007 takes a fascinating gay turn in ‘Skyfall,’ a stellar entry in the Bond series
Other than the perfunctory opening credits shout-out to Ian Fleming at the top of each 007 movie, no one ever talks about the writers of a Bond film. And why would they? It’s not that the job is easy — heck, just coming up with Bond Girl names takes inspiration (Pussy Galore, anyone?), and plotting something new in a series now 50 years old ain’t child’s play — but really, who cares? It’s all about the sex, the stunts, the medium dry vodka martini — shaken, not stirred.
So let’s break that tradition: John Logan, Neil Purvis and Robert Wade wrote Skyfall, the 23rd movie incarnation of James Bond (and third with Daniel Craig in the lead), and that combination — this is the fifth effort from the Purvis-Wade team, but Logan’s Bond debut — had breathed new life into the series.
No, not life: Brilliance.
Skyfall is quite possibly the greatest Bond film yet, but even more, it transcends the series to stand on its own as one of the smartest, deepest and more entertaining actor movies in years. And I blame the writers.
Of course, the action — lots of spy stuff, including parkour-style street chases, fantastical hand-to-hand combat atop moving trains, gorgeously stylized stunts inside a skyscraper and lavish gun battle ballets — continue the mythic extravagance that has made the series a $5 billion juggernaut.
But the plot — the plot! Who’d ever thought it, in a Bond film — is meaningful, unexpected and character-driven. Never before have we cared for Bond more, or thought more seriously about the moral ambiguity that comes with being MI6 head M (Judi Dench), who sends men to certain death for political motivations. And this episode’s supervillain, a former protégé of M called Silva (Javier Bardem), is on a vendetta.
Oh, and Silva’s gay. Like really, unapologetically gay.
The Bond films are notoriously heterocentric, with James a womanizer and gay characters barely hinted at. But here, not only is the bad guy an out-and-proud maniac, he has a hard-on for James. And we even learn 007 might have enjoyed a little 069 in his day … and not with women.
Of course, no one thinks such a plot would have been possible in 1965, or even 1995, but it demonstrates the changes in our culture, and how the quintessential Cold War character has grown with it.
You have to give Craig credit for pulling it off. Craig has proved an inspired choice for the sky, bringing a hard-scrabble street cred to a smooth sophisticate — a rebellious streak that seems less bemused mischievousness and more hard-earned contempt for authority. His first entry, Casino Royale, was one of the better films (Goldfinger is still the standard), but the last, Quantum of Solace, was a disaster. Skyfall almost could have been a tie-breaker, the legacy film that decided Craig’s place in the canon. Instead, it’s such a dandy piece itself, it’s more like his apotheosis. Long live Craig as Bond!
Bardem almost devolves into camp (the screenwriters, again smartly, don’t even introduce him until the first hour) but is more Gert Frobe than Christopher Walken; Dench is Dench, one of our finest actors who brings gravitas to any role.
But it’s director Sam Mendes, an Oscar winner for American Beauty, who pulls everything together, telling a cogent but exciting story. If he had failed, Skyfall could have been a serial killer; instead, he murders it.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 9, 2012.