It’s what I expected. Grim, austere imagery, actors attempting to look forlorn, darkly-lit rooms: the SkyFall trailer is virtually a retread of the teaser that appeared in late spring, though cobbled with clips of the new Q and a plot device about Vladimir Putin 007 getting shot off a fast-moving train.
As fans, we’re saved. No, we’re doomed. After viewing the trailer several times (and if you find yourself watching the UK and US versions repeatedly, just as I did, it’s time for some good Adlerian therapy), I sense that SkyFall emulates Quantum Of Solace as a confused, frenetic film, determined to make itself relevant in today’s movie landscape but uneasy with its own stature as a James Bond film. This is reflected in the clumsy trailer and other misfires that recently surfaced, such as the title song and bizarre aspects of the marketing campaign.
The trailer’s major flaw is obvious: it gives away the main angle of the film when we see Naomi Harris’s character shoot the Craig-Bond off the train. This leads to the notion of his faked death: a scene with M glancing at the agent’s obituary, followed by the Craig-Bond appearing as a trite silhouette figure in her office. Could this be the “big hook” that screenwriter Peter Morgan gloated about almost two years ago? The notion of Bond’s death and his “resurrection” are nothing more than warmed over You Only Live Twice. Moreover, in this tired series, the notion of an agent resurfacing as an outcast of the British Secret Service has had many variations: let us recall Die Another Day (yes, that most horrid of films, according to the fanboys locked in the Internet forums), where Bond is abandoned by the British Secret Service after imprisonment in North Korea but reappears in M’s life, ever ready for duty. We also have Trevelyan's death and resurrection in GoldenEye, which bewilders Bond; and Licence To Kill probes another existential death for 007 when he functions as a rogue agent to pursue the villain Franz Sanchez.
The tag line of SkyFall (which appears on M's computer screen from a mysterious sender) is, “Think on your sins.” Personally, I’d rather not. It would not be wise to follow any advice that flashes on a computer monitor from an anonymous source, especially the kind that opens the door to metaphysical complexities. For if I only lived twice and functioned out of my sins in this current life, I’m bound to set my next life—whatever it is, presumably some sort of after-life—on a perpetual holiday in Dante’s Inferno, most likely in the third circle (Gluttony), although I suspect my critics would want me to land, at the very least, in the eighth circle (Fraud). Besides, what are we suppose to do about it, anyway? Should we gladly keep up with our sins? I can foresee human relations collapsing at all levels. For example, we would realize we’re stuck in families comprised of ghastly beasts, each operating out of despicable sins, and those awkward Thanksgiving reunions would be all the more excruciating to endure. Nevertheless, SkyFall seems to be the film that shows us how this sagely advice might go.
The rest of the trailer is a jumble of scenes that are obviously remakes of those in previous Bond films. The aforementioned fight scene on top of a speeding train that enters a tunnel recalls the lengthy fight between Bond and henchman Gobinda in Octopussy. The motorcycle chase is reminiscent of the one in Quantum Of Solace, Tomorrow Never Dies, and Never Say Never Again. (At least in Tomorrow Never Dies we see the novelty of the Bond girl being handcuffed to Brosnan's Bond as they steer through the narrow streets of Saigon.) The scene with the Craig-Bond in a darkly-lit indoor swimming pool reminds us of the indoor pool scene in GoldenEye where Bond encounters Xenia Onetopp. I also glimpsed some kind of bulldozer demolishing a train, which harks back to the bulldozer scene in Craig’s 007 inauguration, Casino Royale.
There are other variations of things past: many sets—grimy, dark—resemble the interior of Vauxhall Cross, the fictional tube station in Die Another Day (yes, once again, that film!), where the invisible Aston Martin makes its entrance. In the scene with the new young Q, his dialogue suggests a reorganized MI6—so the world of 007 has changed, which is a throwback to the new MI6 that Bond confronts in GoldenEye. Indeed, change is the angle for the 17th film: the filmmakers embraced how the world had changed—the collapse of the Soviet Union, the end of the Cold War, shifting social mores—and presented Bond as a static element in the uncertainty of the so-called new world order. To underscore this theme, director Martin Campbell and writer Bruce Feirstein introduced a female M. As producer Michael G. Wilson explains:
Lots of things had changed and we had to confront some of those changes. We were always contemporary, and we just made another contemporary film in light of the change of circumstances. I think of James Bond as being a pretty consistent character but like anyone who lives in this world, he’s not unaffected by it. He’s mostly the same character as always, with pretty much the same ideas. The world has changed around him, so it’s how this character interacts with the present world that is important. (Sterling and Morecambe 284)
So in SkyFall, the Bond makers are essentially nodding to GoldenEye by rehashing the theme of change and introducing a new Q (rather than a new M). Even the fleeting images of two seduction scenes (hardly discernible in the dark cinematography) are remolded from previous Bond films: the first appears to be a romantic interlude in a steamy shower, which recalls Bond seducing Patricia Fearing in a sauna room in Thunderball; the second features Naomi Harris's character, almost obfuscated in a very darkly-lit scene, shaving the Craig-Bond with a straight razor—this has shades of Helga Brandt, in You Only Live Twice, clutching a skin graft knife at the start of the torture-seduction scene with Bond.
These two murky scenes reinforce the trailer’s lack of blatant showcasing of gorgeous women. Again, this downplay (of the teasing sexiness of the Bond babes) suggests the sensibilities of the filmmakers: keep it all politically correct and, above all, distance the film from its own legacy of playboy imagery. This is underscored by a recent poster of the cast. Daniel Craig is pushed to the side, away from the two female leads. Not for him the classic stance of having Bond, at the center of the poster, positioned between the two actresses. Instead, it’s Bardem’s villain who gets center stage. Sporting a blond, shaggy wig, he comes across (both in the trailer and in the poster) as a gay hairdresser. It’s unintentionally laughable; and in the trailer, he lacks a threatening presence. It seems his villain is a left-over member of the villainous group in the gay fantasy Quantum Of Solace. Nevertheless, for the poster that I cite, the filmmakers have opted to make Bardem the dominant presence, thereby emphasizing the effeminate essence of his villain and marginalizing the traditional machismo image of Bond.
This raises a number of things: the filmmakers see Bardem as having more star power than Craig. Moreover, as a tacit admission, they cannot promote Craig as a strong Bondian presence for the film. Pushing him aside in the poster, the filmmakers state the obvious: he’s no Bond, so let’s not remind the audience. Instead, we’ll just suggest this is a Bond movie, but we won’t play it up at all—for today’s societal trends, they seem to say, we’ve got a better chance at appealing to movie-goers if SkyFall is presented as a solid politically correct action film rather than the Bond films of yore, which centered on a womanizing hero and, for decorative purposes, overtly populated with gorgeous women. With this strategy—the downplay of classic Bondian elements—the trailer presents traces of the 007 anthem, weaving in and out of a brassy, thundering soundtrack that typifies any recent superhero action film. Thus, we find it harder and harder to see the uniqueness of a Bond film.
There is an attempt to enliven the series—for example, the new young Q and the title song performed by Adele. But why a nerdy effete Q, as portrayed by Ben Wishaw? The press releases tell me that Wishaw, a prolific thespian from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, was tapped by the producers to bring a youthful, contemporary, and techno-geek spin to the role. This casting, we must admit, brings forth the “hip” factor of the highest order, and it is only a matter of time when Justin Bieber will play M. Still, there is something disturbing in the recasting of the gadget master: the young Q draws a hard contrast with the key figures of the British Secret Service—let's face it, Daniel Craig, Ralph Fiennes (who seems to be playing an MI6 official), and Judi Dench have aged drastically, representing a tired institution that can no longer battle the forces unleashed against them.
Craig himself—too withered for the role, a limitation accentuated by a sickly pallor—has obviously passed his sell-by-date as a man of action. At best, his Bond should be presented in the winter of secret agentry when MI6 operatives are writing their tell-all memoirs in retirement homes, not running after a lithe Naomi Harris on the rooftops of London. Not even Adele’s title song will give him a young, cool appeal. Redundant with minor chords, and overusing the familiar chord progression of the 007 theme, the song lacks distinction and is more apt as a dirge than a title song for a Bond movie. Indeed, the best in the series, such as McCartney’s Live and Let Die, evokes the Bond world but resounds with its own uniqueness. The SkyFall title song does sparkle with Adele’s fine vocals; but after the first verse, we’re left with the feeling that it’s all too familiar. Everything about the song is redundant in its self-consciousness to be a Bond song.
And so it is with the film, as suggested by the trailer—a collection of familiar scenes presented in dark, arty cinematography and too corny in its seriousness. It’s the struggle of a film empire, in an industry that has largely given up on adults, to grasp itself as it realizes it has been eclipsed by the recent spate of superhero films and other action/fantasy film franchises. This is an understated acknowledgement by Eon—hence, SkyFall’s early autumn release, rather than the competitive Thanksgiving/Christmas timeframe. Yet with the jubilant backdrop of the 50th anniversary, in tandem with a hefty marketing campaign and the mainstream media’s slobbering adoration of Daniel Craig, the Bond makers could still pull it off.