SKYFALL – in which British jingoism clowns for everyone

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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.

SKYFALL: conformity, rebellion and the British post-colonial trauma, c. 2012

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.

35 thoughts on “SKYFALL – in which British jingoism clowns for everyone

  1. I don’t get the “ooh, Daniel Craig is teh sexy!” either. And I don’t much care for conventionally handsome dudes, but Craig is conventionally ugly and has no compensating personality.

    Anyway, the whole “let’s take Bond seriously and have serious stuff in the Bond movies” trend that’s been the thing since the 90s or so is yet another indication that Western Culture’s in a rut. When I was a kid the Bond was Roger Moore, and the franchise had gone goofy and silly and you weren’t expected to take it at all seriously — it was like Doctor Who without the space monsters. Of course this was the 70s when the idea of crying over the demise of the British Empire would have gotten blank stares from most people. I had grown up believing that the British Empire was nothing to miss, and that one day (if we didn’t all die in a nuclear war) the UK would dump the “K” and enter the modern world. But I wasn’t into princesses like most girls so maybe that’s why I don’t get any of this wistfulness re the British Empire.

    • Because physical attractiveness is subjective? (Sorry, it’s a pet peeve of mine when people bag on what others find sexy in physical appearance. I feel it buys to much in the whole beauty standards that the west just pumps on out like bleh.)

      Personally, I find Craig… moderately kinda attractive? I haven’t seen him in anything, so personality wise I know nothing, and his head is too small and round for my personal taste, but there are elements of ruggedness which I can find appealing in people at times. /shrugs

      I guess some people are just really attracted to abs. I still see that picture of him coming out of the water pop up around the internet.

      But yeah, Bond and seriousness just… there is a character named Octopussy in the novels and movie. There is no way you can make a series like that serious.

      • Actually, the short story “Octopussy” refers to… an octopus.

        it’s only the movie that turned that into the double-entendre name of a Bond girl.

        (Yeah, I read the Fleming originals. They’re actually even more horridly sexist and racist than the movies. But that particular short story doesn’t even have a female character in it at all.)

  2. The suave Bond left when Pierce Brosnan did*; since Craig took over, the IP’s owners have been trying to tap into the popularity of Jason Bourne. So it’s more rough and tumble, and Craig is well cast for that. The wish that’s actually being fulfilled here is hyper competence, and Daniel Craig is built like a tank. (As the post says, his attractiveness is irrelevant.) Though that semblance of rugged functionality falters when Craig runs. Very goofy gait.

    You didn’t mention that M rigs the explosive chandeliers and dispatches a couple guys with that. Are you actually irritated that a 78-year-old bureaucrat needs help in a firefight against henchmen?

    Silva doesn’t inspire any gay panic. Bond deflects that threat you talked about by mentioning that maybe he’s done some experimentation himself. It got a laugh in the theater, and the very long movie moves on. Silva’s one of the movie’s two highlights, and I’d bet most people liked him a lot. He’s the only fun character. Plus, facial disfigurement is cool now… Jack Harrow on Boardwalk Empire

    *Brosnan’s movies were incredibly silly. Though the films themselves played it straight, they featured invisible cars and guys with diamond-studded faces, plus Denise Richards as I believe a nuclear physicist.

    • >Are you actually irritated that a 78-year-old bureaucrat needs help in a firefight against >henchmen?
      I can’t speak for RH, but I was personally irritated, yes. The movie (and the rest of the Craig Bond movies) overvalues violent field work compared to the rest of MI6 activities like management, diplomacy, politics, research… You only have to witness the shrill and negative portrayal of the investigative ministerial commission to see that the inner moral of the movie revolves around something like “only those who can act fast with violence are worthy of respect, the others are just pen-pushers”. By that moral framework, someone like M is completely worthless, and someone like Ralph Fiennes’ character (whose name I can’t remember at the moment, sorry) is worthy not because of their diplomatic capabilities, but because they used to fight in the army and therefore, in a firefight, can grab a gun and shoot at the bad guys.
      So, no, it’s not irrealistic that M would need help to dispatch bad guys. But in a universe where the only valuable work is violent field work, it’s disappointing to see the character reduced to a joke or a source of pathos rather than highlighting what made her such a great, effective leader for MI6 (talents that had nothing to do with firing guns or dispatching people herself).

      • Well the Bond franchise in general values action over office stuff and diplomacy, that’s the nature of the spy movie genre. Which is why making the scripts supposedly more “serious” doesn’t work. Take away the ridiculously over-the-top spoofy elements and putting in psychological realism and so on just reveals the entire enterprise to be the shoddy plastic thing it is.

        In a way, though, that’s a good thing. James Bond should have been left behind with the rest of the detritus of the 20th century, the Cold War, and all of it.

      • +10^10 for Ms. Bodard’s comment! I wanted to say that I have been thinking about your post awhile back on how individualism is overstated in SFF to the detriment of groups.

        I think you provide more meat for your argument here -> The work for peace/security is the important thing, and while individuals do stand out it is truly the work of groups and people who seek to understand and work with groups that results in progress.

    • I think challenging aesthetics is worthwhile, though I’d agree that aside from a few places this isn’t done by Hollywood. I’m still amazed that cute Asian guys are being cast as nerds to prop up stereotypes I saw dying when I was in high school.

  3. Have you ever read the books? I have the sad misfortune of slogging through a few and Ian Fleming is a screaming misogynist. I don’t suggest you read them if any concern for your blood pressure. Thanks for calling out the Bond movies – never liked em’ never could understand the popularity.

  4. I don’t think the film was saying that ‘Silva is bisexual’ quite as much as it was saying ‘Silva is fucking with Bond’s head/sharing a joke amongst MI6 operatives about how these things usually go’. It was a nod to the homoerotic fixation frequently shared by Bond and the villains of the films, bringing the whole thing out into the open. I’m not saying that makes it noticeably better, mind you – either way, we’ve got gay rape as a punchline – just clarifying.

    And yeah, even if this can be considered ‘the most feminist Bond film yet’ (which I’m not sure about, mind you), that serves only to illustrate the rock-bottom standards of the franchise. I mean, yes, they’re based on a series of books where Bond at one point says of his love interest that ‘now he knew that she was profoundly, excitingly sensual, but that the conquest of her body, because of the central privacy in her, would each time have the sweet tang of rape’ (and on that note, ew ew ew), so we shouldn’t expect much, but mother of Odin, you’d think that after half a century of Bond films, they would at least have made some progress.

  5. Ugh, I am so done with this whining about how the western powers are losing their grip on the world. Blah blah blah- wah wah wah. So what? Why is it such a big deal, unless you LIKE being a world bully or got a sense of self-importance by having so much unneeded power?

    It’s like every time I heard politicians whining about how if we don’t change our socialist policies we will end up going into a lethargic decline like EUROPE! AMG. I felt like punching someone (mostly republicans, but I could have missed a democrat saying something like this- generally democrats in the USA seem slightly less into American Exceptionalism, although still too much for my taste). It’s just. No logic.

    Also, wow on the villain. Very glad I ended up declining a invite to the movie because as a queer lady I really freakin’ hate the “eeeevviiiil bisexual” trope. Like crazy. And since there is quite a bit of feedback loops going on between the UK and America, I can’t help but eye the Spanish name like crazy with all the rhetoric about those un-American illegal invasive latinos that has been going on here. I find it hard to believe that is a coincidence.

    • Democrats/Liberals are possibly better, but there’s still a huge gulf in some cases. There’s a lot of “hey I’m liberal so it’s okay for me to make this joke / judge your culture based on my 3 day trip/etc.”

      I was dismayed to see Asians trotted out as minorities that don’t need “gifts” b/c it positions American minority identity as a contest to see which group is best fulfilling the gold star expectations of the – in this case white – majority.

      • In this post I was referring mostly to the American Exceptionalism/Expansionist rhetoric, because once you get past that it all evens out in different ways really. (For instance, did you know that when polling democrats and republicans, the percentage of people who flat out said in these polls that they would not vote for a black president was the same? Now, this number did drop when redefining it as people who identified as Liberals vs. Conservatives with liberals having about 1/3rd the amount that Conservatives did, but still fascinating statistics nonetheless. And that only counts stupidly blatant racism.)

        It’s kinda like with gradients of feminism. There are the people who think women should vote, make their own choices with their bodies, etc- but they still feel free to call them whores and such if they don’t like how they act.

        And urgh, minority Olympics. I freakin’ hate it. And it all has so much to do with cultural bias and really does not focus on how messed up our history is with many people and so on. (And I LOVE how they are doing that with Married Women vs. those crazy Single Women who want all the sex and that’s why they voted for Obama and his evil birth control allowances. Just, what? Pitting women against each other in incredibly sexist terms is apparently awesome to them.)

        • Agreed on all counts – was just talking to someone about how “prude” and “slut” are control words attempting to herd women toward a patriarchal approved “happy medium”.

          I’ll also say I have a lot of sympathy for people who voted for Obama “just cause he is black”, as I would someone wanting a woman president, b/c that means a lot more than people give credit.

          The very reason people are forced into “identity” politics is b/c they are judged on their identity as minorities. So Obama ends up having to represent minorities as a whole with his (admittedly morally questionable) performance.

        • Yeah, I really hate the word prude, honestly more than slut in some ways. Because most of the time it’s used on you when you protest yet another female character stripped down and given more focus to her breasts then personality. Prude seems to be a word used to shut other people up, slut to prop up their own ego (on top of the general policing of behavior).

          And I agree. As a women I would be very tempted to place a vote down for the first women presidential candidate because it really is a important mark. And to people who gripe about how messed up that is, I simply say “Well, it balances out the votes of all the people who wouldn’t vote for them because they are black/a women!”. Because really.

          And yeah, I feel like Obama is kinda held back because he is the first. I feel like he has compromised on a lot of things he wouldn’t otherwise have in order to try and not “ruin it for everyone else who would come after”, so to speak. Not that he would be perfect even without that, but I feel like he could be stronger. (Honestly, although I protest some of his policies especially concerning the war, I feel like he is actually *relatively* a morally good president/leader. Problem is, that is a bar usually skewed low. Very low. So I’m not sure exactly how much that is worth.)

  6. Since you’re new to the Bond movies, it bears noting that most of them have a villain who is (a) suspiciously foreign and (b) disfigured in some way. But not *too* foreign, mind you: almost all of them are white Europeans, except for one black Jamaican and half-Chinese/half-German. It seems Ian Fleming had a hard time believing that anyone other than a white man could ever be in charge of anything. Even since running out of books to adapt, they’ve continued the trend: the villains of the last three films have been played by a Danish, French and Spanish actor respectively.

    I don’t think I even need to comment on the series’ attitude to women. Suffice to say, a lot of them die. Sometimes this is a big deal; just as frequently, not.

    In a way, the Bond series is almost too obvious a target for criticism, there’s so much blatantly wrong about it, as the final paragraph of this blog suggests: ‘It’s difficult to be offended by a film that’s so ridiculously secure in its stupidity and ignorance.’ Even the series itself often mocks Bond as a relic of an older time; in her first film, Judi Dench called him ‘a misogynist dinosaur’. But that’s just the excuse they use to get away with sticking to such an outdated formula; the filmmakers clearly are on Bond’s side and expect audiences to cheer for him, and judging by the films’ continued success, they’re happy to oblige. (And hey, I can’t talk: yeah, I saw Skyfall too…)

  7. OK, actually I am going to make some comment on the series’ attitude to women, because this stuff is worth knowing. If the films are pretty sexist (and Skyfall is, if anything, one of the *less* awful ones in that regard), the books are much worse. One of them, “The Spy Who Loved Me”, contains the infamous line “All women love semi-rape” (from a woman’s internal monologue as Bond has his way with her), which tells you all you need to know about Fleming’s views. Apparently, all women really want to be ravished by Bond, even lesbians: ‘Pussy Galore’ in “Goldfinger” was a lesbian until she had an encounter with Bond’s penis which changed her ways. Yeah, I know.

    (Oh, and judging from the number of torture scenes in the books, Fleming was also clearly a sadomasochist: which isn’t inherently evil, I know, but combined with the rapiness it’s more than a little disturbing.)

    Now, no one takes the Bond books/films seriously, and they don’t take themselves very seriously; even at the time they were written, this stuff was considered ridiculous. But there’s definitely something uncomfortable about something *so* blatantly offensive, even in a tongue-in-cheek way, being such a major icon of Western culture.

  8. @Alasdair Murray: I don’t think that anyone seriously considers James Bond an “icon” of Western culture, especially outside the Anglophone countries. People recognize the books and movies for the crude wish-fulfillment cartoons that they are. The universally recognized Anglo masters of the spy thriller were Greene and le Carré, who elevated the genre to literature. Their women characters are another story: pedestalized and/or fridged — and there’s still a whiff of White Man’s Burden. But at least they’re nuanced and complex.

  9. I feel like there’s still a problem with the new “Well, he’s sexist but a man’s man” or “He’s racist/homophobic but in a funny way”. The first is obviously wrong, the second I think is used to dilute racism/homophobia using age or tradition as an excuse. Like part of being masculine is not being “whipped” or “PC”.

    That’s why Bond type movies annoy me, because it’s sort of saying the hero makes up for his views by saving the day. I remember my sister pointing out to me when we were teens, “Wait. Pressuring her -> He’s sexually assaulting her there.”

    Given the criticisms on this blog of the romance genre, which seems to have it’s fair share of this kind of thing, I think there’s something off about Bond movies pushing the idea that it’s okay to be bigoted so long as you have other good qualities.

  10. Actually Saajan, it’s worse than that. Bond and men like him (often carrying the proud self-label “Pick Up Artists”) have no desire for a specific woman. It’s an abstract declaration of dominance, like marking trees with urine. As for “It’s ok to by X, as long as you’re Y”: the “inability” to compartmentalize is often deemed a disadvantage — a gendered one, at that.

  11. I just came back from seeing this movie (because my homophobic, racist biomom doesn’t want to see “cartoons” like Wreck-It-Ralph) which is the first Bond film I’ve seen and I think the nicest thing I can say about this movie is that I really liked some of the shots of the cities/sets and the action sequences weren’t bad, the rest is just….wow….like, seriously, wow….

    And let’s not forget the sexy shaving scene between Moneypenny and Bond, I was cringing through the whole thing. Yeah, that’s not stereotypical, or the fact that Severine was a sex worker, because you can’t make a film about China/Hong Kong/that general area of Asia without making a reference to sex trafficking, as if that’s all that part of the world has to worry about.

    I think I’ll just go play Alpha Protocol some more, it has much of the same problems as anything in the spy-thriller whatever-you-call-it genre, but at least Thorton’s capable of showing empathy.

  12. “I don’t think that anyone seriously considers James Bond an “icon” of Western culture”

    Hmmm, that depends what you mean. If you mean icon as in symbol of western culture, something that *represents* it, then no.

    If you mean something that is instantly recognizable, and can be referenced even indirectly, and has occupied that status for a long time… Then yes. (and I think one of the features of “icons” is precisely that they kind of live their own lives even outside the works of fiction they are depicted in, James Bond references can be understood even by people who never seen the movies)

    He’s also a fairly frequent target of literary (and film) critique and analysis precisely because he’s such a problematic character, and what his continued popularity might reveal about us (or why he’s even still popular)

    “but at least Thorton’s capable of showing empathy.”

    Or not, depending on how you play him, but yeah.

    ““It’s ok to by X, as long as you’re Y”: the “inability” to compartmentalize is often deemed a disadvantage ”

    It often is, for a variety of reasons.
    But I’m not sure Bond is a case of compartmentalization, but rather the reverse: It’s the Halo effect, where one set of attributes bleeds over and affects our perceptions of other attributes. Because Bond is good in a firefight and saves the day there is problems with accepting his flaws.

  13. @Emil: the compartmentalization point does not refer to Bond, but to people who use the specific argument we discussed. As to why he’s still popular, deep analysis is not necessary: “wish fulfillment projection” — without superhuman powers — will suffice.

  14. In the context of the old Bond movies, the new series is actually a huge leap for the um…better. We are talking about a series that had a lesbian woman turning straight because Bond was so charming.
    My biggest beef was with Moneypenny. She is an idiot in the movies, spending most of her time daydreaming about Bond. Sadly, instead of giving us something like Bond’s companion in the second movie (who doesn’t sleep with him because she has better things to do), we got a bit of a star-struck fool.
    I also wish they would stop fridging the women Bond sleeps with. He’s the most dangerous STD in town.

  15. Well, not quite. There were two Bond films in which women were treated comparatively well: those in which the role was played by Timothy Dalton. Not only did the women survive; he also treated them as close to full humans and, in the second one, the hint was that he would turn monogamous with his companion.

    • Athena, glad to know I’m not the only one who thought the Dalton movies a cut above the rest… I can’t say they were perfect, but it felt like they were making attempts to move away from the cookie-cutter superhuman by giving him personal plotlines, and in the process give everyone else much better roles (I kept expecting the character of Lupe, the villain’s long-suffering mistres, to die in License to Kill, and was *so* pleased that she actually survived everything)

  16. Actually, in the previous movie Bond doesn’t sleep with his leading lady. SHOCKING. I was expecting him to, but they don’t have love scenes. And in the first of this newest reboot, he is ready to marry his lady-love, which only one other Bond had done (of course, she immediately died in both cases).
    So the previous two movies and maybe one of the Timothy Dalton ones (I hated the other) toyed with a ‘nicer’ Bond (big quote marks).
    Skyfall, however…I’m still pissed about Moneypenyy. Did they have to do that shaving scene? Couldn’t she be competent and smart and attractive AND not be flirting in every scene? I feel conflicted because I like Craig and I think Q is super cute. :(
    I used to have the vinyl soundtrack of The Living Daylights, by the way. It’s hilariously 80s. A-ha sings in it!

  17. I probably don’t have to say more about Bond’s appeal then alcohol, casinos, cars, the gadgets, danger, the explosions and yes-the girls.

    As for the movie itself, I think it was mildly less crap then the convoluted Quantum of Silence. Silva could have been a better villain. He was creepy but he was more camp then creepy. So camp that I couldn’t take him seriously by the time it got to the ending.

    As for M. She’s still my favourite character in the movie. My only real criticism was that they could have taken a better critical look at MI6’s Operations in a 9/11 world, since the film veered off into that mid-way during M’s inquiry. Which was bloody strange since the inquiry was supposed to be about M’s competence.

    Intelligence Organisations are still around, conducting possibly illegal operations and treason is punishable in many countries. And with the memory of MI6’s deal with Gadaffi fresh in our media, I think it’s worthwhile for Bond to consider how MI6 can operate in a world more demanding for openness and democracy. But in the end, we only heard one side. M was right, everyone else was wrong.

    But fuck it, this is James Bond. Give me more BMW with Aston Martin car chases

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