All day long they seek to injure my cause;
all their thoughts are against me for evil.
Sam Mendes deftly directs this third of the rebooting of the Bond films, with Daniel Craig again playing 007. Like the film that some Bond fans consider the best of the 23 films extracted from Ian Fleming’s novels, From Russia With Love, Istanbul figures prominently in the story, complete with a wild struggle between Bond and a villain atop a speeding passenger train.
This long scene comes before the opening credits, something also that Bond fans have come to expect. Our hero, to whom M (Judi Dench) is beaming instructions through an ear phone, is fighting to regain a stolen computer disk that contains the names and whereabouts of all the agents employed by M16. The chase started out in the city itself, with the turrets and dome of old St. Sophia dominating the skyline. Agent Eve (Naomie Harris), sent to assist Bond, joins with him chasing the thief, a hit man named Patrice (Ola Rapace, through the teeming streets of the ancient city and eventually into the countryside when Bond and villain wind up atop the train. Eve is driving a car along a winding road that roughly parallels the train track. When she stops ahead of the train and gets out her rifle, she soon has Bond and the villain in the cross hairs. She hesitates to fire for fear of hitting Bond. Informed that the train is approaching a tunnel, M orders her to fire. She does, and the hit Bond plunges off the train as it passes over a high bridge spanning a river.
Back in London M starts writing James Bond’s obituary. With Bond dead and the identities of every British and NATO spy at risk, Gareth Mallory (Ralph Fiennes), the Chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee, summons M to his office. He suggests that she should resign because of her mistakes, but she angrily refuses to do so. On the way back to her office she receives a mysterious message on her laptop, “Think on your sins.” All we know is that it is not from a televangelist. Before she reaches headquarters it is blown sky high, with three colleagues killed.
Of course, Bond has somehow survived the fall from the enormous height and found his way to a tropical hideaway where he engages in charitable work helping lepers and such. Well, strike that last part. He’s too busy guzzling drinks and playing a silly game with scorpions on his wrist to leave the bar and mingle among the poor. Anyway, he at last returns to M’s apartment at night, her warm welcome being, “Where in the hell have you been?” Getting back in shape after his ordeal proves to be a daunting proposition, Bond unable to do well at shooting or the physical and psychological tests he is subjected to. Later he learns that he had failed the tests, but that M had sent him out anyway to Shanghai where Patrice has been located. There follows a series of adventures that include a fight in a skyscraper, an opulent casino where another fight involves Komodo dragons, a tryst with a beautiful sophisticated sex slave, and at last on an island of tall ruined buildings a meeting up with the master criminal Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem).
Raoul proves as bizarre and as dangerous as any of Fleming’s villains. He was once an M16 agent himself whom M had abandoned because of his unpredictable behavior. Now he is out to kill her, and his plan is so deviously ingenious that the plot line looks like a twisted pretzel, eventually sending the characters to Scotland to the almost deserted Bond family estate for a showdown battle. It is the name of the estate from which the title of the film is taken, Skyfall. You can be sure that the above includes lots of fireworks, bomb explosions and hand-to-hand combat. For thrills and suspense, and of course a measure of beautiful women and sex, Bond films are right up there with the Jason Bourne ones.
This film has more heart than most of the series thanks to the presence of Judi Dench’s M being at the center of the story, and not just at the beginning and end. She even quotes the following lines from Tennyson’s poem “Ulysses:” Though much is taken, much abides; and though We are not now that strength which in old days oved 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.
I have read Benjamin Pratt’s Bond study Ian Fleming’s Seven Deadlier Sins & 007’s Moral Compass in which the author approaches the Bond (of the books, not the movies—see my review of the book later in this issue) and appreciated his approach to the stories as epic battles of Good vs. Evil. Reminding us that sometimes Bond is compared to St. George, with various villains standing in for the Dragon, I am looking forward to what Mr. Pratt will say about this film on ReadtheSpirit.com. As a person of faith I have, and still do, a hard time accepting the killing machine that Bond has been fashioned into as a model for morality. And yet, as an alternative to Dirty Harry, I will gladly take 007 as a champion against evil. Nobody wears a stylish suit better than Daniel Craig’s dapper hero!
1. How does James Bond stack up for you against other heroic champions of justice? What do you think of his casual killing of bad guys?
2. Indeed, what you think of a democratic society’s creating and using such an agency as M16 (or the CIA)? What is the danger inherent in using such super secret organizations? In the debate among the politicians about M16, what were the arguments against it?
3. How do the words from the poem fit the characters of the film, Bond in particular?
4. This being the year of the 50th anniversary of the first James Bond film, how has the international scene changed during this period? And how has this been reflected in the depiction of the villains in the stories?
5. How does the mood of the last three Bond films compare to that of the earlier ones? What do you think is the cause of this change?
6. For lots of intriguing insights into Fleming’s stories be sure to obtain a copy of the already mentioned book by Benjamin Pratt.