Alert: this is a Teleny review. Spoilers abound. Also rampant snarkiness.
My soulmate, Carmen, has never been a James Bond fan. Ever. John Drake and The Avengers are preferable, in his eyes, to the Playboy Man with License to Kill. Maybe because he's bi, and back in the 60's and 70's, prime Bond years, sex for him was kind of well, different than simply lusting after hot chicks, and he's never had a car, he's always preferred the tradecraft aspects of the spy genre. So he's always liked John Drake/Number Six, because it was mostly about the mind games, and the Avengers because it was about traditional Britain, campy humor and a truly Shakesperian heroine.
I, on my part, have always held Bond in a kind of fascinated horror: not as potentially lethal but fundamentally compassionate as Paul Linebarger, not as cheekily cosmopolitan as Blackford Oakes, not as gently enigmatic and can-do as Tony Mendez, the Bond of the books always seemed to be in heavy need of either a hug or a hotfoot. Come on, I keep thinking, as he dryly sneers at everything from postwar America to rural Asia to anything about a country that was then Communist: all right, this isn't London, but can't you just relax and quit whining for one minute? You're supposed to be able to deal with all kinds of cultures and people, why is it that you look like you're going to come unglued or something if you can't hear MUZAK in the background, don't have some Continental food to eat or aren't walking on wall-to-wall carpeting? (Or, for that matter, a plush Oriental, getting orders from his betters…) When he's not being cranky, he's trying to approximate adult seriousness by drinking and moping. Little wonder my personal teenaged Bond fantasies were of slipping some LSD in his coffee and packing him off to live on a commune…preferably that guest farm in New York State that's run by a feminist sisterhood that caters to vacationing elderly rockers and poets lecturing at Bard. True to my New Englander roots, I figured one summer of herb tea, discussing progressive politics and helping with gardening in a house full of women would probably have mellowed him out enough to be able to drop spying and take up a job teaching Foreign Relations at a small liberal arts college.
You know, do some actual good in life.
Little wonder, then, that my favorite 60's spies on screen or in print were the slightly countercultural ones: Our Man Flynt (pot, fone phreaking and James Coburn playing himself), Our Man from C.A.M.P. (bon vivant, gearhead, pre-Stonewall gay guy), The Baroness (sex, haute couture, and Orson Welles playing Aleister Crowley), The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (transatlantic charmer and sexy Russian geek team), and the no-spies-at-all-but-isn't-it-kind-of-a-Bond? movie Performance (to-die-for townhouse, Mick Jagger, Anita, sex, drugs, head games, and a cameo by a frisky eel). Now and then, I like a good "spy procedural", like Argo, or John Le Carre.
You can imagine that new James Bond films are greeted in our small circle with something like a giant "meh". This time, however, "Skyfall" was a must-see.
The bombshell? Bond goes gay. Or gets seduced by a guy. Or….well, something.
The villain, Raoul Silva (I keep pronouncing it in Latin, like Silwa) is tall, with moppy blonde hair, and something wrong with his mouth (more about this later) which gives his Ricardo Montalban-like accent a hint of a lisp. He's computer-savvy, not bad-looking in a perverse sort of way, good with a gun, and was M's (played by the regal Judi Dench) favorite schoolboy, until he got abandoned during an op in China, which led to his arrest and torture. He's not going to take over the world, he's just pissed off, so he blows up M.I.6., leaks a lot of files and wreaks havoc with the Internet, about the same time as M has to justify their existence to a governmental subcommittee. (In other words, one V mask short of being the keynote speaker at the next Chaos Communication Camp.)
On the good guys side, the new Q looks like a merger of Bryce from Max Headroom and Alan Turing, but uses a product placement crappy laptop. He hands Bond some paltry-looking gadgets, nothing interesting, and it's off to the Orient for our boy...
There's an over-the-top Chinese casino in Macao that makes me almost wish I liked gambling, and a suitably slinky Bond Girl, Severine (nice choice of name, depending on what book you like it either means "cruelty" or "doormat"), former sex slave of Silwa, with whom he predictably makes out in the shower, steamily...She tells him her sad life and begs Bond to kill Silwa, but Bond looks bored at having to actually be nice, and listen to her, and I, a woman, don't feel anything at all.
And then, of course, Bond gets captured (on Hashima Island, no less) and…cue the monologue and/or torture…
The "I'm going to kill you, but not until I tell you how badass I am" talk somewhat rambles, having something to do with his grandmom teaching him about turning rats cannibalistic as a method of pest control. Since I spell "mousetrap" C-A-T, and have read about the Rat City experiment (which is kind of Hashima-related), I know I'm supposed to be squirming, but I kind of doubt rats actually work that way.
And then, Silwa sits down, and gently, ever so gently, unbuttons Bond's shirt…
Forget Bond and Severine, right now, I'm a puddle. Carmen is holding my hand in a vice grip. Everyone else is in nervous laughter mode…
Silwa is stroking his chest and neck…delicately, knowingly, with that look of intense concentration someone has when they're seriously trying to get a rise out of someone, and not a little turned on themselves…"How you're trying to remember your training now...what is the regulation for this? ....There's a first time for everything…" He gently parts his thighs, and begins to stroke them…
"What makes you think this is the first time?" says Bond, just as tightassed as ever.
Carmen goes into jaw-drop and shiver. Yow! He admits it! Bond's Bi! Far freaking out! Yessss! We have a wiener! Welcome to the 21st Century! There is a God!
On screen Silwa looks pissed he got all his good stroking stepped on, and tries to play with his head some other way.
The rest of the movie is kind of dull in comparison. Severine dies, somewhat conveniently. Silwa takes the plate out of his mouth, claiming it was cyanide poisoning that done it (huh?), and the results would stop a clock. Really, his cheeks deflate and everything -- don't they have some non-removable treatment for that? Bond blows up a poor innocent Victorian hunting lodge that they insist is a lot older, then hustles everyone (through the "priest hole", natch) to a chapel. Silwa tries to kill Judi Dench and himself with the same bullet (like that's going to work...Silwa! I'm disappointed in you!), but she dies of a bleed out from a bullet hole from someone else, Albert Finney...or was it Bond? throws a knife in Silva's back, but by then I'm not really keeping score, cause everyone's getting blown up but Our Boy.
Anyway, the New M is going to be a man, and everyone heaves a deep sigh of relief. Rule Britannia! Patriarchy restored! God save the...well anyway...
Now, about the stroking bit.
Part of the whole James Bond package is that, even though the franchise has updated certain parts of it -- the product placements, the gadgetry, the efforts, at times somewhat awkward, to be hip -- mostly the idea is that he's living out a man's mid-life crisis fantasy. Fast cars, love 'em and leave 'em women, violence without getting hurt (too much), luxury living in hotels and First Class air travel, an unlimited expense account and being able to get away with not only murder but being a totally bigoted prick...all the things that domesticated office-bound wage slaves dream of when they're dealing with accounts receivable to try to pay off their kid's braces.
As a counterpoint, he's always been prey to
the Fate Worse Than Death: Le Chiffre hitting his balls with a tennis racket, the laser beam that's going to bisect him crotch first, someone threatening to rape the Bond Girl, every way of "unmanning" him. As many times as he gets benched, beat up, or discouraged, he's not going to ever find Ms. Right, settle down, or buy lawn food -- no! no! they'll never take my manhood alive!
Since it's both "foreign", and an attack on the Unstoppable Power Penis, gayness has always been a rough proposition here -- on one hand you have Rosa Khlebb, the unfsckable bulldagger from Hell, and the pair of guys from Diamonds are Forever, walking into the sunset together, representing the dark side of all this obsessive manliness. On the other hand, you have the Goldfinger girl, who's a lesbian who gets seduced by the Magic Cock of Bond. Since Silva is male, and Bond's fscking him would serve no purpose, he's clearly in the Creepy Gay guy category, and destined to die, which is a shame, since Silva is arguably sexier than Bond, and...a geeky pirate paradise on Hashima,the Holy Grail of urban explorers, with its broken-toy buildings and rooftop farms, just six miles off Nagasaki, erm, "Macao"? How.Awesome.Is.That? I could write whole volumes about how Silva could have put together, not a paramilitary camp full of mooks, but a thriving community, with women and children, and gotten it billed as an experiment in urban reclamation...sigh.
What precedes all this stroking is a thorough debunking of his rosy view of his prior reinstatement exam, and a laundry list of how M has failed him: he failed both marksmanship and the physical, is addicted to "pills" (probably benzodiazepine) and alcohol and has strong childhood trauma problems. M sent him off, not back to active duty, but to get killed, and he'd already been shot. It's not so much a seduction, as a stage in breaking him... When this fails to work, he tries getting him to shoot a shot glass off Severine's head, which doesn't pan out either, since Bond refuses, and Silva shoots her, I guess because he forgot to threaten to do so earlier. (Looks like her name really did mean "Doormat", since neither one of them looks particularly sorry about it.)
Bond's response can be read therefore as "I'm straight, I'm straight, I'm so straight, even if I have gay sex I'm still straight.", so there, while it remains that real sensuality (which is supposed to be the perogative of straights, vs. the zipless fscks of traditional gays) remains outside his grasp. Sorry guys, it looks like there won't be any Bond yaoi anytime soon.
I'm sooo seriously going to have to look up "Our man from C.A.M.P."....Now there was one cool guy...