking hold of him.

As a man his age and only a small part as fit and adventurous, I feel those wheels grinding too.  I can still do many things I did at half my age, but I will be sore for a long time after.  I know that in the not-so-distant future, I am going to not be able to do those things to the same level or degree.  James was feeling that too.

In Craig's first Bond movie, Casino Royale, he used brute force to get his way through physical trials.  M even called him, "... a blunt weapon."  In this movie, he had to learn that his physical prowess is starting to fade and he has to fight smarter, not stronger.

On a side note, this was the first Bond movie where I saw him shot.  He was shot twice in the first part.

Bond can not love anymore, except for his "Mum".  In Casino Royale, James loved and lost Vesper  after she betrayed him and died.  He spent a good part of Quantum of Solace avenging her death.  In this movie, after he has been shot by a fellow agent and left for dead, he goes into a drug-and-alcohol induced cocoon.  It feels like he can not love anymore until the headquarters of MI6 is destroyed, many of his fellow agents die, and M is endangered.  He slips into her apartment drunk to announce his return.

Both the Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig Bonds had the same M, played by Judy Dench.  In the Craig versions, you could feel their complex maternal/child relationship unfold slowly.  She is about the only woman... the only person he loves.  As with Javier Bardem's brilliantly acted villain  Silva, the relationship with M is complicated and not all beautiful.

I first noticed in Casino Royale, and every Craig Bond movie since, all of M's subordinates call her "ma'am", but with the British accent it sounds like "Mum".  She is the tough-love mother that all her people respect, fear, and are very loyal to.  She is the tough mother that knew she may have to sacrifice one of her boys (James) in the beginning by telling the agent with the sniper rifle to take the obstructed shot at the bad guy.  The shot missed the baddie and hit James leading to his above mentioned disappearance.

It is this same relationship that caused Silva, a former agent of M's, to seek revenge.  He was her favorite until he went outside of boundaries and she left him for the Chinese to torture.  Her betrayal of him served almost like a foreshadow for Bond that while she will have his back, if he steps out of line, he will be dealt with.

Bond lost both of his parents when he was young.  M became his Mum, for better and for worse.  When she died in his arms at the end, his tears were for real as he lost another mother.

Bond finally gets a new villain!  In almost every prior Bond, his arch enemy has fallen into two main categories; Dominators or Countries.

The first is the genius villain striving for some type of world dominance, whether with money, resources, or land, he will go to no end to dominate the world.  This is the cliche villain that often has a huge secret base with hundreds of soldiers and scientists working on the plan to rule the world.  He is usually very brilliant, but stupidly sets up some overly-produced death for Bond and leaves before seeing Bond die(why he never thought to just personally shoot Bond himself always confused me).  Bond escapes, grabs the girl, blows up the secret base, kills the baddie and has a post-battle coital reward with said girl.  It is no wonder that Mike Myers channeled this villain so well as Dr. Evil in the Austin Powers movies.

The second is a country/state trying to steal secrets or weapons that will let them hold world power.  There have only been a few of these movies, including For Your Eyes Only (my favorite Roger Moore movie).

In Skyfall, Bond gets a brand new villain with Bardem's Sylva.  As mentioned above, Sylva was one of M's favorites in the 90's, but was left to the Chinese as part of handover of Hong Kong.  While he does create a powerful terror/financial empire.  It is on a tiny deserted island.  It is mainly one big super computer.  He doesn't have a massive army or a bunch of scientists.

Sylva's main motivation is to deeply hurt M by setting the explosion destroying the MI6 headquarters, releasing the names of undercover agents around the world, and eventually hunting her down.  He outright calls her Mommy.  His motivation is deeply personal.  I wonder how his character would have moved on if he had been successful.

I appreciate his complexity.  He respects Bond and feels a kinship to him.  He hates, yet cares for  M when he sees she has been wounded.  He wants her to kill both herself and him at the same time to end the pain.  In ways, he is a more effective agent than Bond because he better  knows his limitations and plans around them and also has far fewer scruples.

During Sylva and Bond's great meet up scene, you learn more about both characters back story, history, feelings through some of the best character development written in a scene lasting less than 10 minutes. This included the great firework...

...Bond is bisexual.  In one very homoerotic scene, Sylva gently caresses and admires Bond's shoulder, chest, and collarbone.  He is caressing Bond as a lover.  There is the sense he is messing with Bond to fluster him and confuse him.  Even though he may be playing mental tricks on James, I feel Sylva was attracted to him for both his great physique, but also their shared life stories.  As he caressed the inside of Bond's thighs, James utters one of the best statements ever in a Bond movie, "you assume this is my first time."  (I am only paraphrasing since I can't remember the exact words).

For many years, I (and many others) have wondered if Bond has every seduced men as an agent, or even for his own pleasures.  From his response to Sylva I get the feeling both are true.

Other stuff - The movie itself had some major reoccurring themes and aesthetics.  They include how it was filmed and nods to Bonds passed.

Blue eyes, blue shirt, golden grass, and an ill-fated Aston Marton DB5 - Movie Still from Skyfall

ColorsThe director, Sam Mendes, also directed American Beauty and Road to Perdition.  Both are beautifully filmed.  In Skyfall, he used color palettes and selected imagery and icons to enhance the story.  I first noticed colors.  In most scenes, there were two dominant colors - either or both blue and gold.  The blue matches Craig's eyes.  You see both Ralph Fiennes and Bond wear blue suits or grey suits with strong blue shirts and ties.  In the assassination bit in the Shanghai high rise,  there is even a scene where Bond enters a hallway with shifting mood lights between alternating blue and gold.  The bar in the Macau casino is a warm gold, as is M's apartment.  The inside of Skyfall is a cold blue, much like Bond's eyes.   After Skyfall explodes and M and the caretaker, Kincaid (played by the great Albert Finney), escape up the hill, the hills are golden in the light of the fire as they run to the old church.  There are many other examples of gold and blue in the movie, but I think you get my point.  These two primary colors are as vital as red was in American Beauty.  Watch the official trailer below to see many of the uses of blue and gold in the movie.

Nods to Bond History- 2012 marked the 50th birthday of Bond movies.  In an homage, this movie had many little bits that referenced many of the older movies, but with new twists.  This is a list off of the of my head and is not all inclusive.  Please share more you observed in the comments section.

Bond shags three women in almost every movie - There is a brunette beauty he is with during his time-out phase after his "death".  We can assume that he and the agent who shot him and turns out to be Ms. Moneypenny was number two.  His last conquest is Sylva's temptress Sévérine.  As a twist though, he doesn't end the movie in bed with any one of them.

Motorcycle chase through a bazar and the obligatory crashes through fruit stands and an amazing jump.-  The twist in this cliche is that instead of jumping the motorcycle onto the train, he crashes it head first into the bridge rail to flip him uncontrolled onto the train.   

No Aston Martin goes unharmed.  Ever since the infamous DB5 appeared in Sean Connery's Goldfinger and Thunderball, Bond crashed many Aston Martins as well as they were, blown up, rolled, wrecked, tortured, and destroyed.  Each Aston Martin is tricked out with weapons and protective equipment. I love Aston Martins and cringe watching their many deaths in these movies.  Another one is destroyed in Skyfall.  The twist starts in the appearance of the vintage DB5 with all of the Goldfinger original kit, including machine guns and ejection seat.  The big twist though is that it is the simplicity and age of the old DB5 that is needed.  It can't be tracked electronically.  It is too old and out of sync with the new world, much like the aging Bond as mentioned above.

The return of Q.  I never knew "Q" stood for "Quartermaster".  Q is the master of weapons and gadgets.  There are two twists in this version though - Q is a youthful computer geek/genius that has little respect for Bond and his old, brutish ways.  The only fancy tech he gives Bond is a Walther that will only let Bond shoot it due to a palm print lock and a radio transmitter that broadcasts his location.  As Q says leaving the museum, "Were you expecting an exploding pen?  We don't do those anymore."  Another poke at Bond's age.

A few more things - the women's perspective.  I've talked about this movie with a number of women and below are some of what they shared.

Liked/loved - Bond swimming in the pool in Shanghai.  Bond in a suit.  Bond doing chin ups.  Those weren't shockers, but all of them felt thrilled when the old DB5 appeared.  I tried arguing for how beautiful the new Aston Martin DBS that appeared in the last two movies is.  They just smiled and continued their appreciation for the old car.  One other thing they appreciated was his relationship with M.  It added depth.  One female viewer though felt tired with the continued cliche that it always takes a male (Bond) to save the day.  One last comment from a female - she loved Adele's singing of the theme song, but wondered if the late April Winehouse's voice would have had the grittier edge that matched the movie.

Final thoughts.  It is obvious I loved this movie.  I wouldn't have written all this fanboy stuff about it otherwise.  Look at the list of great actors, Dench, Fiennes, Bardem, Finney, and Craig.  Throw in some of the best dialog, character development, and action of any Bond movie, and add that most of the movie takes place in Great Britain.  This modern noir movie is my favorite Bond movie staring my favorite Bond.  My only hesitation is that I worry about how the next movie will do after the greatness of this one.  


  1. Excellent review, Karl. Thank you for giving an artist's review of color, especially. You also help me realize why this Bond is so mature and profound...Bond began as hack work by Ian Fleming but it is ending as literature. You have summed up its qualities akin to great literature in its archetypal characters, especially the recurring theme of mother-son relationships in the work of Frank O'Connor ("My Oedipus Complex"), Shakespeare ("Hamlet") and other great works from the British Isles.

    I completely agree this is the deepest work psychologically in the series and will be a hard act to follow. The depth of the film also comes with Craig's and Dench's superior acting skills, and the location in desolate Scotland. This gives us another recurring literary theme - the cyclic nature of human life. As we begin, so we exit.

    In the final scene, we see a geriatric standoff...the villain, the hero, M, and the groundskeeper are all senior citizens or coming up on it. Aging is certainly a major theme in the film.

    You've given us much to ponder. Well done!

    1. Carla, I never thought about the long British literary history of mother/son conflicts and relationships.

  2. Karl…

    Awesome review, truly. Now I've got to see the movie. Well done.

    On the subject of Bond, and aging… again, well done. I can so totally relate to the themes, the emotional interplays and eddies you reference. So totally. In the last few weeks a woman has entered the outskirts of my life, the first I've felt any real attraction to in decades, and it would seem the feeling is mutual. But she is far younger than I, her life all but filled with the things of her age, a younger agent in common cause operating in a brave new world… for me just like Bond age is now a factor that must be taken into account for both our sakes. She has the ability to power the gift of the muse for me, and for me that is a huge thing in my world. I'm writing again after being blocked for quite some time. I'm sure you can see how that puts before me the same questions, the same dilemmas, the same poignancy as watching James Bond, a hero of ouryouth getting old. Oh well. I suppose the only thing getting old really proves is that you've yet to make a fatal mistake. Yet.

    Thanks Karl, in a strange sort of way your post has left behind some clarity for me.


    1. I highly recommend the movie. Even with the spoilers I mentioned, it will still have many surprises. Good luck with your new relationship and finding that right balance.


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