Considering the marketing excess and product tie-ins behind any Bond movie, not to mention a recent Red Bull extreme stunt, I was half expecting Felix Baumgartner to be falling from the sky in the new Bond film. Look around you: agent 007 is everywhere, promoting designer suits, brand laptops, techy phones, and premier vodkas. He’s hard to miss. It being the 50th anniversary of his first outing in Dr No, he’s also received a lot of free press just because that’s a news event in its own right.
So why do we watch him? You know for a fact that you’re not about to experience a sublime piece of art like ‘Tree of Life’. Neither the director nor the scriptwriter has committed to trying to communicate greater truths (unless of course you include how awesome Martinis or Aston Martins are). Daniel Craig is not tapping into his thespian past to plumb the depths of human fallibility or the quest to understand the unknown. No, you are not about to sit down to watch ‘Of Gods and Men’.
But we all know this. We’ve grown up with Ian Fleming’s spy. We know that the full canon of Bonds has a unique dogma – a checkbox list of characteristics, events and objects which qualify a true Bond story. The Skyfall makers weren’t about to mark 50 years of gadgets, girls and gunfights without ticking as many of those boxes as possible. Do we get a quirky little invention? Tick. Is there a smouldering Bond girl? Tick. Is there a slick Aston Martin? Tick. Is there a ridiculously cool scene in a casino where Craig gets to utter that immortal line, “Bond…James Bond”? Tick and tick.
In the real world, though, we’ll go about our jobs, meeting the needs of those around us. We’ll serve those in our communities and family lives who need our help. We’ll use our brains and grapple with why we’re here, where we’re going and what the right thing to do is. We’ll read proper books, we’ll gather in groups to discuss these serious issues. We’ll gather as equals on a Sunday to share and care about God. As philosopher Alain de Botton (an atheist) says, “Among Christianity’s greatest achievements has been its capacity, without the use of any coercion beyond the gentlest of theological arguments, to persuade monarchs and magnates to kneel down and abase themselves before the statue of a carpenter, and to wash the feet of peasants, street sweepers and dispatch drivers.”
In between all this we also like to goof off or have a laugh. We like to go for a run or tell some jokes. We also like to watch movies. And it doesn’t get any bigger than the latest Bond movie. Skyfall is a big movie but then again, which Bond movie isn’t?
In the post-‘Bourne’ world of spy films, Bond remains more gritty, more grim and way more shadowy than his glitzy predecessors (Connery, Moore and Brosnan). He’s a brutal killing machine whose grown-up vulnerability is only seen very occasionally. Skyfall may make this his most intimate outing yet thanks in large part to the very central role which Judi Dench’s ‘M’ plays. It’s all about her. She’s at the very centre of Bond, not to mention at the core of the man hell-bent on destroying all of them. Javier Bardem taps into the chilling evil which made him so terrifying in ‘No Country for Old Men’ to give the Bond franchise one its best bad guys. Ruthless, brilliant and very unsettling- he’s a force of nature set to match Bond’s seemingly unstoppable ability to keep surviving.
I’m still being very vague about the plot, but to give away any more is to spoil many of the moments which make Skyfall so thrilling. Bond is hardly a guardian angel but he remains popular because we like to believe that however murky a problem may be, there is a simple solution in the form of a smart suit, a well-timed quip and a Walther PPK.
Bond is not a teacher, nor are his films parables. We watch them because they are enormous fun. Like playing sport, laughing with friends or doodling in meetings, these types of films are part of what makes our day-to-day lives interesting and enjoyable.