Sunday, June 19, 2016

Don't Make a Scene: Skyfall

The Story: Skyfall marked the 50th Anniversary, the golden anniversary, of the James Bond franchise, having started with its first release—Dr. No—in 1962. But, all that is golden does not glitter. In fact, if you've had anything gold-plated, you might notice that it has a tendency to flake as it ages.

Well, the James Bond series has gone through its flaky period in the past (we'll leave it to you to decide when that might be), but since starting from scratch (and Daniel Craig) with 2005's Casino Royale (the franchise's first attempt to film Ian Fleming's first Bond novel), things have been decidedly different (or as Connery's Bond said in Diamonds Are Forever, "definitely distinctive").

Casino Royale took it from the wall-studs, starting with Bond before his licence to kill, and ending what is rather an "agent's holiday" of a mission with crippling injuries, physically and psychically. The next film Quantum of Solace was the series' first sequel, but was more of a confusing detour. The third with Craig, Skyfall, did a lot of lid-turning and up-ending and game-changing, but still managed to bring the series back to what looks like normalcy, while being something of a love-letter to the city of London.

But, it is also an acknowledgement of time. At the start of the film, Bond is on an annoying mission that has cost some fellow travelers their lives, and sent him off a bridge on the orders of his superior (Judi Dench). He takes the opportunity to "stay dead," but it's only when the failure of his mission comes back to blow up in MI-6's face that he resurfaces, looking the worse for wear. He's sent out on a suicide mission, where he'll either succeed or die in the process, and, in the meantime, he has to be reminded that he's getting a bit old for this practically everybody in the film.

Including the new "Q." The "Quartermaster" had been missing from the Bond series since Craig's tenure (and so had Moneypenny, for that). Desmond Llewelyn's "Q" had the longest run of any of the Bond players going from Connery to Brosnan, aging from fussy bureaucrat to grumpy grampa. John Cleese stood in for Llewelyn when he passed, but by this time the gadgets were impractical and mostly available in Skymall catalogues, and the scenes were merely an excuse for a concentrated string of one-liners. That wouldn't do for Craig's more straight-laced Bond.  

But, how they do it is just another one of the neat surprises that is come up with (they do that when they're really trying) and part of that is the casting of Ben Whishaw, young—too young—arrogant, and with a perpetual smug smile on his face, as if he's about to show Bond where the pasture he should be put out to is. By this time, Craig's Bond is getting a bit weary of it, and wants to get on with the job, and Craig's subtle nastiness is a fine contrast to Whishaw's whipper-snapperishness.

The Set-Up: Shot, considered dead, and "missing a step," James Bond (Daniel Craig) has returned to MI6, recently the target of a terrorist attack, to find those responsible. He has been sent on assignment to China to find the assassin he had earlier pursued to reacquire a list of embedded British agents that are being leaked around the world. But, before departing, he needs to be "geared up." For that, he goes to a clandestine meeting at the National Gallery.


James Bond sits in the National Gallery, looking at a painting.  
It is "The Fighting Temeraire" by J.M.W. Turner.
As he sits, a young man in a mac walks up and sits down beside him. 
Bond becomes slightly uncomfortable.
YOUNG MAN: Always makes me a little melancholy.  
YOUNG MAN: Grand old warship being ignominiously hauled away to scrap.
YOUNG MAN: (sighs) 
YOUNG MAN: The inevitability of time, don't you think?
YOUNG MAN: What do you see?
BOND: A bloody big ship.
BOND: Excuse me...
Bond gets up to leave.
YOUNG MAN: 007...
Bond stops, sits back down, annoyed.
Q: I'm your new quartermaster.
BOND: ...You must be joking.
Q: Why, because I'm not wearing a lab-coat?
BOND: Because you still have spots.
Q: My complexion is hardly relevant.
BOND: Your competence is.
Q: Age is no guarantee of efficiency.
BOND: And youth is no guarantee of innovation.
Q: I'll hazard I can do more damage on my lap-top sitting in my pyjamas before my first cup of Earl Gray than you can do in a year in the field.
BOND: Oh! So why do you need me?
Q: Every so often a trigger has to be pulled.
BOND: Or not pulled. It's hard to know which in your pyjamas.
Bond holds out his hand.
BOND: Q...
Q shakes his hand.
Q: 007.
Bond snorts, amused.
Q: Ticket to Shanghai.  
Q: Documentation and passport.
BOND: Thank you.
Q: And this.
Q: Walther...
Q: ...PPK/S, 9mm short. 
Q: There's a micro-dermal sensor...
Q: the grip. It's been coded to your... 
Q: ...palm-print so only you can fire it.
Q: Less of a random killing machine...
Q: More of a personal statement.
BOND: And this?
Q: Standard issue radio transmitter.
Q: Activate it and it broadcasts your location.
Q: Distress signal.
Q: And that's it.
BOND: A gun...and a radio.
BOND: Not exactly Christmas, is it?
Q: Were you expecting an exploding pen?
Q: We don't really go in for that anymore.
Q gets up and turns.
Q: Good luck out there in the field.
Q: And please return the equipment in one piece.
BOND: Brave new world.


Words by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and John Logan

Pictures by Roger Deakins and Sam Mendes

Skyfall is available on DVD from Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment.

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