I spent ten days in the South Arabian Sultanate of Oman, during which time I managed to drive from one end of that country to the other twice. It is my intention in the coming days to write something about Oman and its fascinating nature also for my blog readers. Meanwhile, however, let us have a little cultural article, that is, a review of the newest James Bond film, Skyfall.
When I got back from Oman, I had one afternoon and night in the Emirates. My flights were from Kabul to Sharjah (Shariqa) and from there to Muscat (Masqat), and vice versa. Sharjah is the more conservative and quiet neighbouring emirate to Dubai. On my way to Oman I went through three different malls on the Sharjah side in search for certain specific electronics I needed, yet without success. So on my way back I took a taxi from the Sharjah airport directly to Dubai, heading for the largest mall of Dubai and possibly of the entire world, the Dubai Mall. There I made many a shopping and purchase of equipment and necessities for Afghanistan, but finished by night, and as the flight back to Kabul was only at 5 AM, it was only convenient to spend the night at the cinema.
I found Skyfall a positive surprise for a Bond film, since with the delightful exception of Casino Royale, most of the Bond films of the recent years have been quite boring and superficial rumbles. Skyfall appeared as a conscious return to the roots, in many respects in fact. Unfortunately, I have never read Ian Fleming's original Bond novels, so with the exception of the obvious cases I have only a dim idea of which novel (of any) each movie is based on. You can read about the subject in this entry.
However, the story in the background of Skyfall seems very similar to the one in the background of the old film The Man with the Golden Gun, based on Fleming's similarly named novel. The main villain of that film was a cold-bloodied Latin American paid assassin named Francisco Scaramanga (after a co-student Fleming was in bad terms with in his college years). Scaramanga has been trained by the KGB but in the movie he becomes a rogue actor with a criminal agenda. Skyfall has a villain with a similar background, although the training came from the Brits instead of the Russians. However, Skyfall's rogue has been made more schizophrenic and more pervert than the man with the golden gun, who was an unemotional killer robot in the Cold War spirit. Skyfall's super-villain Raúl Silva, whose name probably sounds like Silver by purpose, appears as an oedipally complexed typical lone wolf terrorist, not very different from Anders Breivik.
While so far Bond has appeared never aging and in character youthful, although played by middle-aged actors, in Skyfall he has actually got old, disillusioned, and even descends at one point to drinking in the seaside bars of the Bosporus. After Istanbul, however, he gets to chase the paid assassin in Shanghai, where some smartly modified déjà vu scenes from the Golden Gun are seen. Silver Silva has built his secret base of evil in the ghost island of Hashima, off the coast of Nagasaki, which in the real life hosts an abandoned mining community.
From Hashima the film travels on to London, where the going gets quite contemporary, but it is the very contemporary security hysteria and dependence on nerds that fails big time, and this leads to an idealization of everything old school, from English patriotism to good old Scottish highlander defiance, old-fashioned cars and guns. To avoid spoiling anyone's movie experience I won't reveal what finally happens to the female M of the neo-Bonds, but there's a nice wordplay also in her case, like in Silva's, because Em becomes Emma in the words of the old Scot guarding the mansion. At the end of the movie there's also a spectacular return to the beginning of the old Bond films. The chairman of the parliamentary Intelligence Committee, who reveals his old-fashioned manliness by picking the gun in the parliamentary hearing that has become target of a terrorist attack, becomes the new M, and Miss Moneypenny returns to the scene as his secretary.
In many respects what pleased me in Skyfall was the old fashion and the return to the roots - Bond's roots, Fleming's views, and the roots of the entire genre. I wish also the Mission Impossibles and other movie series would manage to modernize Cold War phenomena to the 21st century in an equally successful and stylish manner as Skyfall has managed to do with the world of Bond. Among the Bond movies, for example, it would be difficult to do that to The Living Daylights, which was one of the best and most meaningful of the old Bond films. The context of the that movie consisted of the defector cases of the Cold War and the Afghanistan War. Today it would be hard to adjust the understanding for the legitimate freedom struggle of the Afghans against Soviet imperialism to the politically correct conditions of our time, blurred into an Islamophonic and anti-American mess.
Feminists for sure are not going to like Skyfall. The female M makes inconsiderate decisions and gets emotional. In the parliamentary hearing a dilettantish young female minister barks and lectures at people wiser and listens only to her own voice. A beautiful young female agent understands that her place is not in the field with a gun but in a clean office, working as a secretary to an old-fashioned officer. In Skyfall the postmodernism of recent times seems to have finally turned into some kind of neoconservative post-postmodernism, where it is once again appreciated that men are men and women are women. It is once again recognized that heroes are supposed to have straight backbones and the villains instead are the bent and crooked self-victimizers, whose revenge for their traumas on innocent civilians is wrong and unjustified, and that's why they must be stopped. This follows Fleming's spirit much more loyally than about any of the films made in the same genre in the last twenty years.
At the side I could advertise that the pseudonym Gloomy Monologue has written an analytical review of Skyfall and the entire Bond genre in The Ulkopolitist, and it's a worthy read.