James Bond ‘Skyfall’ – Sometimes the old ways are the best

50 years after the first James Bond film, the latest installment of Ian Fleming’s Bond series brings it back to its roots.

WARNING: contains spoilers

I went to see Skyfall yesterday and I was blown away by it. The film, directed by Sam Mendes, had everything you could want from a Bond movie; fast cars, chase scenes, women, gadgets and a Bond that looks good in and out of a suit. This is not a review, but a look at the ideas the film explores.

The running theme throughout seemed to be; the old ways are the best. Bond (Daniel Craig) gains an injury at the start of the film and struggles to get back on his feet. All around him there are signs he is getting too old for his job. James Bond is ageing. Not only is Bond starting to feel bypassed, but MI6 as a whole is under investigation, having its relevance assessed. At the forefront of this investigation is Gareth Mallory (Ralph Fiennes), the Chairman of Britain’s Intelligence and Security Committee. Mallory insists that M (Judi Dench) retires, questioning her ability to run MI6. Mallory tells Bond “This is a young’s man game.”

The inevitability of time, don’t you think? – Q

We see Bond struggling with his physical and mental tests. For the first time in the Bond series, we are scared that Bond has lost his touch. He goes for his final meeting with M and Mallory, and M tells him he has passed. A collective sigh of relief can be heard throughout the cinema. Only after Bond and Mallory have left it is revealed he didn’t pass them after all…

He is sent to meet Q, who seems to personify Bond’s struggle against this new era of secret intelligence. When he first sits down with Bond, they are looking at a painting of a war ship being towed away for scrap metal. This is an obvious metaphor for Bond’s place within MI6. His posh English accent and schoolboy looks are very different from Bond’s rugged, tough and weathered appearance. When Q tells Bond who he is, Bond is shocked. “You must be joking… you still have spots.” When Bond asks Q why he needs him if technology is so important, Q says that sometimes a trigger must be pulled. The whole gallery scene is a constant tit-for-tat, each side trying to better the other.

Age is no guarantee of efficiency… – Q

…and youth is no guarantee of innovation. – Bond

It seems that Bond’s world is being overrun by technology. Technology that makes him redundant. MI6 have lost a file which holds the names of agent working for them. The villain behind this scheme has hacked into the MI6 computer system, baffling everybody involved. Even the latest technology that MI6 use cannot stop this evil mastermind. The hacker warns M: “Think on your sins.” He has gained access to her personal computer, along with all the files within. Within seconds of this ominous message, MI6 is blown up. The shocked silence that follows is deafening. In a film of explosions, gunshots, trains, cars, motorbikes, helicopters, city scenes and fist-fights, the silence has more impact than any music could.

A few days later the villain again attacks M’s personal computer. She is taunted again, and told to “click here” for a prize. When she does, it links her to a YouTube video, revealing five of the identities of her agents. She is warned that five more will be revealed every week. M tries to save her agents but three of them are killed and the execution videos published on the web. This highlights another way in which technology is being used against them. Even the soundtrack predicts the end of an era. After the dramatic opening scene, we hear Adele’s voice “This is the end…”

Let the sky fall, when it crumbles
We will stand tall
Face it all together

Bond is finally brought face-to-face with Raoul Silva, the mastermind behind the whole thing. He is a former MI6 agent who has turned to the dark side. When we are introduced to Silva he is surrounded by technology. Silva has his own island because he  tricked the locals into fleeing. The island has clearly been deserted and left to become ruin. To have all this sophisticated technology among the rubble is another great contrast between old and new. However, this time Bond gains the upper hand, all thanks to a simple tracking device.

Silva is brought back to London, but all is not as it seems. Silva has planned everything. He knew exactly how MI6 would react, and worked around it. Even Q struggles decoding Silva’s work. Everything seems to be working to Silva’s benefit.  This is when Bond takes over. Knowing that Silva wants M, he decides to stop the cat and dog game (or rat and rat and Silva puts it) and takes a whole new direction. This leads him back to his roots.

What this brings him to is something never seen before; Bond before he was an agent. He arrives at a large country house called Skyfall.  At this point we know we are being let into a part of James Bond he never wanted us to see. This is where we meet Kincade (Albert Finney) the gamekeeper at Skyfall since James was a boy. Bond explains the situation to Kincade, and the three start to prepare the house for Silva’s arrival. When looking at the weapons they have, Kincade explains every gun was sold apart from Bond’s father’s old hunting gun. Bond takes this gun for his own. It is almost as if he has asked his parents for help, and they don’t let him down. Kincade then puts a knife on the table, saying that the old ways are sometimes the best. This is the most iconic line from the film, and we then know how it will end.

Bond uses his past to fight back. It has a last-stand feel and we know this is Bond putting in his all. We see the lengths he will go to in order to protect MI6, M and his precious lifestyle. In the end, the old ways win out. Just as Kincade predicted, the knife meant the end for Silva. All the technology and gadgets can’t protect Silva when he is stabbed. Q said at the start that sometimes a trigger needs to be pulled, and technology can’t do that.

For my article on new media click here.

I only had two problems with the film; Bond as an ageing character, and the obvious product placement.

  • Bond has been saving the world since 1962, never ageing and not even shown with the same actor from film to film. As an audience we are supposed to overlook this when we enter into the cinema and the world of Bond. All of the Bond films have been set in present day times, with the technology to suit. The Daniel Craig films are set before Dr. No, so how can he be seen as getting old already? Bond as an ageless character is a game we all play along with, and the rules are not to be mentioned. This film break the rules. However, I think we aren’t supposed to focus on his physical ageing. The physical ageing acts only as a metaphor his lack of importance due to technology. I have chosen to take this view and disregard his physical ageing, and I’m focusing on his technological ageing. +
  • The product placement is very obvious in this film. The sponsorship paid for the majority of this film, before it ever hit the box office. We can no longer hear James Bond asking his martini shaken not stirred, he now asks for a Heineken. We see many people throughout the film drinking Heineken, and not in subtle ways. In the opening scene alone Audi and VW Beetles are mentioned. the Vaio laptops are seen throughout the film. There are many many more examples that I don’t have the time or desire to look at. Again this brings Bond into our world, rather than taking us into his. We don’t like to be reminded that we are watching a film. We know this brings in a lot of the revenue for the film, but is this really the whole point? I hate to see Bond manipulated in this way. James Bond is a long-running tradition with millions of fans that I know agree with my point. Don’t sell out Mendes!

Skyfall has renewed the world of Bond and MI6. While there have been changes, the newly appointed know how important it is to have field agents. Bond is important. While his support crew need to keep on top of this technology, you can’t replace Bond’s expertise with a geek at a computer. Without all the geeks at computers, Bond would not be able to do what he does, I can’t doubt that, but what good is a gun in hands-on combat? This is the meaning of the film and we are left feeling more proud of Bond than ever. Seeing part of his childhood has only served to make his more human in a world of technology, and has made him more dear to us.

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