Though much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â â€“ from Ulysses by Alfred Lord Tennyson
Last night I watched Skyfall again,Â on the new EPIX movie network. As I was watching, I could still hear theÂ whispers of things I believe are true. That makesÂ this review somethingÂ more about how time manipulates us than the movie, about how technology fights a battle with experience that only one can win.
This Bond, Daniel Craig in his third film in the 50 year old series, is older and he sometimes fails. That sounds familiar to all of us who began watching Bond decades ago. We are older and we have sometimes failed. We have been rushed along the rapids of the internet and the laptop and over the waterfall of the smart phone and Facebook and we are still here. To most of us, to me at least, new technologies are challenges to be overcome, mastered. I’m not sure anyone born in the last thirty years sees technology that way.
“I can do more damage on my laptop sitting in my pajamas before my first cup of Earl Grey than you can do in a year in the field,â€ the new Q, played by a very young looking Ben Whishaw, tells Bond at their first meeting.
All these new toys are part of this generation’s every day life. I was born, however, on the cusp of all this. Too young to be caught up in the tidal wave of cultural change that washed the first Bond away in the late 1960’s, and too old to believe that any technology fundamentally changed me, or the world. My grandmother went to town in a horse-drawn cart when she was a girl. Before she died, men talked to her through a piece of furniture with a picture tube from the moon. But those technologies weren’t there during the depression when her husband died and she had to raise four children by herself, and that experience molded her more than a man on the moon.
I’m not saying that technology isn’t good or we don’t need it. We couldn’t live our lives today without it. We reject it at our own peril. And the Bond of Skyfall, the old dog, knows his job better because of his experiences, but he may not be as good at it because the technology he needs to do it now is not part of who he is, like it is part of the new Q.
These were the whispers I heard while I watched the movie. They were drowned out, occasionally, by other voices, voices that asked why so many recent spy thrillers have a list of deep cover agents that’s been stolen. It’s a fall back of the story telling somehow, like the machines taking over in so many science fiction movies. Actually, it’s the rise of the machine in Skyfall, too. But they haven’t taken over just yet.
No, Skyfall is a harbinger of the old, when men were men and women were Bond girls. Much of that feeling is due to Daniel Craig. I thought Clive Owen would have been a better choice when they selected a new Bond three movies ago, but Craig has been a revelation. I had been caught up in the savoir-faire shell Bond had become, mostly a caricature of Sean Connery’s James Bond. But I am glad to see, finally, a Bond to match the original. Someone a little uneasy in the halls of power, almost a gentleman, but grittier. And the three Daniel Craig Bond films, Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace and Skyfall, are the best three consecutive Bond films since the first three, Dr. No, From Russia with Love and Goldfinger.
Judi Dench as M tells us why this new Bond is better when she quotes the Tennyson lines above. After she speaks these lines, the Bond we always knew was there reveals himself anew. This Bond will not yield, his experience will not let him. So, when M asks him, “Where are we going?”
Bond answers, “Back in time.”