On December 1st, we went to see “Spectre,” the latest installment of the ongoing James Bond franchise.
As Daniel Craig’s reputed last outing as 007, “Spectre” seemed to be both overtly and covertly a recap of James Bond’s filmic career. The film plot explicitly refers back to Craig’s movies, “Casino Royale,” “Quantum of Solace,” and “Skyfall,” tying together events of those films as part of an underlying plot by Spectre head Blofeld/Franz Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz) to destroy Bond as a hobby while pursuing his world-domination plot.
More subtly, the film contains numerous references to past Bond films. The opening sequence in Mexico City on The Day of the Dead harked back to the voodoo elements in “Live and Let Die;” the ensuing fight scene inside the helicopter echoes an incident from an earlier Craig Bond film. At Q’s shop, the classic Aston Martin DB-5 from “Goldfinger” and “Skyfall” is being rebuilt.
The train journey, and the fight with the brutish assassin therein, harks back to the fight scenes with Red Grant (Robert Shaw) in “From Russia With Love,” Jaws (Richard Kiel) in “The Spy Who Loved Me,” and Tee Hee (Julius Harris) from “Live and Let Die.” The 1948 Rolls Royce Silver Wraith limousine that Blofeld sends to fetch Bond and Dr. Swann (Lea Sedoux) is not the same model as that owned by Goldfinger (a 1936-39 Phantom III limo) but reads much the same and is, I am sure a reference. The mountaintop clinic where Dr. Swann works recalls “Piz Gloria,” Blofeld’s medical facility in “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.”
Blofeld’s headquarters in the North African desert have the classic high-tech look of Bond villain strongholds. Apparently, the explosion when the works blow up beats some kind of world record, although it’s totally illogical. Bond triggers a chain-reaction with a few luckily-placed rifle shots that sends the entire facility up in smoke, which makes no sense whatever. Blofeld doesn’t seem to have stinted himself on amenities, but having every room plumbed with hot and cold running gasoline seems to be a peculiar, not to say, hazardous, taste.
There are numerous other references and harkbacks to past Bond films and writings. (Having reviewed extensive lists at IMDB.com and The Daily Telegraph, I seem to be one of the few who recognized that the safe house location, “Hildebrand Printing,” is a reference to “The Hildebrand Rarity,” one of the as-yet unadapted Bond short stories. )
Following posthumous instructions from the late “M” (Dame Judi Dench) Bond tracks down and kills a criminal, Marco Sciarra (Alessandro Cremona), and then disobeys orders in order to attend his funeral, which leads him to a meeting of Spectre, where plans for world domination are in full swing, and Bond makes a shocking discovery of the true identity of “Blofeld”—a man Bond had believed long dead.
Recent criticism of Daniel Craig has been that he is too stone-faced in the Bond role, and it did appear that way at times, particularly in the first action sequence. When the helicopter you are fighting in is careening across the sky, one might think a bit of expression would show up, due to g-forces if nothing else. Craig’s Bond does loosen up a bit as the movie progresses, particularly in the scenes with Dr. Swann, but overall, we never forget that Bond is first and foremost an avenging force.
Lea Sedoux as Madeline Swann is one of the best Bond movie women to date. (Not using the term “Bond girl” for her, see below--.) She is intelligent, tough, competent, capable, and overall makes an excellent match for Bond—including being equally sexually forward when the situation calls for it. Her character’s attempts to analyze Bond, who is shown to be deliberately non-introspective, are both amusing and revealing.
Christoph Waltz does a good job with the role he is given as Oberhauser/Blofeld, being genially creepy, but the character is a curious one, as though you had cast Steve Jobs or Bill Gates to be Hannibal Lecter. In the scene where Blofeld is torturing Bond, I was irresistibly reminded of “The Pit of Despair” from The Princess Bride, and would not have been at all surprised if Blofeld had asked Bond to describe how he is feeling.
Monica Bellucci has the classic “Bond Girl” role: the woman whom Bond encounters in the early part of the film, who is usually associated with the bad guys, falls for Bond, and supplies him with information, whereupon she is killed. Besides being more mature than previous women in these roles, Bellucci’s character seems to avoid the “Bond curse” being still alive, at least when we see her last.
Dave Bautista, as “Mr. Hinx,” joins the lengthy line of hulking brutes Bond has fought, including Red Grant, Oddjob, and Jaws. While he’s certainly huge and frightening, unfortunately, the character isn’t given any development. (Bautista, who also plays “Drax” in The Guardians of the Galaxy, can be quite engaging if given the chance--.)
The main title theme, “The Writing’s on the Wall, “ written and performed by Sam Smith, was effective while it lasted, but was forgotten immediately, unlike the theme from “Skyfall,” which I can still recall years after having heard it. Somehow, I don’t find Mr. Smith’s trademark falsetto, however good it is, to be evocative of James Bond.
Cinematography in this film was the most stylish since Casino Royale, although subtle: there are recurring uses of mirrors, mist and smoke, and pulled focus shots reflecting how Bond is seldom seeing the whole picture clearly at any one time.
As Bond and Dr. Swann ride off into the sunset in the DB-5, it seems quite clear that this is a series-ender, at least for the Daniel Craig Bond*. However, the end titles did announce “James Bond Will Return.” IMBD says there will be a “Bond 25,” but no title or other information as yet.
Recommended for fans of the franchise, and action-adventure fans generally. I agree with some critics, not quite as good as "Skyfall," but still good.
*I, and other people, I expect, have proposed that “James Bond” (and perhaps, by extension, the identities of the other 00-agents) are shell personas like “The Dread Pirate Roberts,” intended to protect the real names and families of the 00 agents due the extreme danger of that assignment. From time to time, MI-6 has gone outside the “regular” intelligence services to recruit.
The Many Faces of 007:
007.1 Commander James Bond, R.N., seconded MI-6. Retired. Replaced by:
007.2 (real name unknown) Killed in action, along with “Tracy Bond” by Ernst Stavro Blofeld. Replaced by:
007.1.5 Commander James Bond, briefly out of retirement. Replaced by:
007.3 Simon Templar, a.k.a., “The Saint.” Successful agent, but too flamboyant for many tastes. Retired, replaced by:
007.4 (real name unknown) Cashiered after “going rogue” in the Sanchez affair. Replaced by:
007.5 “Remington Steele” (real name unknown) Medically retired. Replaced by:
007.6 (real name unknown, but evidently recruited from Special Air Service or similar group) Resigned. Replaced by:
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