How Mendes managed Jarhead remains a mystery.
Skyfall accepts the zeitgeist credo of retromania– even wallows in it. Every narrative solution is a turn backwards, to the past of Bond. Which is unfortunate, because with Casino Royale, some found reason to suspect that the super-spy had an actual future.
Mendes seems content to consign him painfully to the past, bizarrely skirting (by pretending to confront) the issue of the changing roll of espionage in the globalized information age.
Q, the screenplay’s apparent nod to the increasing importance of digital presence, is the focus of precisely one scene. Bond handily silences the upstart hacker: “Eventually, someone’s got to pull the trigger.” …Right.
If there’s audience pleasure to be found in this (what Celluloid Liberation Front handily dubs “meta-Bond”) film, it’s in that retromaniacal wallow. It’s clear we’re supposed to enjoy Bond’s use of: an old car. An old pistol. An old razor.
The film’s first half (massively more entertaining than its second) succeeds in its dreamlike conventionality. Silhouetted, Bond karate chops anonymous Bad Guy against Shanghai’s neon-lights. A bond girl materializes in the next building over, the center of a yellow, stage-lit tableaux. They stare at each other. It’s all pretty weird, but at the same time, conventional. Visually fresh, but narratively ancient. Bond in summary. Bond restated.
By the movie’s climax, even the visual freshness has been surrendered. The climax is a summary of everything that is (or can be) wrong with the contemporary, over-budgeted action film. There’s no way to pay attention to it. No conceivable way to care– about what? A bone-thin origin story we never asked for? Fire. Water. Muzzle-flash. Helicopter. Run run run. Mendes has reduced Bond-action to a checklist. And I suspect he may have checked a lot of boxes while I was fighting, every bit as valiantly as Bond, to stay awake.
Back to the retromania, we can chalk it all up to the fact that Bond isn’t terribly relevant anymore. That’s not to say he cant have a great franchise all to himself, but he does represent a kind of crass, Imperial, racist authority. Hard not to think of Team America, when Skyfall opens with Bond careening through Istanbul in a high-speed chase (Puzzlingly, Mendes seems actively committed to making this chase generic.) The Turkish will get out of his way; it’s for the greater good, to be sure.
Another problem is the lack of all danger:
Bond falls into an icy lake, but we’ve already seen (in this very episode!) that he is undrown-able. Consequently, when he emerges into the night, his soaked suit fails to prompt even a shiver. Don’t blame it on the actor, blame it on the franchise. The frozen lake is not a frozen lake. It’s just an underwater shot.
When Bond is shot in the chest with a uranium bullet, he continues to fight doggedly. Because bullets aren’t bullets in Skyfall. They’re just muzzle-flashes and squibs: nothing in between.