“Spectre.” It is what 007(x3) Weeks of 007 has been buildings towards. One James Bond movie a week for 23 weeks. The good, the bad, the ugly. The trends, the changes, the consistencies. The friends, the villains, the henchmen. The cars, the gadgets, the clothes.
The rewatch couldn’t have worked out better, and it couldn’t have worked out better because “Spectre,” perhaps more than any other Bond film before it, is concerned with the legacy of our hero. Oh, we had an idea that this would be the case with “Skyfall” going back to the classic Bond mold and the classic mold requiring the super-group threat, but that is nearly all “Spectre” is concerned with, nothing more.
Everything in the Sam Mendes film overtly attempts to tie Daniel Craig’s three previous Bond outings together and through subtle (or not) references brings in the older Bond movies. Moment after moment, scene after scene it occurs.
I actually am not quite sure how to proceed with discussing the movie as every previous entry in this series as been full of what would be spoilers if the films were new. To continue in the same mold, to point out all the references and all the ways Mendes brings things together would be to ruin a film that is not yet in release in the U.S.. I can’t bring myself to do that.
What I can tell you without spoiling anything is this – finally, for the first time in the Daniel Craig era, the movie starts correctly. Yup, the gun barrel walk and turn are back, they are the first thing that happens, and it’s great to see. How do you do classic Bond without that? How did they possibly let it go so long? I don’t know.
The sad thing is that the brilliance of that is soon undercut with a shooting style that is more “Quantum of Solace” than “Skyfall.” Action scenes are full of quick close-ups, handheld and jerky. It is difficult to see—or feel—what is happening, especially on a truly big screen. Watching “Quantum of Solace” and “Skyfall” it is clear which style works better, why do the other one? Even if one disagrees with which style is better, why shoot it in the manner of the less good film? “Skyfall” is one of the best Bond movies made, “Quantum” is somewhere near the bottom. Why not add more references to the better film than remind people of the less good one?
Other elements from “Skyfall” do carry through to here – Naomie Harris is back as Moneypenny, Ralph Fiennes’ M remains on the side of the Double-0s, and there is a new threat from within the government about the future of spydom. Bond, too, is still haunted by the events of “Skyfall,” and even the death of Vesper in “Casino Royale.” They don’t jettison character, just style, but Bond is so much about style that the choice makes little sense.
As I said, “Spectre” is so incredibly concerned with these past movies. Over and over and over again the new movie offers winks and nudges and nods about the previous Craig entries. Names are mentioned, locations are mentioned. Heck, even the opening credits offer faces from those earlier Craig movies.
The goal, of course, is to bring back SPECTRE, to tie the group into the current franchise, and to point the way forward. Well, maybe not this last one. One of the things I find fascinating about the Craig era is that more than any other time in the franchise’s history, these films look backwards. They almost feel as though they are about filling in the gaps in Bond’s history. So, are we looking forward or back or both? Let’s say both.
One of the basic problems with “Spectre” is its desire to establish said organization. If you go back to our early 007(x3) Weeks of 007 discussions and those first films, you’ll note that while SPECTRE comes up, it’s tossed off as just a line or two. Dr. No mentions the organization, but nothing else. There is more to it in “From Russia with Love,” but still no shot of Blofeld except from behind. It isn’t until “You Only Live Twice” that we see Blofeld’s face, that he’s the chief villain Bond is going after.
“Spectre” is all about getting to the “You Only Live Twice” scope without three other films where the group is involved. Oh sure, Christoph Waltz’s Oberhauser can say all he wants that he is the author of all of Bond’s misfortunes, trying to convince the audience that those three earlier Craig movies really saw Bond going after SPECTRE, but they didn’t, and the more “Spectre” says that he was, the less believable it feels.
It is too much, too soon, and consequently lacks the appropriate grandeur. SPECTRE requires more setup than “Spectre” allows.
Because it is so concerned with convincing us of the evil of SPECTRE, other things fall by the wayside, like Dave Bautista’s Hinx. Billed as a henchman, Hinx finds himself with a seat at the big boys’ table when SPECTRE meets. That makes him an equal to Dr. No or Rosa Klebb or Emilio Largo, not an Oddjob or a Jaws. If the former group are henchmen, then certainly Hinx is, but those bad guys got a full movie to do their thing, to have their plot, not Hinx. No, Hinx is stuck, quite overtly, as being Jaws without the camp element. He is definitely menacing, but he is derivative in so many ways.
Okay, so that’s a lot of bad and disappointing up above and I don’t want to offer the wholly wrong idea – “Spectre” has a lot of good going for it. I think the way Craig has built his representation of Bond through these four movies is wonderful. He has made Bond his own while still fitting him into our overall view of the character and the previous representations we’ve gotten.
Léa Seydoux’s Madeleine Swann feels like a great counterpoint to our hero in “Spectre.” She is someone who circled the same sort of life as Bond for years, but eventually found a way out only to get sucked back in by 007. As with everything else in the movie, the need to build SPECTRE gives Swann short shrift, but she’s still a great lens through which we can see Bond.
Perhaps the one character the movie has time to build appropriately is Q. Ben Whishaw’s portrayal of the Quartermaster was fun in the last movie and is stupendous here. He is all the right amounts of techie combined with a love-hate thing with 007 and M. Wherever the franchise goes next, whether or not Daniel Craig decides to leave the role, please, someone lock Whishaw in for another half-dozen films as Q. As Desmond Llewelyn was Q, now Wishaw is Q. He is perfect.
Where will Bond go now? When will we next see him? What will he look like when we do? Will SPECTRE be there? There are so many things we just don’t know. All that is assured at this moment is that James Bond will return, and when he does, so will 007(x3) Weeks of 007.
photo credit: Sony Pictures