by Thom Ernst Friday November 9, 2012

It’s one thing to have "Skyfall" touted as the best Bond to date – a risky call when referring to a chapter in the series that doesn’t star Sean Connery - but to label it important?   That might be too extreme for even its most passionate supporters. 

But if "Skyfall" can take Bond from popcorn-movie to prestige-cinema will audiences go along?

An immediate response is to answer ‘yes’ – a smarter, more thoughtful Bond is just what the franchise needs.  And indeed, initial reactions to the film are glowing. 

Days before its North American release Rotten Tomatoes, the one-stop critical round-up web page that rates films according to a collective summary was ranking the movie at a solid 92% positive while the Internet Movie Database (IMDB) representing an even wider range of non-professional film-lovers and critics was clocking  it in at an 8.1/10 approval rate.  Numbers will rise or fall as more opinions come in, but even if the remaining voices are less favourable its’ unlikely we’ll see a significant dip in ratings.

But few things incite disfavour like mainstream success and that’s likely going to earn "Skyfall" some serious backlash.   Numerous online detractors have already expressed a lack of enthusiasm for the movie by cleverly dubbing it, Skyfail and often citing the films attempts to present a more vulnerable Bond to be at the heart of their disappointment. 

And that’s a shame, because director Sam Mendes doesn’t destroy Bond with sentiment and psycho babble but rather introduces a Bond that suddenly makes a great deal of sense.  We always knew something was going on with the guy – we knew it since "Dr. No" - the way he can use and be used by women, kill without remorse, live without need and face loss with little emotion.  But Mendes doesn’t go so far as to make Bond human.  Bond is still our invincible Bond only now he is more than an unbreakable thunderball plowing his way through ridiculous odds.  Now he’s a Bond we can care about. 

But not everyone is buying it. 

Karina Longworth writing for OCWeekly has mix feelings about "Skyfall", but hits upon some core issues when commenting on Bond’s PTSD and his relationship with ‘M’ (Judi Dench).   But even though we’re drawn in by her review’s tantalizing heading  “License to Feel:   Skyfall lays bare the unknowable spy” and later when it reappears in web page format, “Skyfall Deals With OO7’s Mommy Issues”, Longworth is far more interested in the film’s debate between old world  M16 escapades and new world espionage. 

“There are ideas despite the fetishism and improbability native to the franchise.  Bond’s world is undeniably modeled after a real one engaged in debates about transparency and obfuscation…” writes Longworth. 

Her focus is not unfounded and is indeed an important aspect of the films narrative and its appeal, but it’s the parts that she glosses over and tosses aside that weakens an otherwise thoughtful analysis, as when she ends her review aligning Bond with a current superhero trend to, “…reposition Bond as a kind of cousin to caped crusaders:  another loner, orphaned man-child who kills a few to protect the many, all because he misses his mommy.”

Yes, by framing it in the paradigm of contemporary superhero lore and topping it off with a curt, almost bullying dismissal, Longworth makes it all seem quite silly.

 What Longworth is missing is that "Skyfall" has less resemblance to "The Dark Knight" then it does to a M. Night Shyamalan’s "Unbreakable"'.  "Unbreakable" is a remarkable achievement that set the ground work for many filmmakers, like Christopher Nolan, to effectively re-imagine the superhero motif. "Unbreakable" displays a vulnerability among superheroes that is inherent and not worn on their sleeves. 

Mendes’ seems aware of this and so  delivers everything 007 has always been by making subtle (and some not so subtle) references to previous Bond films but he then digs deeper into the Bond mythology by intuitively digging deeper into our own mythology.  Carl Jung might have labeled this as playing on our collective unconsciousness where we don’t necessarily recognize that it’s happening until it’s happened.   Regardless, for some it’s more than they want from 007.  

Reactions, such as Longworth’s that prefers a Bond that doesn’t show his wounds (and he doesn’t, we merely come to understand that he has them) is not dissimilar to the way many respond to real-life  sufferers of Post-Traumatic Syndrome.   But if nearly fifty years of Bond films have created a character no man can live up too, than Skyfall has created a character that no man feels a need to. 

And that makes"Skyfall" an important film.  Everything else about the film just makes it a great Bond movie – perhaps the best to date. 

 

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