I suppose it should not be surprising that the most popular post on this blog is one I did on the Bond babes back in 2008. At the time, I wrote about the superfluity of these ladies and how Vesper Lynn was a new twist in the martini that is the Bond World Babes, that the franchise’s rethinking the way it saw women is the shaker, and how the reinvention of “M” was a much welcomed spray of dry vermouth.
Well, I am happy to say that the brain trust of this franchise has done it again. I finally, FINALLY got around to seeing Skyfall (such is the life of a PhD student) and all I can say is that this is the best James Bond film not about Bond made to date.
A Bond film not about Bond? Yup, I said it. And I’m sticking by it. Skyfall is a dense film with a lot of themes running amok: parentage, abandonment, redemption, betrayal, revenge, old age, the brevity of youth – they are all shaken and stirred into a lovely and tasty mix, but Bond in this film is somewhat relegated to that of plot device rather than having his issues all front and center as they have been since 2006’s Casino Royal.
No, this film is really about the ladies, more specifically, M and the proverbial “Sins of the Mother”, be they a hedgemonic spy chief or Mother Country. M’s past comes back to haunt her in the form a rogue agent, long presumed to be dead, who comes back with a vengeance to make M pay for her “sins”.
Well, mama M is well aware of her sins, she knows she constantly chooses between bad and worse options, the lesser of many evils, she just made a deal with herself long ago to never regret them because it isn’t “professional”. Be that as it may, and because a British NOC list has come into play under her watch, she is now facing down forced retirement and inquiry while her MI6 agents are being killed, so she enacts Bond to come back from his own presumed death to go to battle for Mama M and Mother Country, whether he is up to the challenge or not. It speaks to the bond (pun) between M and James, in that they can have this ambivalence towards each other laced with a fondness like that of parent and child, and respect like that of comrades in arms. M beckons and Bond responds. It’s a truly interesting love affair if you think about it, only with bombs, and guns, and assassins…
What is also fascinating is that the first 40 minutes of the film truly are about M and her mess, and that is worthy to note because ancillary characters have never gotten this much play before. M is shown as mentor, mother, manager, and bureaucrat all rolled up into one really damn tiny package. Add a dash of Naomie Harris as Eve Moneypenny 2.0, and we see a who new mythology being written here. Moneypenny in this film is no longer the earnest, love-struck secretary, but a suspended field operative who has the dime on Bond, but made a bad shot after an arguably bad call by M. While suspended, she’s still neck deep in things and considering her options: return to the field full time or settle down with a rather nice desk?
So yadda, yadda, yadda, there’s a Bond villain (he’s fabulous but not the point of this post), mayhem ensues, M gets questioned by a lady Minister (a wonderfully prim Helen McCrory, too bad there wasn’t more of her in this film), things go boom, and chugga, chugga, chugga, Bond absconds with M to his childhood home of Skyfall where M is to be used as bait to draw out the baddie. Bond may be battling another rat, but he does so in M’s maze because this is clearly her film.
I won’t disclosed the end, except to say M moves on and the excellent Dame Judi Dench is effectively retired from the series. But, as M is replaced by yet another M in the form of Ralph Fiennes‘ Mallory, I couldn’t help but think, like a little tickle in the back of my brain, how now that Moneypenny has been re-invented, it occurred to me that her last name begins with M as well…
Hmmmm, a girl can dream….