Friday, December 16, 2016

Skyfell: An Ode to a Bygone Era... Some Things Always Never Change

I've always had a soft spot for James Bond. I've never been a huge fan like my brother Chris who still has the entire script of Goldeneye memorized, but Bond is an undeniable cinematic icon. I have fond memories of watching movies like Dr. No and From Russia With Love in my grandparents' basement on VHS while all the adults were upstairs talking about adult bullshit. My grandfather was a huge James Bond fan, and he really was the one to initiate our education in that regard. I remember that at my grandfather's funeral there was a picture of my him in his heyday wearing a white tux and looking every inch a clear Sean Connery doppelganger.

But I am also the first to admit that there are some very legitimate criticisms that can be leveled at the James Bond franchise. James Bond is a curious cultural artifact that feels like a holdover from a previous era, and for good reason. The character is a product of the 1950s and 60s, and more and more this is becoming glaringly obvious. Aside from Bond's appeal to British imperialism as well as his cavalier attitudes to alcohol consumption and his complete disregard for the sanctity of human life, the most conspicuous cultural relic old 007 carries from that era is the misogyny. Oh, the misogyny. And it's not like this is incidental baggage. The reason the misogyny and all the other bullshit are still present is that they are all integral parts of the character of James Bond. If nothing else, it cannot be argued that the character was not a man of his time. Likely for some, the ultimate man of his time. Bond represents an ideal of masculinity that falls apart under even the slightest scrutiny by 2016 standards. And that's saying a lot considering that the US President-Elect, Donald Trump, (still having trouble processing that one) was able to ascend to one of the most politically powerful offices in the free and un-free world alike atop a wave of blatantly sexist comments and incredibly misogynistic campaign promises. (Wait, where was I going with this again...?)

To be clear, I'm not saying that James Bond is the only culprit in perpetuating negative social scripts, nor am I arguing against the significance of the character in literature or film. I do think that the character has lost any significant degree of cultural relevance and should be retired, especially in light of obvious successors in the genre like the Bourne series (I've always thought of the cinematic incarnation of Jason Bourne as the thinking man's James Bond) but I won't entirely discount the ability of the series to evolve as it (inevitably) moves forward. (I mean, Bond has already gone from sexually assaulting women in barns to sexually assaulting women in showers, so that's something, I guess?)

I have yet to see Spectre, the 24th film in the series, but its immediate predecessor, Skyfall, has stuck with me. What struck me when watching Skyfallmore than all of the cultural baggage that the James Bond series carries, more than all of the imperialistic overtones, the alcoholism, the cavalier attitude towards mass murder, and the overt misogyny was the glorification of operational incompetence by MI6. For some reason, the enigmatic British security agency, and especially its head of operations code-named M (Judi Dench), have a massive hard on for James Bond (Daniel Craig). Even after he is shot and presumed killed in the line of duty by a fellow agent and shows up after going AWOL on their asses, M is intent on bringing him back into the fold despite the obvious and most likely insurmountable trust issues that plague both sides of this social equation.

Once Bond makes it clear that he wants back into the espionage game, M does everything within her considerable range of influence to make that dream a reality, despite all of the evidence to the contrary. Bond is put through a series of tests to see if he is ready for field work, and he fails them all miserably. He's shown to be emotionally and psychologically unstable. Physically, he can't keep up. And when it comes to the skills competition, the dude can't fire a gun and hit a target without literally walking right up to it and shooting it in the fucking face at point blank range, which even as a layman I could tell was a pretty shitty performance.

Out of all the Bonds, you ranked me below George Lazenby?
You're fucking dead.
But despite all of that, despite all of the risks that James Bond obviously displayed to his personal wellbeing, the integrity of MI6's operations in disrupting global terrorist plots, and the safety of those around him, M just would not let that fucker go. And it's not like the movie did anything to clear that up or make it ambiguous. There's no Rocky-style training montage where he's shown to slowly improve through training and hard work. He completely fails each and every test that MI6 throws at him and then is immediately reinstated as a OO agent.

Not to mention the fact that James Bond was a shitty spy to begin with. For somebody who was supposed to be a spy lurking in the shadows to gather information and disrupt enemy operations, Bond drew a lot of attention to himself and it was always one hundred percent unnecessary. How the fuck was he supposed to engage in any sort of espionage when he couldn't walk into a room without immediately announcing his full, real name and asking for a goddamned martini? Does he pull this same kind of shit in the bathroom? One can only assume. Not to mention the fact that he's consistently defiant towards his supervisors, often completely disobeying direct orders for no good reason. He also seems to go out of his way to kill as many people as possible and destroy as much property as possible no matter the situation. I mean, the insurance premiums alone would have made Bond untenable as a field agent.

Every time I watch Skyfall, the only thing I can think of is how shitty a manager/leader M is. She's shown to base her decisions not on what is best for her organization, the other employees under her supervision, and other interested stakeholders (in this case the civilian population of England who are counting on M and people like her to safeguard them from clandestine threats hatching evil plots while stroking their albino pussies cats). In fact, her entire motivation for promoting Bond so much seems to be a deep-seated nepotistic impulse based on their previous work together. It has nothing to do with how qualified (or not) James Bond is for the position; she wants him there because he's her boy.

In Goldeneye, it's clearly established that there is an entire organization of OO agents who are available for these sorts of missions and who, presumably, have passed their physical and psychological examinations with flying colours. (It's also telling that in Goldeneye Bond manages to seriously disfigure one of the few fellow agents he's ever depicted working with.) An actual qualified agent might have wrapped up Skyfall in half the time with precision and skill instead of taking a trip down memory lane to their family home and pulling out some Home Alone-style booby traps. Seriously, that's the level of strategizing you want when dealing with international terrorists and cold-blooded killers? That's like retaining the services of Kevin McCallister to take down ISIS.

I know that Skyfall was generally well received by the movie-going public, but every time I watch it, I can't get past the depiction of everything that's wrong with how employers operate. The nepotism, the illogical decisions of those in managerial positions, the seemingly total lack of accountability of said managers in doing/promoting whatever/whoever the fuck they want for no good goddamned reason, the advancement of people up the corporate ladder despite the clearly demonstrated lack of competency. James Bond is like the asshole who consistently calls in sick for his shifts and never gets his TPS reports done on time but still gets promoted over his coworkers like Michael and Samir who actually show up every day and put in the time and effort into a soul-crushing job. Skyfall was essentially glorifying the worst parts of corporate culture that Office Space was satirizing. James Bond is the worst kind of employee, and he--and people like him--would benefit from a significant stint in a federal pound-me-in-the-ass prison.


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