J’s doing well for trips to see films this year – I think this is the third one he’s persuaded me to go to the cinema for. Still don’t like cinemas 😉 The film was pretty good, though 🙂 I’d managed to completely avoid spoilers, so only knew it was the new Bond film & I think that’s a good way to come to the story. As always this isn’t so much a review as a collection of thoughts, and there are major spoilers ahead in the rest of this post.

SPOILERS AHEAD! Hover mouse over text to read, or read on entry page:

I thought they did a good job of putting in references to old Bond film things for the 50th anniversary while still making it a modern film – Miss Moneypenny, exploding pens (albeit in absentia), modified classic cars, martinis, Bond girls, meglomaniac mad & deformed villain with a complicated plot. All the things were there. And while the Bourne films might’ve given the Bond franchise a bit of a shot in the arm, making these recent Bond films more gritty & real, they’re still quintessentially British (in a fairly old-fashioned way). I mean, from what we see in this film Bond’s origin story (rich, childhood trauma involving death of parents, fights to protect others against evil) is pretty much Batman’s origin story. But Batman the American becomes a disguised vigilante & Bond the British gentleman joins MI6 and works for the government as a spy.

And rather nicely I felt the whole plot requires Bond to be who he is for it to work out. Not just how he happens to have the deserted, remote country house complete with secret passages, faithful old retainer & Daddy’s old hunting rifle for the final showdown to take place in. But also things like when presented with a gambling chip for his only clue, he puts his tux on & goes to cash it in and see what happens – a gamble – rather than going back to base and following other more conventional leads. And in the scenes at Skyfall at the end, we get shown how even when Bond is not at the top of his game, he’s still sharper, quicker, better than the other two.

I liked what they did with Mallory, how for the first part of the film you see him through M & Bond’s eyes – some interfering bureaucrat who doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Then you get his back story from Moneypenny, as the first crack in that impression, followed by the inquiry scene where he’s fairly clearly not only on the same side as M & MI6 in general, but also reacts well when the violence kicks off. After that I thought you could look back at the way he acts before and see it differently. In particular the scene where Bond is returning to active duty and Mallory is asking why he bothered to come back, why not pretend to be dead. That’s not the cowardly suggestion it looked like – that’s Mallory testing Bond, poking at him to see how he reacts & thinking about things like has Bond lost his nerve after his near death.

On one level I liked the Moneypenny reveal, it gives the Miss Moneypenny of the old films a modern revamp. On another level, I felt that doing that in the same film as M’s death was problematic. There were really only 3 major female roles in the film – M, Moneypenny and Sévérine. And two of them died & the other one retired from field duty. Which doesn’t sit well with me – it’d’ve been nice if Moneypenny had gone back into the field at the end. I know why they did it, the Miss Moneypenny scene is neat, but that also feeds into the disquiet because the baggage we as viewers bring to it is that Miss Moneypenny is a secretary – so a definite step down from active field agent. My personal handwave is that she’s got her eye on working her way up to the top desk job – M. It’d’ve been nice to have something more solidly textual to support that though.

But having said that there are some indications in the film that it’s not supposed to be a step down so much as a step sideways to play to her strengths. I did think it was emphasised that Bond would not want M’s job, not just because he wants the adrenaline rush of the active duty, but also because he doesn’t want to be the person who has to make the judgement calls about when it’s right to sacrifice one person for the good of the rest. You see how he both respects M for her ability to make that call, and hates that she can. And you can see that Moneypenny is not retiring from the field because she was broken by believing she’d shot Bond – she did both what she was ordered and what she felt was the right call. I also don’t think the film set her up as a bad field agent – she definitely came across as not as skilled or experienced as Bond, but part of the point is that he’s the creme de la creme. She did come across as competent & capable to normal mortal levels, and the shot she flubbed was only a surprise because “movie gun rules” meant we all expected her to magically hit the right guy. Looking at her view through the sights, it was exactly what she told M – impossible to get a clean shot. And yes, she was pleased she hadn’t killed him, but like M there was no impression that she’d spent the intervening time sobbing in the corner. Still, I wish we hadn’t had both the strong women from this film (Sévérine doesn’t count here) finish the story no longer in the role they were previously shown as competent at.

Going back to things I whole-heartedly appreciated – I liked the running themes of betrayal, duty, the importance of doing what needs to be done and, of course, “sometimes the old ways are the best”. Kind of a hymn of praise to the myth of the perfect English gentleman – which is what Bond is. And in this film it’s also what M is, even her eventual death is done with no fanfare or fuss, that whole sequence is the epitome of the stiff upper lip.

Betrayal is in there because it’s not really about betrayal it’s about whether you can see beyond yourself to the wider picture – Bond & Silva are both betrayed to their deaths by M, Bond understands why but it breaks Silva & he spends the rest of his life plotting the perfect revengeful murder-suicide. Of course, Silva’s near death is a lot less clean than Bond’s and so you’d expect him to be more twisted-up by it, which does spoil the symmetry rather. Another neat touch for that theme is that Silva dies by being knifed in the back – betrayal metaphor acted out. And it’s also a metaphor for cowardliness (not facing your death). And of course, it was “the old ways”.

And as well as all those thinky things, it had lots of explosions and gunfights and chase scenes. Which is always awesome 😀 We went to the new “Imax” screen at the cinema near us – a bigger screen, better sound system. And it was pretty good, tho not awesome enough for the price hike you get by going to that screen 😉