This is 24. A number associated with experience or at least heard of. In turn, many think Spectre is Eon‘s 24th time to get Bond right. Not so. Rather, it’s Eon’s 24th chance to get it right the first time. Every film is different. Zeitgeist requires new subjects and contention. Time necessitates original characters. Although James Bond is forever, each Bond is not. As a result, writers experience conflict. Installments resist external forces. MGM goes bankrupt. New actors.
They comply with obligation interior or exterior, like a screenplay. Update while abiding by history. Revision is mission, should you choose to evolve. Accept it. EW scribe Darren Franich has interesting comments on following up Bond: “Every Bond film is, in part, a portrait of the producers freaking out about the reaction to the last Bond film.” Spectre, for example, “takes everything that was apparently good about Skyfall — and all the bad things that were too small to notice — and magnifies them.” Even though it isn’t a review of old iterations, mine considers them. After all, if not just the previous movie, this is a sequel. Bonds are cumulative. One thing that makes Casino Royale great is doing away with baggage. A fresh start, except reverential. Although it inversed a number of modes, precedent enabled the overturn. Dated qualities pronounced amazement. Expecting oldies rendered remixes impactful. It’s also good on its own. Eon didn’t just alter the BPM, it changed the pitch.Skyfall succeeded, in part, as a follow-up. Nevertheless, old Bond is new. Viewing established 007 felt like typical entry, yet retained currency. Royale illustrated a spy I hadn’t seen before, while the former had a familiar one expanded. Skyfall redeems Bond by emphasizing history in original schism. Is MI6 outdated? Initially, Bond warrants death warrants. 00 or No, he’s useful. In Skyfall, he is a seasoned man, if not a man for all seasons.
In a way, Skyfall reboots the Bond narrative by introducing embattled Bond. Rather than being implicitly indispensable, impending conflict must justify his being. Moneypenny and Q indicate the revival of classic elements, even if they are revamped. Skyfall inquires as to whether spies are needed, but it’s not the first time Bond has been questioned. In GoldenEye, M says, “I think you’re a sexist, misogynist dinosaur. A relic of the Cold War.”
Ironically, of course, Judi Dench’s character dies before he gets a chance. I suppose he did have many chances, but you can’t have a death wish if you’re already dead. It’s not that Bond wants to die, but that he’s accustomed to dangling by threads. Specifically, a suit of some nature. In this case, the plot is dangling by narrative threads. Quantum of Solace and Spectre suffer from milking the strength of their predecessors. Both films occupy a space between original ideas.It’s not that they’re sequels. Technically, Skyfall is a sequel. With that said, the latter ushers in a new phase of Bond’s career. In Casino Royale, it’s the career itself. In Skyfall, we see the rebirth of urgency. He has to convince himself he’s worthwhile before treating the job as such. Indispensably expendable. Craig’s series has given us the impression that there is more strength in becoming Bond than being him. I think there’s more room to explore his early career.Towards the beginning, you can establish some world-building and alter expected tropes. Therefore, I think they should go about casting a younger actor if they replace Craig. I do wonder what another Craig film would be about. It has to acknowledge Bond’s modern utility and present a compelling story. Pressing like a pressed suit. Nobody wants a retread, but it’ll have to be a bit like Spectre. Themes of obsolescence aren’t getting obsolete.But rather than being in defense of him, movies should be a proactive indication why we need men or women on the ground, in the air, water, space or wherever. One of the great weaknesses of Spectre is it goes defensive, but scores on itself. The only reason C’s plan doesn’t work is because he is evil. No one says why the cyber outfit shouldn’t replace Bond’s. I’m not sure these movies are ever going to win this argument by showing technology fail.They have to be about Bond succeeding maybe in spite of it or in conjunction with it. Spectre clings to the narrative tentacles of “Nine Eyes,” informing us that Spectre staged terrorist attacks to necessitate C’s program. The organization would then get access to it. This is circular logic. If Spectre had to fabricate incidents for “Nine Eyes” to exist, did they really need it in the first place? Moreover, the tech goes both ways.The Joint Intelligence Service uses information to stop groups like Spectre from doing things the latter aren’t invested in to begin with. Once Spectre gets Nine Eyes, are they going to stop staging attacks? Will Nine Eyes even be necessary? South Africa caved because of such an attack. Future installments might promote Bond by saying Nine Eyes didn’t work, after all. It did. All the technology gets supported by countries who find it useful. It is undermined not because it is ineffectual, but evil.Its authors ended up being nefarious. One way, then, is to show how these advancements are corruptible. Of course, we probably won’t mistake terrorist subterfuge for universal overhaul again. Our guard will be up, if not just our firewall. And that’s where James Bond comes in. Spies are necessary to make sure enormous undertakings like Nine Eyes are thoroughly legit. In Spectre, Bond does go after Blofeld, but it’s Max Denbigh who’s really at issue. Spectre needed a high-level plant to get going.Blofeld has been around for a while. Even without him, C could establish his agenda. We discover C’s trickery rather incidentally. In the spirit of stereotypical villainy, Blofeld unmasks Denbigh in divulging the plan. It’s funny how the former ends up being predictable because many of the predictions are predicated on him. Blofeld is the classic Bond villain, a major source of inspiration for Dr. Evil.
Of course, it’s Oberhauser, not Blofeld. Right?One of Spectre’s main problems is inconsequential.
That is, inconsequential bad guys. I feel Spectre had all the right pieces for an exceptional ride, if not just an Aston Martin. As an organization, Spectre is the strongest, longest-running antagonist in Bond mythology. Blofeld is his nemesis. Instead of crafting a great yarn around them, Spectre puts them together haphazardly. It crafts a great yawn. Speaking of yarn…Blofeld’s cat? Absurd. Mr. Hinx disappears about midway through and Monica Bellucci is fleeting, however ageless. In order to make Blofeld matter, he is bizarrely connected to an obscure figure in Bond’s past.
The writers try to make Blofeld relevant on a personal level so he’s not just another enemy. Yet by shoehorning him into Bond’s life they do just that. Blofeld gained his weight by recurring. This would have been true for Joe Blofeld, even in weak characterization. The compounded mass of a lightweight adds up. We liked Blofeld because he was someone Bond couldn’t, if not just didn’t immediately kill. He opposed Bond in several instances and we knew he meant business. Blofeld had Bond’s wife killed. For Spectre, Franz Oberhauser was psychotically jealous of Bond’s adoptive camaraderie with their father. In turn, Franz murdered his father, leaving Bond an orphan once more.This jealousy evolved into hatred and the basis for Blofeld’s orchestration of the first three Craig movies, though I’m not sure he’ll admit to Solace. “It was me, James. The author of all your pain.”
‘Oberhauser? I thought you were dead.’ ‘Franz Oberhauser is dead. Though I share his DNA, we have never met before. I suspect you will find my anguish, however, all too familiar. He lives on through me, like a conduit to a past life. Like a childhood.’The film tries to make you care about Blofeld like before by connecting him to multiple schemes. When you watch the previous movies, you don’t get a sense any of this had been plotted out. Therefore, the Blofeld conceit is tenuous at best or worst. It would be one thing if you were connecting the dots, but it’s another if you are creating them, too.The most obvious instance of flaw is the name itself. Eventually, Franz Oberhauser tells Bond his name. After disowning his murdered father, if not the patricide itself, he changed his name to “Ernst Stavro Blofeld.” He says this and we are meant to think, ‘Dun dun duuuun!’ Yet no reason is given for the name and everything else is history, if not his story. This is as if Oberhauser said, “Isn’t it awful that I changed my name to a longstanding villain from a previous continuity?”If you hadn’t heard of “Blofeld,” you probably thought, “Okaaay…?” All the build up and loathing converged in one movie and relied on appreciating its predecessors. This is one of the reasons I think Spectre needed to be two films. Not two movies of this, so to speak, but a mapped-out arc drawing from predecessors and not reliant on them. It felt like too much for one movie even though the way they handled the story was often light in tone and depth.Frankly, I think they should have just saved Spectre for the next series of Bond films. That way they can build it up from the top. Top-notch to bottom. I understand it’s difficult to envision many movies in advance because everything is up in the air before the sky falls. Finance plays a huge role. I think this is what Bond needs right now. If they’re going to build continuity, they can’t just do it in retrospect. That’s not good enough. Maybe $800 million says differently, but convenience is not the same as coming naturally.I don’t mean anything is a cakewalk. Casino Royale had all the time in the world since Die Another Day (2002). Skyfall had extra time because MGM went bankrupt. We all know The World Is Not Enough if all the time in the world is. Hopefully, as this contract comes to an end, studios can negotiate an accommodating timeline. I’d rather fewer better installments. Fewer, but better. Monetarily, it may make sense to be more regular, if not more average. I think people will get tired of a hodgepodge of old ideas. Spectre seems more rushed than a rush, and Sam Mendes said as much.Audiences turned up for Spectre because they love Bond. Some even came for Bond because they love Spectre. All the same, they loved Skyfall. Everybody expected sustained quality, especially considering the thematic sequel component. There might be diminishing returns if the franchise doesn’t iron itself out. Surely we can see Blofeld and Mr. Hinx again, which is good because they’re promising. Dave Bautista has the look and is a nice throwback to Jaws. When he used those silver claws, I thought he was going to be called “Thumbs.”
Hinx didn’t die on screen and we know Blofeld isn’t dead. Furthermore, Christoph Waltz as a Bond villain is perfect. It should be a home run, if not a walk in the park.Spectre didn’t give him much to work with as he was essentially the spectre of past deeds. In person, he isn’t too intimidating. You don’t know much about him and his motivation is suspect. To be sure, history is important. But he needs the gravitas of present atrocity and not just killing somebody we never met.Surely they could show up again. It’s good that Spectre is open-ended, but loose ends dwindle. Loving Madeleine Swann is forced. As the daughter of his former enemy, courtship is unlikely; or, at least, unlikely to succeed. Furthermore, they have only known each other for what seemed like a brief period. Swann specifically tells Bond she can’t adhere to the lifestyle she spent years avoiding. Ultimately, he chooses to be with her. Is he done? “James Bond will return.” No, then, in some fashion—and probably an expensive one.Knowing his best days are behind him saps the fun. It’s important that his experience is ripe for new milestones. Preferably not the domestic variety. International espionage, not marital. Either Swann comes back or she dies. Of course, we aren’t looking at a rerun of Teresa di Vicenzo.
In fact, here’s some concept art for Madeleine in the next movie:I’m not sure how to handle this. What is clear is writing needs consistency. At the outset, it’s plain this movie is different. A building collapses and, instead of nifty escape, Bond lands on a couch. It doesn’t work in the context of what is otherwise fairly serious. ‘Capital.’ That’s not lazy, it’s just case-sensitive.In this case, substituting vintage Bond humor enabled condensation. Instead of figuring a way out, the movie gives the excitement of premise. You get the concept of an interesting predicament without the time to solve it. A long movie, Spectre has to cover some ground. Rather than stomping on old grounds, however, it should have used this opportunity as grounds for experimentation and novelty. Even at the height of its popularity, now is the best time to innovate. Good will is a cushion, not a fallback.
Accordingly, I’m not sure M needed to die in Skyfall. I like Mallory, but the movie depends on M’s last breath.Murdering M would be some good motivation vs. Blofeld. All told, there’s a lot to like. Beautiful production, locales, direction. Insofar as this is well shot, however, shooting down Blofeld’s helicopter with a pistol is a sight to behold. Although there are some excellent, improbable set pieces, they usually fit. Unbelievable is better than disbelief.“Blofeld is in a helicopter. I have a pistol. It must, therefore, be enough to take him down.” The music in Spectre is awesome. Leaving the theater, I thought that as long as it plays Bond’s theme, he will never be out of work. Spectre is analogous to its story. If Skyfall is about antiquation, Spectre is about what is done once antiquated. This isn’t the last Bond, but the latest. Spectre is better than many action films, but compared to the best Bond, it’s the spectre of a good movie.
Final note: the Spectre soundtrack included an instrumental version of Sam Smith’s “Writing’s on the Wall.” It’s great.
Second final note: if there was ever any doubt, Skyfall is a great movie. It’s slower than most Bonds, so I can see why some people get bored. Through and through solid.
Third final note: Hinx only had one line. I didn’t mind, except his motivation wasn’t spelled out. He volunteers to kill Bond, but doesn’t say why. Maybe it’s just compulsive physicality. As he dies, it’s almost like the writers register this ambiguity. Mystery, we hardy knew thee:Final final note: the opening title sequence is great. It complements the theme song and vice versa. That said, we get this octopus motif without knowing a lot about the story.It’s emblematic of Spectre and its extensive influence. For some reason, though, the audience in my theater couldn’t keep it together.