Skyfall ★★

True to form, Skyfall reflects the changing political climate. As the U.S. government imprisons whistleblowers like Bradley Manning and targets Wikileaks founder Julian Assange for releasing secret communiqués by the State Department, the main nemesis in the newest Bond flick is ‘cyberterrorism.’

Javier Bardem plays Raoul Silva, the film’s main villain. With his blonde hair and his penchant for leaking NATO secrets, he is clearly meant to draw comparisons with Assange. The analogy goes even further, with director Sam Mendes and the media making a big fuss over Silva’s sexuality despite it being only a minor part of the plot.

Unlike Assange, however, Silva doesn’t leak information because of his opposition to U.S. and British imperialism. He is motivated purely by revenge, holding MI6 responsible for his imprisonment and torture. Otherwise, though, he accepts the basic role of Britain as an imperialist power meddling in the affairs of oppressed countries.

This skewed distortion of reality is what makes films like Skyfall so dangerous. In reality, Assange is only villainized by the U.S. and UK media because he publicly released important details about the crimes these governments commit in Afghanistan, Iraq, Zimbabwe and countless other nations. By simplifying the motivations of people like Assange and stripping them of the greater political context, Hollywood - which is just as much a part of the Western media as CNN or Fox News - blurs the lines between real heroes (Assange) and villains (agents like James Bond).

Indeed, the character Silva’s greatest offense against MI6 was leaking the identities of five NATO operatives imbedded in so-called terrorist groups around the world. Activists facing repression in the U.S. and elsewhere understand how the label ‘terrorist’ is applied to any group, even non-violent charity organizations like the Holy Land Foundation, that disagree with the government’s policy of war and occupation.

The real life James Bonds infiltrate groups like Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress – at one time designated as a “terrorist organization” by the U.S. government for opposing apartheid – or movements like Occupy Wall Street in the U.S. They deceive activists and organizers for the purposes of repressing dissent domestically and internationally. And yet in Skyfall, we are meant to feel sorry for these agents when a so-called cyberterrorist exposes their deceit to the world.

Skyfall tries to make the argument that the leaking of MI6 secrets led to the deaths of innocent people, which is the only way they explain Silva’s label of a cyberterrorist. Many viewers will remember that the State Department has tried, unsuccessfully, to make the same argument about the Wikileaks cables released last year. The hypocrisy of this accusation is outrageous since many leaked cables and videos have shown the U.S. government committing heinous acts of terror against innocent people, like the 2010 Collateral Murder video showing a U.S. Apache helicopter knowingly murdering a journalist in Iraq.

Skyfall is less the “reinvention” of 007 that Ebert calls it and more of a “back to basics.” We have the stereotypical ‘Bond girl,’ who only lasts on-screen long enough to sleep with Bond. The villain isn’t just an effeminate individual bent on revenge; he’s out-and-out gay. And most of all, the merits of imperialist spying and intervention in the Third World are not only extolled but vigorously defended. James Bond, warrior for the 1%, is back and bigger than ever.

The changing aesthetic of James Bond films is worthy of note. To be sure, Fleming’s racist, sexist, homophobic and imperialist worldview remains, but the particulars have changed with the times. Indeed, Fleming would roll over in his grave if he knew that James Bond takes orders from a female ‘M’, the head of MI6 portrayed by Judi Dench since 1995. Moneypenny, MI6 secretary and principal victim of James Bond’s sexual harassment over the years, is now a black field agent, kicking ass and taking names. Even Bond himself alludes to being bisexual in a revealing exchange with Silva at about the halfway point in Skyfall.

Fundamentally though, these superficial changes have done nothing to alter the imperialist worldview that underwrites most of the 007 franchise. Fleming is long dead, but his reactionary views on women, oppressed nationalities and the queer community still run rampant. To paraphrase Matt Roth, a progressive film critic for Jump Cut, this underlying reactionary worldview, “is not so much the product of a demonic individual. It simply reflects the ‘American reality’ – a reality whose ugliness is not hard to discern below the slick surface of [fast cars and cool gadgets.]”

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