Everyone is all like, Daniel Craig is the best James Bond evar! Except, of course, for Daniel Craig, who is a fine actor and knows that the whole thing is shit or bollocks or whatever the Brits say. I guess James Bond was fine back when the casual murder of women could be chalked up to No Homo and a few laughs, but now it’s all Heath Ledger killing poor Maggie Gyllenhal in order to signify that this crap is “dark” and “gritty” and “realistic.” Well, it’s realistic that society hates women, all right, but at least the 60s were halfway honest about it instead of dressing it up as psychological realism and passing it off as a form of world-weary sophistication. I guess festooning your rapemurder tree with baubles of cosmopolitan disapproval makes for a better holiday, but you still have a rapemurder tree in the middle of your house.
Anyway. Daniel Craig knows that Bond sucks, and that’s why he’s subtly trying to get out of it. Like every other dead franchise, the 21st century has seen fit to torture Bond back into existence though the moody application of shadow. Getting blood on your shirt somehow imbues that fight on top of the train with the weight of actuality. Yeah, no. It just makes the unreality more noticeable; it sandbags the balloon that is your suspension of disbelief. That smoke coming from the engine under the right wing? That is your capacity for fantasy and wonder being overtaxed.
You see, James Bond has nothing to say about the world we live in now. It is about guns, fucking, and fast boats. The next time your grandma the Washington Post columnist disapproves of “those rap videos,” show her any Bond flick, which glorifies precisely the same acquisitive, casually murderous booty shaking, albeit with a crackpot post-imperial nationalism as the crispy white stand-in for the hood. Substitute Compton or the Dirty South or wherever for The Sceptered Isle, and you get the picture. Bond is a rap video for white people. Straight up.
What was I saying? Skyfall. Everything about it is tired, and what’s worse, this is a deliberate effect! Judi Dench is tired. Ralph Fiennes is tired. The pretty black girl who, surprise, can’t really hack field work is tired. Daniel Craig is tired. Javier Bardem? Tired. Also gay, maybe? And Spanish. Why a villainously homosexual Spaniard was ever employed by MI-6 is a question this realistic movie fails to pause and ponder. I leave it to you. Even the sexy twink they cast as Q is tired. Again, exhaustion is supposed to connote reality here.
Let me wander afield for a moment. The problem with realism as practiced in the anglosphere is that it’s supposed to act in a manner once reserved for metaphor and allegory. Thus realism crawls up its own, you’ll pardon me, arse and starts gnawing its own guts out. You see, the nature of reality, the real reality, is that nothing stands for anything other than what it is. My psychological exhaustion is not commentary on the state of the West, not until plucked from its tender stem and planted in the water of narrative construction. Bond’s enervation and fatigue are supposed to be real, and yet they are also supposed to be metaphorical vehicles for England, thereby becoming totally unreal. Suddenly nothing self-refers; everything instead reflects the state of something else. The result is profoundly alienating to both the sense of reality and the sense of fun. Insert “we’re getting too old for this” joke.
The penultimate sequence in Skyfall is the intercutting of three scenes: Judi Dench telling some parliamentarians that the world is more dangerous than ever because there are no more Russians; James Bond pursuing Javier Bardem through some tunnels; Q doing something on computers that’s even more embarrassing than your mom’s activities on Facebook. “He’s using a quantum core search algorithm password encryption matrix code branch substation key root data program,” or something. The Dench speech is all about our enemies among us—the standard post-9/11 crap about the obfuscation of once-clean lines of national enmity, and this again is there purely to lend the cartoonish affair some portion of Page A gravitas.
The whole thing then transports itself to the Scottish moors. The final action sequence was praised for its austerity, even as it emptied vast armories of bullets into our by-now mushy brains. Like everything else, the austerity was a metaphor, although at this point the film is as exhausted as its main characters and sees no point in making it a metaphor for anything in particular. Just a metaphor, you guys. Daniel Craig tries to drown himself, but Eon and Columbia pulled his ass out of the frozen lake and gave him a 2-picture extension. The next Bond film tentatively entitled Staight Outa Eastwaithe Moorheath, will be released in 2015.