“Skyfall” or “Skyfail”?

Last week was a momentous one for the world. No, not because of the U.S. elections, but because news broke that the Pope is a big James Bond fan. Or something like that. It depends, I suppose, on how must stock you put in the approach taken by big newspapers to the “news” that the L’Osservatore Romano published no less than five pieces about the most recent installment in the Bond franchise, which marks the 50th anniversary of 007’s cinematic exploits.

The headlines are both breathless and comical: “New James Bond film gets five-star Vatican blessing” and “The Pope ‘Approves’ Of New Bond Flick, Skyfall (Despite all that sex and alcohol)”. And so forth. Reuters reported:

“Skyfall” gets a rave review in l’Osservatore Romano, which calls it one of the best of the 23 James Bond films made over the past 50 years.

In the main article, titled “007 License to Cry,” the newspaper says the latest incarnation of the world’s most famous spy is a rather good one because it makes him less of a cliché, and “more human, capable of being moved and of crying: in a word, more real”. A second article compares the different actors who have played James Bond, from the original Sean Connery to the current Daniel Craig.

In an interview with the newspaper, Craig says he feels “very different” from the actors who have preceded him in playing Bond but does concede that Connery is “a point of reference”.

I’m not a Bond buff; I don’t own any of the films, I have no posters, and I never dated any Bond women—and I’ve only seen about fourteen or fifteen of the movies in all. However, I actually read some of Ian Fleming’s Bond novels when I was a kid, and when I finally saw some of the films, I was a bit put off by the disconnect. The Bond of the novels is more raw, less glamorous, and often downright nasty. The books are decidedly dark, especially compared to some of the Roger Moore-era movies. Craig has, in my non-Vatican-endorsed opinion, brought the character much closer to the books. Of course, since no one reads anymore, it’s a moot point.

I saw “Skyfall” this past weekend, and I thought it was in many ways among the best of the Bond films, if not at the top. The film has a decidedly less cavalier attitude toward mortality, gadgetry, womanizing (although it’s there) and globe trotting; in fact, it seems intent on posing a number of heavy questions: At what point is loyalty merely blind stupidity? How do childhood tragedies mold us? What distinguishes amoral pragmatism of Western powers from the ruthless tactics of radical terrorists? Has technology blinded us to the fundamental issues at stake? Should British secret agents express emotion? Is it really right to blow up one’s childhood home and then express grim satisfaction in doing so?

Craig is superb, as always, as is Judi Dench, both of them masterfully playing characters who have clamped down three times over on the deep wells of emotion and frayed self-confidence within. Javier Bardem, who plays the villain Silva, a former agent, nearly steals the show (as he did in the harrowing “No Country for Old Men”). Silva is the ultimate tempter, playing on Bond’s insecurities and weariness before finally unleashing his long-planned assault on his former homeland and employer. The movie makes no secret about the many “Mommy issues” at hand; actually, they finally are the main focus of the entire film. And after all of the spectacular explosions, fights, and chase sequences, “Skyfall” seeks to be as much (or more) about psychological conflict as it does international intrigue.

Does it succeed? I’m not sure. As “Skyfall” ended, I knew the cockles of my heart were supposed to be warmed, at least a bit, but truth to be told, they weren’t. Perhaps I’m cynical, but I wasn’t feeling or seeing the love for homeland and M (Mom!) that supposedly motivates Bond. Then again, it’s a Bond movie. No need to overthink it. Or to write five pieces about it.

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About Carl E. Olson 1220 Articles
Carl E. Olson is editor of Catholic World Report and Ignatius Insight. He is the author of Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?, Will Catholics Be "Left Behind"?, co-editor/contributor to Called To Be the Children of God, co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax (Ignatius), and author of the "Catholicism" and "Priest Prophet King" Study Guides for Bishop Robert Barron/Word on Fire. His recent books on Lent and Advent—Praying the Our Father in Lent (2021) and Prepare the Way of the Lord (2021)—are published by Catholic Truth Society. He is also a contributor to "Our Sunday Visitor" newspaper, "The Catholic Answer" magazine, "The Imaginative Conservative", "The Catholic Herald", "National Catholic Register", "Chronicles", and other publications. Follow him on Twitter @carleolson.