James Bond: Skyfall part 5
Now that the pieces have been put into place, James Bond can finally embark on an adventure. In short order he will visit a skyscraper in Shanghai, a ritzy casino in Macau and an abandoned island in Japan. This is Act II, which is largely procedural, the thrust of which is Bond Finds the Guy Who Took the List. Step 1 of “Find the Guy” is “Find Patrice,” who is in Shanghai on a job.
The steps to “Find Patrice” are: swim in the hotel pool (to rebuild his strength), meet Patrice at the airport (Bond disguises himself as a chauffeur, something earlier Bonds wouldn’t have dreamed of, even though Roger Moore once disguised himself as a clown), follow him to a skyscraper (where Patrice kills a security guard), follow him up to his sniper’s nest (dangling periously from the underside of an elevator — will his strength hold out?), where he’s shoots someone across the neon-strewn street in connection with a stolen Modigiani (who knew you were going to need an arts degree to appreciate a Bond movie?), then dangle him out the broken window. The sequence is more elegantly shot than the entirety of any other Bond movie and it’s ten solid minutes of silent filmmaking punctuated only by Bond barking “Who’s got the list?!” as though disclosing information that could get him killed is of interest to a man dangling from a window. Bond’s arm, so recently tested by the elevator ride up, loses its strength and Patrice plunges to his death. It’s striking that Bond doesn’t strike Patrice until after he’s killed the art lover across the street; it’s almost as if Bond feels like he’s intruding on another man’s work. He’s not there to protect art thieves, after all, he’s not the police. He roots through Patrice’s sniper kit and finds a very shiny poker chip with the word “Macau” printed on it — a clue! All right, Skyfall isn’t much of a detective movie, but at least its detective elements make sense, unlike, say, those of Octopussy, where it takes Bond an hour to figure out that there’s a circus involved in an espionage racket when a colleague is murdered while dressed as a clown.
(I’m pretty sure the woman across the street, who gazes at Bond for a moment before he disappears, is never seen again. I am also curious what the stolen Modigliani has to do with Silva’s overall plan.)
Before we jet off to Macau, we go back to London to check in on M. Bad Guy has hacked her laptop (email won’t do) to send her a Youtube link to the names of five outed agents from the list, with a promise of five more to be revealed every week. Uuntil what, I wonder — the Bad Guy has issued no demands other than “THINK ON YOUR SINS.” Until they’re all gone? Silva, our Bad Guy, we will eventually learn, wants M dead. But he doesn’t want her dead just any old way, he wants her to suffer greatly before death, and understand why she’s dying. The “five every week” threat is to spur her to action, ie to send somebody to fetch him.
Eve shows up in Macau to give Bond a shave, which he’s needed since the title sequence. In the realm of the Bondverse, Bond must always bed beautiful women, but the key thrust (sorry) of the Craig reboot is that Bond is capable of feeling affection for the women he romances. Often, the conquests in Bond movies seem arbitrary or forced (like Strawberry Fields in Quantum of Solace, or the half-dozen allergy babes in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service), a nod to form instead of a narrative necessity. I can’t say that Eve’s arrival in Macau flows directly from character, but she has a stated purpose (to deliver information) and an unstated purpose (to spy for Mallory) as well as a sexual interest in Bond.
I wonder sometimes, must Bond always adhere to form? Form, for lack of a better word, is what has made so many Bond movies so bad for so long. “They have to put that in” is one of the worst excuses for a plot point, but is Bond without babes still Bond? He was born out of a 50s-era Playboy adolescent fantasy, where women are as much of an accessory as a fast car, a stylish drink or a European vacation, but when we’ve seen so many Bond movies torture their plots for the sake of form (or worse, escalation of form), it makes the accomplishments of Skyfall that much stronger. Jackson Publick once said to me that there is no such thing as a perfect Bond movie, because they always screw something up, but Skyfall seems pretty perfect to me — the bad-guy plot, while small, is believable, the romances, while plentiful, are plausible, and, best of all, the plot is strongly rooted in character, which is almost unheard of in Bond lore. In the same way that Christopher Nolan made Gotham City a real place, the Craig Bond movies have finally succeeded in making Bond a real man. I myself have often claimed that Bond movies aren’t narratives in the usual sense, they’re pageants, with a checklist of events that have to occur and Bond as our host. But Skyfall not only succeeds as a cinematic narrative, it succeeds in being a real movie, one of only a handful of Bond movies that can claim that.
Freshly shaved by Eve (“Old dog, new tricks” she says, waggishly, to remind us that Bond is still a 20th-century man playing 21st-century games) Bond makes his way to Chinese Dragon Casino, surely the most floridly decorated gambling establishment yet in a Bond movie and light-years away from the snooty joints of Monte Carlo he’s used to hanging out in. Eve has come along, pro that she is, and accepts that at some point Bond is going to probably have to go seduce some beautiful woman as part of the evening’s work. Maybe that counts as feminism in Bondworld, that Eve can enjoy Bond’s company and then let him go, knowing the rules of the Bond narrative. If Bond’s fellow agents are brothers, Eve is not a sister — that would be gross — but it seems they are now friends with benefits.
So we are in part 2 of Act II. Part 1 was “Find Patrice,” part 2 is “Find Patrice’s employer.” The steps to “Find Patrice’s employer” are: take the chip from the sniper kit to the casino, redeem it (I have to say, as a screenwriter always looking for nifty plot points, is a nifty plot point, one I can’t believe hasn’t been used before), which leads Bond to Severine, the casino manager (?) who lives in mortal terror of her (and Patrice’s) boss, fight off her henchmen (he loses his personalized gun in the process and quotes The Lion King when a goon gets eaten by a komodo dragon), board her yacht, bed her (woman #3 for those keeping score), and sail into Hashima Island, at which point he will finally meet our Head Bad Guy.