Watching this movie and remembering what has attracted my attention in the others I’ve seen, I think it’s clear I’m not a Bond fan. I like the obligatory gadget-centric early scene with Q (especially now that Ben Whishaw has taken on the role). I like the obligatory first moment when Bond walks into a chic bar or casino or hotel lobby wearing a perfect suit or tux. I like the establishing shots of exotic (not the same as remote) locations. But the rest? It’s fine, I definitely don’t dislike it, but I’m also very “whatever.”
Two things stood out for me in this installment.
The first is that this Bond is successful because he’s been doing this for a long time and knows the right people. I get the sense that anybody with his training who’d rubbed shoulders with the people he has could do the job. The ensemble-cast victory at the conclusion of the film drives this point home.
Second, the casualness of the film’s treatment of torture caught me off guard and says nothing positive about our cultural moment. Threatening to drill holes in someone’s head is gruesome and very different from the cartoon danger of shark tanks or a slow-moving laser. Yet the film treats them as equivalent threats, each a valid response to the generic demand for a moment of Bond, trapped and in danger.
Worse though, the gruesomeness of actually drilling holes in someone’s head — and the consequences that must inevitably follow — go unacknowledged. Apparently our sense of torture’s toll is so terribly skewed — I mean waterboarding is just like rush week, right? — that we are ready to accept that with two new holes in his skull, Bond can hop up and take out a paramilitary force no problem, if only he could free his bound limbs.
I know realism is not a strong standard for judging action cinema, and I’m not trying to apply it here. I’m just saying that, if he’d been punched over and over, Bond would have spent the last scenes of the movie with a split lip. But torture leaves no mark at all. It is overtly and plainly inconsequential. That is a scary notion.