Film Review: Skyfall – James Bond versus Julian Assange?

Back in the 1980s after the original Hawaii Five-O TV series went off the air I bumped into Jack Lord at a Honolulu supermarket and asked him if there might be a Five-O special or revival.  Lord replied that the problem with bringing back the elite squad of crime fighters was finding an opponent worthy of resurrecting the Five-O special unit.  In addition to playing Steve McGarrett, Lord, of course, co-starred as CIA agent Felix Leiter in the very first James Bond feature, 1962’s Dr. No.  And as the 007 film franchise hits the big, well, Five-O, the British secret agent and what is probably the most successful cinema series frantically struggle to remain relevant.

This issue of relevancy also deals with what has been going on offscreen, as well as on.  The Cold Warrior of classics such as 1963’s  From Russia With Love must move with the times and find new enemies to fight, now that Russia, as well as Peking (I mean, Beijing!), “love” capitalism.  Otherwise, the spy who is licensed to kill will become just a mere anachronistic Cold War relic.  So the key to the continuing relevancy of 007 is the latest Bond super villain, and take one guess who is now the arch-nemesis of MI6, M, Her Majesty and what’s left of the ever dwindling British Empire?

Assange, Julian Assange.

Yes, in Skyfall Bond (Daniel Craig) does battle with none other than a character based on the WikiLeaks founder, just as the Bond villain in 1997’s Tomorrow Never Dies starred Jonathan Pryce in a role inspired by media mogul Rupert Murdoch.  In Skyfall the WikiLeaker is called Silva and played with panache by a great actor, Javier Bardem, his hair all dyed a very light blonde to suggest Assange’s coloring.  Assange, of course, has been accused (but oddly enough, not formally charged with) sex-related offenses and Silva is depicted as quite a kinky character.  Like other Bond villains (Blofeld, with that oral sex-related name, comes to mind), he is a quirky “queer,” wherein homosexuality is counterpointed to that so-called ladies’ man Bond, with his much-vaunted virility.  So, of course to compensate for their sexual “abnormality,” this strain of Bond villains has to, well you know, dominate the world.  (Gay rights activists, are you taking note of Skyfall’s homophobia?)

In any case, Silva wreaks destruction largely as a computer hack-tivist a la Anonymous (see the doc We Are Legion) and as someone who reveals closely guarded state secrets online a la Julian Assange.  A computerized message from Silva urges M (Dame Judi Dench, an undeniably awesome actress with her biggest role yet in a Bond flick) to reflect upon her sins.  Your spoiler adverse critic won’t ruin this plot point for you, but suffice it to say that MI6’s onscreen “sins” are nothing as profound as, well, you know, British intelligence and Prime Minister Tony “Scum of the Earth” Blair completely getting it wrong regarding Iraq and weapons of mass destruction, and in cahoots with the Bush regime, lying us into a completely unnecessary, unprovoked war that has cost us a trillion dollars, not to mention the lives of hundreds of thousands of human beings in an enfeebled nation that did absolutely nothing to endanger the security of the UK or USA, where millions had marched against going to war in the largest mass demonstrations in world history.  As Billy Crystal ranted in Mr. Saturday Night: “DON’T GET ME STARTED!!!”

Meanwhile, back at the review:

Skyfall perpetuates the hallmarks of the franchise Cubby Broccoli, Harry Saltzman, author Ian Fleming and lest we forget, Sean Connery, unleashed upon the world.  There is, of course, some sparse use of the 007 theme music.  And the film opens with a scintillating shootout and chase, apparently in the streets of Istanbul (which would harken back to From Russia With Love), whereupon Third World people are recklessly endangered by Bond.  But it doesn’t matter; they’re only Muslims, not Westerners, whose lives, as we all know so well in this world where all men are created unequal, are far more precious than those born in the West.  Besides, this way we get to gratuitously kick some Islamic butt here, which is, after all, the national pastime of the UK and USA, along with cricket and baseball.

Notice I did not say “white,” because here Bond colleague Eve (London-born Naomie Harris, who plays Winnie Mandela in an upcoming Nelson Mandela biopic) is actually Black.  I won’t reveal to you here, dear reader, who she is actually supposed to be as the Bond series (a la Batman, Superman and those other stale superhero franchises) tries to “reboot,” but although there is a flirtation between them, it’s unclear as to whether or not Bond beds her.  There’s a long tradition of 007 having sex with nonwhite women that goes all the way back to Terence Young’s Dr. No and Guy Hamilton’s 1973 Live and Let Die (probably the best Roger Moore Bond pic), both of which were set in the Caribbean, as the globetrotting “whitey” conquers those “exotic” females.

Speaking of which, our man James also has interracial sex with Séverine, played by Paris-born, preternaturally sensuous Bérénice Marlohe, who is Eurasian.  Their encounter in a Macau casino is, like Bond’s brilliantly shot entrance there in this Sam Mendes-helmed film, memorable.  Less so their shower and bedroom romp, which is, like the rest of the sex all too brief, in this, the 23rd Bond movie. (Wait, does that include David Niven, Peter Sellers, Woody Allen, et al, as Bond in the 1967 Casino Royale spoof directed by John Huston?) It says a lot that this ultra-violent flick is short on the kiss kiss, and all too long on the bang bang.

Dench is the real Bond Girl in Skyfall, wherein we find out that “M” stands for “mother.”  The 78-year-old has more screen time with Craig than any other Skyfall lass, proving once again that there’s nothing like a Dame.  One of the more intriguing aspects of this exciting, action-packed extravaganza is that like those superhero re-treads it gets into the back story of the lead character, and the saga improbably leads towards Bond’s ancestral family estate, where we find out little James’ origins, although it’s not explained how he got that way or what actually befell his parents.  But whatever happened may explain Bond’s unshakeable, stirring love of country and displaced patriotism.

In addition to Dench, like the Harry Potter cycle, the Bond franchise is giving work to British thesps, notably here Ralph Fiennes (note the part he takes on in this attempt at a reboot) and Albert Finney. Daniel Craig is the best Bond since Sean Connery, a gifted, beautiful looking artist who set the template for the role.  Like Connery, Craig is a great actor, such as in 2008’s Defiance.  The role aging plays in the main character is more pronounced than in any other Bond picture, which is appropriate as the series turns 50.  After all, Fleming’s character was, like the author himself, a World War II veteran.

During the AFi Fest’s secret screening of the secret agent epic at Hollywood’s Grauman’s Chinese Theater, the enthusiastic audience periodically cheered, as 007 continued his holy crusade to make the world safe for imperialism.  Meanwhile, as Bradley Manning — the Army private accused of leaking to WikiLeaks video of a U.S. military helicopter committing war crimes in Iraq and so much more about U.S. perfidy — seeks to change the plea in his kangaroo court trial, it’s apropos that the new Bond super villain is some sort of incarnation of Julian Assange, as the long drawn out 007 series (seriously, we could have done without at least half of those flicks) plods improbably on and desperately tries to make money and stay cutting edge and relevant.  But I’m not so sure that it is, as James Bond once again finds himself on the wrong side of history.  Bradley is in the dock while Julian is “holed up” in Ecuador’s embassy in London seeking political asylum, while those chopper killers — some of the real war criminals — appear to have completely gotten off Scott free.  And whose side is Bond, James Bond on?

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