The latest James Bond movie, Skyfall, celebrates 50 years of the films. Ian Fleming’s books introduced the character in the 1950s. They started from the premise that Bond is a killer—that’s all he does.
Even in these Cold War adventure stories it’s clear that the British secret service use Bond and the union jack as a butcher’s apron to keep the blood off themselves. But statecraft is all rather sordid, so Bond gets to have lots of care-free sex and kill baddies in exotic locations.
As the novels were made into films in the 1960s the character was made more romantic and given fun gadgets. The whole series had become tired and outdated when it was relaunched with Daniel Craig in the central role in Casino Royale in 2006.
In a refreshing change Craig appeared to push aside the old suave sexism of the books and earlier films. Craig’s first film was based on the first ever Bond novel. Bond hadn’t even earned his license to kill and Craig played him as vulnerable, unruly and possibly traumatised.
It is Bond who is objectified for once—he is the one the camera lingers on coming out of the sea in his trunks rather than the female lead. Also black characters were given far more central and serious roles.
But by Skyfall, Craig’s third outing in the role, all that was new and different seems to have faded. Judi Dench still plays M, the head of the secret service, as Bond’s line-manager and the queen rolled in to one.
She has had to make hard decisions and if that meant people died, well, it was all for the greater good. In Skyfall she, and therefore the state, is under attack from terrorists—or possibly a “psychopath”—because of these decisions.
We hear more about Bond’s family background and the regular character Miss Moneypenny returns, who has not appeared since the relaunch of the franchise. The question of whether M is only a bureaucrat comes up, as her character veers sharply rightwards.
Javier Bardem plays a cartoon baddie. He even has terrible hair and dress sense for emphasis. Skyfall is fairly predictable and not a single character in it is particularly convincing.
Of course there are spectacular explosions and set piece chases, and presumably this is all very expensive. To help pay for it all, there is the most incredible amount of product placement. But the worst of it is that it’s not much fun and that recently Bond has been done much better.
Skyfall is in cinemas now