No one likes to hear those two dreaded words. Not if you work for MI6. Not when the agent is James Bond.
For 50 cinematic years, Bond has kept the Union Jack safe from anyone who would dare try to rip it down. No evildoer, be he prone to stroking cats or throwing hats or using his nasty metallic teeth to bite through cable, stood a chance against 007's lethal skill and ridiculous charm. The man is as British as tea time, as revered (in his own secret way) as the queen herself.
In a battle atop a speeding train, Bond takes a bullet from one of his own agents—a woman named Eve trying to plug the other guy. It was the second time James was shot that very afternoon, and there's only so much even a superspy can take. He falls from a bridge and crashes into the water below—unconscious, unrecoverable.
Funny thing about James Bond, though. Despite being shot at upwards of 4,662 times (according to a Bond superfan quoted in London's Daily Mail), and even apparently dying a time or two before, Bond never seems to stay down for long—not when there's a kingdom to be saved and a movie to be made.
And sure enough, when a horribly diabolical mastermind decodes MI6's supersecret list of worldwide undercover agents, blows up part of its headquarters and vows to bring the British Empire to her knees, 007 returns. He reports for duty and promises M that he'll do whatever it takes—kill whomever he has to, sleep with whomever he pleases and slap on as many tuxedos as necessary to bring the do-badder to final, terminal justice.
But when he comes face-to-face with Silva, Bond wonders whether the mileage has finally caught up with him. Silva wreaks his havoc not with a bevy of henchmen (though he has loads of them), but through his skills as a hacker. He can crash governments, regions, perhaps the whole world with just a point and a click. Bond is tied to a chair—vanquished once again, it seems. So as Silva brags about his computer savvy, Bond utilizes the very last weapon left in his once overwhelming arsenal: the quip.
"Everybody needs a hobby," he says.
Silva (familiar with the patter) smiles. "So what's yours?"
Bond is really the antithesis of what Plugged In likes in a hero. But despite his predilection for killing, drinking to excess and sleeping around, he is still a hero. For all of his many faults, a servant's heart lies at the core of 007.
When Bond "dies," he retreats to a tropical island filled with beautiful women and overflowing alcohol. He's pretty furious with M (he heard her tell Eve to pull the trigger, even though she knew he might be killed), and perhaps his original plan was to stay "dead" and never say spy again.
But we see that, on this island, he almost is dead. Despite easy access to most of his legendary vices, he looks lost, walking zombie-like through a haze of depression. So when he learns that Great Britain could use his services once again, he goes home and puts himself in M's control—knowing full well that she'd sacrifice him in a second if it meant satisfying a greater good.
Thus, he seems to instinctively understand a spiritual truth many of us never quite grasp: We are all instruments in a higher hand. Yes, we have a mind and a conscience. We may question. But in the end, we must trust the One who made us. We must do His bidding. And we're happier when we're being used as He intended.
Skyfall, naturally, doesn't pound this pulpit. It doesn't draw a straight line (or even a crooked one) from M to God, from Bond to Christians. But the connections are well worth discussing.
Speaking of M, she too is less than an ideal hero, sending valued people to their deaths without blinking as she does. But M also has a handle on the greater good, and what she does she doesn't undertake without some sadness. Not that she regrets her decisions; she just wishes there could be a better way.
When M believes Bond has died, she writes a touching eulogy for him. And when he returns for duty in far from tip-top shape, she once again places her trust in this aging and highly imperfect spy (albeit through her own duplicitous means). We see an uncharacteristic but welcome sense of affection between the two of them—even love, like that of a mother and son. By film's end, I found myself wondering if Bond ever loved a woman more.
An age-old and secret priest's passageway factors into the plot, as does an old, ruinous chapel, filled with broken, dusty pews and relics of the faith. When Silva walks into that edifice and confronts M, he looks around and says, sincerely, "It had to be here. It had to be this way." Earlier, he told M to "think on your sins," suggesting he sees this showdown in the chapel as M's final comeuppance before the highest authority—a terminal confession, as it were.
Mr. Bond appears to have sexual relations with two women. He engages one while standing against a wall. (Both are naked with critical body parts obscured.) Later, they lounge in bed. He meets the second in a casino. She's wearing a revealing dress ... and a gun. Later, Bond shows up on the woman's boat and slips, naked, into her shower as she's taking one. Kissing and making out ensues, leaving the impression that they do much more after the scene cuts.
Eve gives Bond a straight razor shave, adding to the experience touches of sensuality in the way she touches his face. The next day they exchange a sexually charged double entendre or two.
Silva also makes "moves" on James. And when the bad dude bad-mouths M, Bond quips that at least she never tied him to a chair. "Her loss," Silva says. Then he begins to stroke Bond's thighs and face, talking suggestively all the while.
The film's opening sequence, of course, features a number of lithe, stylized women writhing in time to the theme song.
A good 30 or 40 people meet their ends at the hands of Bond and Co. James fights with one on a Shanghai skyscraper, with the man eventually plummeting to his death. Another is killed when he tries to shoot 007's own gun at him: The smart gun won't allow it, and the thug is bitten from behind by a Komodo dragon and dragged into darkness, where we hear screams. Bond strangles a third with his leg while underwater. A fourth is thunked in the back with a knife. A score are dispatched through shoot-outs, massive explosions and lethal booby-traps (including some makeshift frag grenades filled with screws and nails).
Good guys get shot, too, and bloody stains spread on their shirts or hands. Men lie dead in pools of their own blood. Policemen are shot and killed. A woman is shot during a horrible test of marksmanship. Bond is forced to leave a fellow agent who's bleeding to death. A man is assassinated with a bullet to the head. An explosion sends a tube train careening wildly off the rails. Bad driving results in several accidents. Several people die in an explosion at MI6. A house blows up. A helicopter crashes.
We hear tales of torture and madness and a suicide attempt. Silva removes an upper tooth plate, turning his mangled face into a ghastly visage. Bond takes a razor to his own chest to remove telltale shrapnel from an already healed wound.
Crude or Profane Language
One f-word. A half-dozen s-words. We also hear "h‑‑‑," "d‑‑n" and the more Brit-centric profanities "bloody" and "b-ggered." Christ's name is abused twice; God's name four or five times. There's a vulgar use of "c--k."
Drug and Alcohol Content
Medical tests reveal that Bond may be addicted to alcohol and other substances. We see him pop pills (perhaps painkillers) and drink almost constantly in the Caribbean—playing a drinking game involving a live scorpion at night, slapping some cash on the bar in exchange for access to a bottle of liquor in the morning. He accepts his trademark vodka martini, which he deems "perfect."
Other Negative Elements
Beyond sacrificing her men when the need arises, M also shows no qualms about breaking rules or laws to get a job done. Thus, when Bond fails all of the tests he's required to pass to return to service, M ignores the results, lies to James and puts him on active duty anyway.
"You know the rules of the game," M tells Bond. "You've played it long enough."
So do we. After just under (or just over, depending on whether you count the "unofficial" flicks) two dozen movies devoted to James Bond, most moviegoers know what sort of content they're in for when 007 shows up onscreen. He'll sleep with at least two women. He'll kill at least a dozen men. He'll drink his vodka martini and toss off a handful of clever, tasteless quips. Even the cleanest of 'em aren't appropriate for a family Movie Night.
The good news (for what it is) is that the content quotient doesn't seem to have escalated at the same pace as it has in other Hollywood franchises. Indeed, it's not actually much worse than what was proffered in 1962's Dr. No. There's not much more blood. There's not, in truth, much more skin. Rampant, embarrassing sexism has been exchanged for the homosexual advances of the bad guy. The only things that have really been amped up are foul language and special effects.
Daniel Craig's James does feel grittier than some of the Bonds of yesteryear. And Skyfall doesn't feel anything at all like light, flyaway entertainment. But perhaps that's a good thing. Roger Moore's and Pierce Brosnan's secret agent man made it feel as though all the killing and bedding were nothing less than good fun. Craig's craggy killer feels rougher, more dangerous and infinitely more scarred. And he seems to want us to understand that he's paid a heavy price for his license to kill. If we're going to watch James Bond movies—and I'm not saying we should—it's good for us to be reminded of that.
"How much do you know about fear?" someone asks him.
"All there is," Bond says, and we believe him. We understand that he didn't really die the day he fell off that bridge. We understand that part of him died long before.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Drama, Action/Adventure, Mystery/Suspense
Daniel Craig as James Bond; Judi Dench as M; Javier Bardem as Silva; Ralph Fiennes as Gareth Mallory; Naomie Harris as Eve; Bérénice Marlohe as Sévérine; Albert Finney as Kincade; Ben Whishaw as Q
Sam Mendes (Away We Go, Revolutionary Road, Jarhead, Road to Perdition, American Beauty)
November 9, 2012