Saturday, November 10, 2012

Bondage


Skyfall, the new James Bond film, is exhilarating to watch to the point you forget it's a total retread.  The whole purpose of Bond movies now, of course, is aggrandizing deja vu, finding pleasure in reinventing what has been reinvented to the point it's no longer cliche, just a kind of movie-movie shorthand.  Skyfall is one of the best examples of taking formula and reformulating it to create a little shock to spice up nostalgia.  And its first five or six minutes are probably one of the best action-picture sequences in the history of movies:  car crashes, motorcycles zooming over roofs, a speeding train with two men fighting atop it.  It's an old-school triumph of style over logic.  The ending, as well, has an early-90s independent-movie vibe to go along with its crashing helicopters and armed groups of bald mustached men.  It takes place in a small Scottish church, and delivers a dramatic punch in the gut that evens has tears rolling down 007's cheeks.

Daniel Craig plays Bond as if he is in a trance, all blue-eyed soullessness, his anger engineered to create simple solutions to very complicated problems.  And Judi Dench, as M, is so beautifully understated in her portrayal of power-hunger and regret, she practically steals the show. 

One part of the retread pleasure that doesn't work for me is Javier Bardem's supervillain, Silva.  Bardem is an incredible ham, and it is always a joy to watch him ham it up, but in Skyfall the character does not deserve such deliberation and vigor.  Silva is a one-note psycho, and is particularly sad because of the way the screenwriters define him:  he is disfigured from a botched suicide attempt, and that disfigurement becomes the reason he is what he is, that disability defining him.  He also has dyed blond hair and eyebrows, and a sort of proto-effeminacy that borders on camp:  a guttural, grotesque prissiness that makes it seem like Silva's insatiable villainy is unspooling from Silva's "monstrous" (at least in the moral code of the Bond movies) sexuality.  In one of the first scenes between Bond and Silva, Bardem plays Silva like a catty homo happy to be indulging in a little kink.  With Mr. Bond helpless, strapped to a chair, Silva opens Bond's shirt and licks his lips and it's awkward not because of the gay vibe as much as what the gay vibe is being used for:  to define good and evil.  It's a quick way to divide the universe.

Even when you indulge in retreading a retread after 50 years of service, you still need to rethink the villainy just as much as the heroism.  Isn't there a way to create "evil" without making it feel like gay-bashing?  Can a villain not have a facial disfigurement and still be evil?