If this is what Britain considers one of its most iconic cultural figures–the ideal of romantic colonialism, the suave super-spy–then do I have bad news for you, Brits. It isn’t that the film is deathly misogynistic (it is) or that it is far too long and incompetently paced (it is both). It’s that this is a joke. This is laughingstock. This is ridiculous and anyone with half a brain cell will see it for what it is. And when you consider how deeply seriously it takes itself… you can only conclude what a sorry stain of a thing the jingoist British spirit must be. The white man snivels in the corner, bleating for the vanished glory of the empire. Which is as it should be, but like Skyfall it doesn’t know how pathetic it really is.
By the bit where the helicopters swoop down and Silva is captured I was sure the movie was done and I could finally get the fuck out. Nope. This is a movie that should have been, at most, an hour and a half–but in that most oblivious fashion of straight white men entirely too charmed with the sound of their own voices, it drags on for another hour. This bloated, mindless ode to the glory of the British Empire will waste 143 fucking minutes of your life. That’s well over two hours. Two hours you’ll never get back.
Skyfall, like all Bond films, has as its central secret subject the decline and fall of the imperial version of the British nation. Most of its predecessors dealt with the problem of loss, disappointment, what Paul Gilroy calls ‘postcolonial melancholia’, with forms of denial, compensatory consumption and flashy technology, with the British agent imagined as physical superhero, and with the Americans providing back up. Skyfall instead confronts the loss– there, in a Hong Kong, whose return to China in 1997 marked a poignant coda to decolonisation, here in the old ancestral home in a cold, irrelevant Scottish wilderness, that old house, now almost abandoned, now to be obliterated in a confrontation between two bits of the self, in which the ego is physically diminished and mentally weak. It tries to negotiate a new kind of British (masculine) self, a new kind of patriotism and loyalty. Literally and metaphorically, the ceramic union jack bulldog piggybank is passed clumsily from one generation to another, with the recipients not quite sure what to do with the legacy.
Not being familiar with the whole Bond foolery I hadn’t much of an idea what to expect going in (beyond racism and sexism, par for the course), but I’ve been given to understand that Bond is this suave gentleman in an immaculate suit. What we get instead is this weird caricature of grizzled cynicism packaged in the most unattractive person imaginable of Daniel Craig. It’s not just that he’s a dude and I find dues about as attractive as eating cat vomit–I can’t imagine why straight women, much younger than Bond/Craig, would throw themselves at this blank cipher. Even Q manages to come off as more attractive, but of course the male wish fulfillment isn’t to be attractive; it’s to be an asshole who nevertheless gets women to fuck him anyway. There are noises made about how M is the real protagonist of the film, and how she’s a strong woman, and how it’s awesome that a movie would focus on an older lady. These arguments become difficult to maintain when you consider how ineffective M is; she fails throughout the movie, playing right into the villain’s hand, and requires the protection of men in every scene she is endangered–I’m not shitting you, there’s always a man around for her to lean on or to pull her down from the path of bullets, because frail old ladies amirite. The one time we see her shooting anyone her aim isn’t great, so much so that she fails to kill a faceless goon. At the end M dies, and her position of power is assumed by a man. Cool. There’s also the creepy sexualized obsession Silva has with her, which contributes more or less to her death. Bond can get up from being shot and falling into a waterfall no problem despite his age, but shoot an old lady in a non-fatal spot and she bleeds out within the hour. Double cool. A competent woman of authority, you say? Except M is unable to or affect anything without Bond to get shit done for her.
As for the film’s other women, what’s there to be said? There’s Moneypenny (really?), who gets demoted from a field agent to a man’s secretary, and by golly, she likes it that way thank you so much. There’s exotified Severine, who has maybe five lines in the movie, gets some rapey Bond action, and then dies unmourned and unremarked outside of Bond’s sociopathic “Waste of good scotch.” Trying to pass this off as “the most feminist Bond film yet” is nothing more than acknowledging that “the most feminist” it can get is to be about as feminist as /r/mensrights. There’s noting redeemable here except maybe the jellyfish.
Oh, did I mention the villain is a depraved bisexual rapist?
Who is foreign, by the way, his real surname being Rodiguez (a name M refuses to call him with, but then again “Rauol Silva” isn’t exactly a nice Anglo-Saxon name, is it)? Such a condensed package of bigotry–a camp bisexual man who has an accent, obviously not British, not exactly Aryan. Foreign menace, gay panic, so much so that Silva actually considers raping Bond at one point. Plus an Assange haircut. Really now. He’s disfigured too, in case you didn’t get the message that you’re supposed to be grossed out by the Foreign Depraved Bisexual rapist. His back story has a good bit of yellow peril too, because China something something.
It’s difficult to be offended by a film that’s so ridiculously secure in its stupidity and ignorance. Skyfall is more laughable than it is insulting, because the insulting parts are piled on so fast and so high–alongside that earnest, 100% sincere “patriotism”–that all of it comes off as merely ridiculous. So much so that it self-parodies by symbolizing all this with an ugly little ceramic bulldog… while not understanding that it’s laughingstock.
A brainless film for a brainless audience, made by brainless people.