So, Skyfall. So good. Right? Well, yes, except for a couple of things that I just can't really get over. Ok, one thing really, which I'll get to in a moment.
(Also -- see title -- spoilers. Lots of them. You're warned. Also, excessive punctuation for which I would be fired if this were not in the Chit-Chat forum and for which I may be fired anyway, but in my defense these are 1. thoughts and 2. feelings and so I think like this in steps and starts with ambiguous transitions between thoughts and clauses and sometimes thinking with those marks and such. ANYWAYS.)
The other thing, the one I can get over, is that the plot — by which I mean The Plot that the villain has constructed here is full of holes. I get that his sole goal here is to get revenge on M. And I appreciate that these Craig Bond movie villains have more modest goals than taking over the planet, every time. Let's also set aside that the "He wanted to get caught" trope was lifted directly from Batman and ALSO let's set aside that our new computer-genius Q wouldn't be to stupid as to plug in an insecure machine from a super-hacker into the network. Mostly let's just note that our villain went to a great deal of effort to force MI6 to relocate into the underground and then to get in there and then escape so that he could, um, look M in the eyes. Then he used this unprecented pwnage of MI6 to, er, do nothing really. He escapes into a police car on the street and drives to where M is anyway (and, well, gets another crack at the eyes-looking).
I can get over that (and other) plot holes, though, since they're basically in service to the larger feel and themes of the movie and also because earlier they made the tiniest of throwaway lines that makes me believe that we're still living in the SPECTRE reboot and so maybe part of the MI6 hacking was for the barely-referenced criminal organization that hung so heavily over the previous two movies but was just a whiff here.
Ok, so, really, the problem with Skyfall is it seriously hates women. I'm not the first to say this, so go read what Giles Coren couldn't apparently get published in the Times. Not joking, go read it, then come back. Go.
1. A major theme is that your mom (M, Ma'am spoken with the British ambiguity that makes it sound like Mom that's pretty obviously intentional here) is doing a Very Bad Thing by throwing you out into the world — which is all very adolescent boy pain of separation and growing up and that fits pretty damn well for a Bond movie if you consider it. But then Mom is actively working against you and not defending you, but willing to sacrifice you for country if she feels like she needs to. You can freak out and try to kill her for it or you can try to overcome your own childhood trauma and defend her for it even though you're a little angry about the whole thing. Nice setup, if you think about it, nice way of taking on Oedipus without getting all creepy and incestuous about the whole thing.
2. Oh, but whatever, she still dies at the end and gets replaced by a man.
3. Fine, grant that 1 and 2 could be ok, not really anti-woman, in the right context. But the context, oh the context, is not right at all. To start, there's Moneypenny, see, who decides she cannot hack it in the field and takes a job as a secretary. I mean, come on. What the hell? Sincerely, think about the lesson here. The three women in this movie are either killed or, in this case, decide that the world is a Very Scary Place and so she takes the desk job as that most definitive of all secretaries.
(3.5 Shall we bring up her race? We came so far with race in Bond movies after the new Felix Leiter, now we have this. I don't even want to continue this train of thought right now, but it's not leading to a very happy place.)
4. Oh and then the new M is a dude who, with his new female secretary outside and old patrician office inside asks Bond if he's ready to get back to work and hey, we're back in the "Old ways work best" universe and James is like "With Pleasure, M. WITH PLEASURE." Um, ok? What's the pleasure here? I could get really charitable and say that the catharsis that Bond didn't get about his own parents' death finally came when M died (Which, just so you know, the BAD GUY WON, Bee Tee Dubs), and so he's just happy to be a whole and complete person now. Then I go back to 3 there above and it's hard to be that charitable.
5. Wait why have I devolved into numbered lists again?
6. Ok so I jumped right past the really important part that Coren brings up which is the way Bond treats Sévérine is just terrible on every conceivable level. Identify a traumatized sex worker? Well, go sex her and then let her get killed (and yes you can argue that Bond couldn't have done that kung fu a little earlier and maybe so, but here's the thing: this is movie logic. They decided to brutally kill her and while you could try really hard to read his after-line "waste of a good scotch" as somehow channeling his rage over the mistreatment of this woman I just don't see it and definitely didn't hear it in his voice. Also, I'm still in a parenthetical. Damnit). Set aside the death scene, if you really must, but you just don't take somebody who's been traumatized by sex and sneak up on her in the shower without some sort of resolution or even acknowledgement of said trauma, even if you're James freaking Bond.
7. And then, well, yes, I know. I'm complaining about a James Bond movie that isn't sufficiently respectful to women or empowering thereof. Duh, right? Except, well, I had kinda hoped that Dench's hardass M character had meant we were moving in a slightly better direction. And I'd say I'd wished she'd been more of a tough mother at the end when Silva finally had her but that was some seriously scary shit and Dench acted it really well. The important thing about M is that she was a woman who kicked ass in a way that wasn't some gimmicky "Hey isn't that great she flies planes / is a nuclear physicist and has a clever name I guess let's roll in the hay" kind of way that so man Bond girls are. She just was legitimately badass. But this movie was about killing her off. Most Bond movies don't give women much respect, the entire plot of this Bond Movie centered around murdering or removing any agency a woman might have.
7.5. Granted, Bond's whole goal here was to defend M. He failed and that's depressing for him — but he chippered the hell right up when he saw Moneypenny become a secretary and got his new old boy boss. CF point 4, above.
8. This was a Bond movie about Bond movies -- it was all very meta and about itself and Bond movies as a Thing in the World. A lot of Bond movies lately are like that (cf. Goldeneye, Casino Royale), but this one very much more so -- the greatest moment was the unveiling of the DB5 and the biggest laugh was when Bond got pissed about the helicopter shooting it up. (That DB5, btw, has a tendency to let its female passengers die at the hands of henchmen. Tilly Masterson deserved better. Oh, forget it, I'm just bragging that I know the name of the third-most interesting Bond girl in Goldfinger). So if this movie is mostly about Bond as Bond — both as a character and as a movie — then it would be nice if it would at least try a little to empower some females instead of kill them, sexually abuse them, or put them behind a desk. (Oh, and I'm also reminded about the 4th woman, the prissy government minister who gets told to stop her diatribe by the future M so that the current M can wax poetic about being afraid. Fit that in this rant, too, somewhere.)
9. Small aside: I'm annoyed that once again a Bond villain gets played with a slightly stereotypical homosexual edge and though I have to give major props to the movie for the line "what makes you think it's my first time," it's still a bit of having your cake and eating it too.
10. Hey, It's just a movie and a James Bond movie at that, there are tropes that have to be adhered to. Yes, but, as I used to teach my English Lit students — writers aren't forced to construct the stories they do, they choose to write them they way that they do, or at the very least they choose to publish ( / film) them. So "it's just a movie" doesn't mean that you don't interpret what it is saying about itself and about people. I mean, would it upset the order of the universe if Moneypenny had decided to stay a field agent (and shown up Bond in some later movie) as Moneypenny? Instead of putting her behind a desk where Moneypenny has always been, this movie could have had a little moment of empowerment and taken that iconic character out from behind the secretary's desk and put her out there in the field, at Bond's level.
I guess she didn't want to sink that low.