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The /Skyfall/ Movie Reviewers Must Have Been Bribed

November 18, 2012

Last night, I took a friend to see the new James Bond movie, Skyfall.  I was fairly excited about the movie, for several reasons:

1.) I had recently downloaded the new Adele song “Skyfall,” the movie’s theme song, onto my iPod, and it was giving me big bursts of speed every time I listened to it during a run.

2.) I’m not normally swayed by the dreaminess of Hollywood actors, since I much prefer real life human beings who have not been severely starved and airbrushed, but I have to say that Daniel Craig is easy on the eyes.

3.) I had seen Casino Royale and had enjoyed it thoroughly, mainly because of how much it poked fun at itself.  (An incompetent Bond is a loveable Bond.)

4.) And finally, I caught the tail end of an NPR review of the movie, and the reviewer absolutely loved it.  Well, thought I, if NPR loves it, it must be good!

So, armed with nothing but my high expectations, I headed into the movie last night, waiting to be charmed.  And certainly there were enjoyable parts of the movie: beautiful screen shots of Istanbul and Shanghai, cool camera angles and special effects, Daniel Craig sporting nicely tailored suits, the use of that Adele song I mentioned earlier, and so on.

However, in spite of the entertaining parts mentioned above, overall, the movie was bad in some ways and downright offensive in others.  I can only assume that the NPR critic whose review I heard was given a lifetime supply of Audis (which had some choice product placement in the movie) for his trouble.

First of all, the movie took itself extremely seriously.  It was dark and depressing, but in a shallow, not in a soul-searching way.  It poked fun at nothing, which, in my mind, placed it lightyears behind Casino Royale.  In spite of a few half-hearted quips, which served mainly to demonstrate the wit of some of the characters, the movie had no sense of humor.

Unfortunately, a Bond movie without a sense of humor leaves itself open to a host of other social critiques.  For example, if the usual Bond misogyny isn’t meant to be funny, what is it meant to be?

I found that the treatment of one of the female characters in the movie was appalling.  Bond meets this female character at a casino in Macau after first seeing her in Shanghai, and, on several occasions, the two of them exchange smoldering glances.  However, when they finally speak face to face, their actual dialogue has none of the witty sexual banter elements that most Bond encounters do.

Instead, he immediately launches into a macho discussion of how he can tell that she’s afraid, and he can tell that she’s a sex slave, and he can save her from her bondage.  She relents immediately to his powers of persuasion and tells him where he can find her later on that night so that she can lead him to her “employer.”

Unlike most Bond girls, this one is frightened and retreating and completely dependent on Bond to protect her.  This fact is driven home with the following scene which takes place on the woman’s boat.  She gazes mournfully at the shore, looking for Bond, as her captors inform her that the boat must leave.

The next scene shows her silhouette as she takes a shower on the boat.  As she showers, the audience (but not the woman) sees that Bond has entered the shower behind her.  Without announcing his presence, he walks up behind her and begins to kiss her.  She stiffens (probably because, as a sex slave, she is used to being raped and abused), but then when she realizes that it’s Bond, she relaxes and enjoys herself.

At best, this scene is terrible because it deprives the audience of the usual smooth and sultry Bond seduction dialogue.  At worst, it is playing with the notion of the boundaries of consentual sex.  Would this woman have readily agreed to sleep with the man who snuck up behind her in the shower if she hadn’t been a sex slave and wasn’t already used to such treatment?  Was she relieved that it was Bond because she actually wanted him, or because she was more relieved it wasn’t someone else who would be more abusive?

But this poor female character’s role gets even worse.  At no point does she develop a voice or a personality of her own.  She is simply a beautiful, sexualized damsel in distress who meets a sticky end.  Her final scene involves her being tied to a chair, blood on her face as though she has been beaten.  Then, the villain shoots her in the head, and we see nothing more of her but her limp body.  A flicker of regret darts over Bond’s face, but then he begins to kick ass, and she is forgotten.

I was very disturbed by the violence of this scene, and I was trying to figure out why I was more disturbed by this than I was by the violence of the rest of the movie.  It was not just that she was a woman.  It was that her death was so featured and so sexualized.  The male characters who die in Bond movies either have quick, faceless falls to the floor, or they make themselves known as such reprehensible characters that the audience is happy to see them die.

This woman’s death was neither faceless nor desired by the audience.  The audience did not want her to die.  We liked her.  Not because of her personality but because of what she represented: the beautiful and fragile damsel in distress who needed Bond’s protection.  The gratuitous shots of her beautiful face smeared with blood and the sickening view of her beautiful dead body did nothing but rally the troops.  What?! How could that terrible villain have done that thing to that pretty lady?!  We did not mourn her loss.  We just got more excited for Bond to kill the villain.

The final straw in this movie for me also involved building up the villain’s evil persona.  However, rather than just sticking with the misogynistic theme, this one added a homophobic element for good measure.  In the scene in which James Bond meets the villain for the first time, the villain begins tormenting Bond, who is tied to a chair.  In the midst of all the usual cat-playing-with-its-food sinister villain gloating, the villain starts to sexually harass Bond by touching his chest under his shirt and implying that he is going to seduce or rape Bond.

At no point in the movie does the villain’s being gay move the plot or the characters forward in any way.  In fact, it never even comes up again between the two men after this one scene.  This scene was simply intended to make an already disturbing villain look even more creepy and reprehensible (just as the scene in which he murders the woman does).  I heard a collective “Ew!” in the audience during the “gay” scene.  It reinforced every negative gay stereotype that homophobics have: that gay people will jump up and attack straight men in a disgusting way if the straight men aren’t careful.  I found it extremely upsetting that they threw that into the movie, especially with the political atmosphere being what it is.

(To be fair, I should also mention that Bond relieves the tension and lightens the mood of the “gay” scene with a quip about how he is not necessarily a stranger to such sexual encounters, but it is not enough to redeem the scene.  In spite of the quip and the audience’s laughter, Bond manages to remain a straight man in the audience’s eyes, while the villain remains a gay man.)

I did not enjoy this movie.  Not only was it humorless, it also was a disaster in terms of its portrayal of social issues.  I guess the movie makers felt that they were adequately covering their bases if they had a Black woman play Money Penny and a woman play M.  (I should add that neither of these two female characters came across as particularly brave or competent in the movie.)

The existence of these two “strong” female characters, the movie makers must have believed, gave them a little wiggle room when it came to misogyny and gay-bashing in the rest of the movie.  But the only people who can get away with that crap anymore are comedians.

In conclusion, if Bond wants to remain a misogynist for much longer, he better hold on to his sense of humor.  Because playing that stuff with a straight face doesn’t fly anymore.

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