It is important, in any series, that an instalment does not forget where it came from, but in Skyfall’s attempts to celebrate its roots, does it ultimately undermine them?
The title theme sounds quintessentially Bond, a custom absent in the last three films, for better or worse. It is also the first of the Daniel Craig era to feature the character of Q, reborn as a shrewd, with-the-times virtuoso who reacts with a level-headed confidence and wry wit when challenged by Bond that would make Desmond Llewellyn proud. Despite this, there are more than a few unwelcome alterations and an underlying insolence to certain aspects of the style and continuity of the series.
When Bond was officially rebooted in 2006’s Casino Royale, it offered the chance to see how 007 earned his status, but in a less antiquated setting. Newer cars, newer technology, but the same Bond (albeit grittier and more personal through Daniel Craig’s interpretation). In Skyfall, however, Bond is only allowed back on duty because of some illicit tweaks to the system by M; in the space of three films he has gone from an impressionable novice with a shiny new license to kill and a distinctive hunger for his work to a tired has-been who fails to pass even the simplest fitness tests. Fortunately, the film doesn’t specify how far ahead of its predecessors it is set, meaning it is plausible – although what this means for the future films is unclear.
Of course, the franchise has gained past notoriety for its often blasé attitude towards continuity. Though the character’s story spans over numerous decades from Dr. No to Die Another Day, he doesn’t actually age; in fact, if anything, he gets younger (perhaps the sequel to Skyfall will adopt this technique once more). But these errors are not really errors at all, for one reason and one reason only: they were intentional. Whenever a new James Bond film is made, everything is established straight away. ‘This is M, played by this actor’; ‘that’s Bond, played by that actor’, and so on and so forth. It isn’t Doctor Who; there isn’t an elaborate backstory to explain exactly why the actor portraying the character has changed. You have to accept each film as a standalone production and that, after fifty years and twenty-three films, the chances of exactly the same actors playing exactly the same characters are highly unlikely.
A deep exploration into the man behind the legend is not such an issue. ‘Skyfall’ – the manor house in which Bond spent his childhood years – is a poignant setting to stage the finale of the film in. The problem comes in two parts: firstly, the death of M and secondly, the return of Miss Moneypenny. If, according to the rules recognised in all of the previous films, M is a character who appears in every Bond film in the form of various actors, then how can you just kill him/her off? M is a title, not a name – and no more do we want to see the character die and be replaced by another ‘M’ than we want to know the meaning of the code, which is suggested to be ‘Mother’ by Raoul Silver and, even more ludicrously, ‘Emma’ by the groundskeeper Kincade. It messes with the already disjointed continuity, revealing answers we didn’t want to know and killing off a character that has been present throughout, regardless of its portrayer.
However, the most serious betrayal of the tradition is the complete lack of consideration for the sexual tension between Bond and Moneypenny – a recurring theme throughout the saga. Their supressed intimacy has always been a source of gentle humour and by implying a liaison earlier in the film, Skyfall eradicates everything that has been built up around the two characters in the past. If she had been brought back without introduction and resumed their flirtatious relationship as if she had never left, there wouldn’t be a problem. Unfortunately, by introducing her as a field agent who has a fling with Bond before being demoted to her signature role, Skyfall trashes yet another tradition with its own desire to breathe new life into the series.
But Bond is more alive than ever. We don’t need to see the origins of characters we’ve loved for so long, and we certainly don’t need to see them murdered. Bond still has plenty to offer without needing any revolutions. And Skyfall would still be a breathtaking film without the unsolicited revisions.
– Jack Haworth
This article is part of our 007 marathon. You can find all the entries by clicking here.