Spectres certainly haunted 007’s latest film, which premieres this weekend in the United States.
A chilling epigraph, “The Dead Are Alive,” hinted at ghosts from Bond’s past returning to haunt him. But before we got there, the camera followed a skull-masked James Bond (Daniel Craig) through a seamless shot in the festive streets of Mexico City as revelers celebrated Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead).
The latest installment of the iconic 24-part series reintroduced SPECTRE–Special Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge, and Extortion–a criminal organization last seen in 1971’s Diamonds Are Forever. There’s also MI6’s dull subplot with “C” (Andrew Scott, Sherlock), whose antagonistic intent to technologically modernize British intelligence eventually tied in with the main storyline. Apparently GCHQ isn’t tech-savy enough.
Bond’s latest mission was assigned via a recorded message left by his late boss, “M” (Judi Dench), who died in the previous film, Skyfall (2012). There are also villains and family alike who crept out of the darkness of Bond’s past.
Since there’s not much else we can learn about Bond (this is the 24th film for Pete’s sake), the villains are often the most interesting characters, as is the case with Franz Oberhauser (Christopher Waltz, Inglorious Basterds, Big Eyes). Comparing himself to a meteorite building momentum, Oberhauser was introduced as a silent, unstable, and ultimately interesting shadow in Bond’s life, but the man behind the terrorist group was disappointingly absent for a large portion of the movie. Oberhauser ended up in the role of the classic evil mastermind, complete with his right-hand white cat, mostly inactive in hunting Bond. For a criminal mastermind, he was a bit of a letdown compared to the disturbing insanity of Skyfall’s Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem) or the testicle-torturing cruelty of Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen).
The inevitable showdown between Oberhauser and Bond concluded with two very predictable and unsatisfying climaxes.
But it was the spirit of the classic James Bond who truly plagued Spectre’s risqué romance and adrenaline-fueled action.
Helicopters flipping violently over Mexico City, flashy sport cars racing through historic Rome, and wingless planes skiing down snowy Austrian Alps, all played to a hair-raising soundtrack and edge-of-your-seat action sequences. Simultaneously, Bond’s famed pulse-pounding action has reached a point where we know exactly what to expect. There’s little to no surprise anymore (sigh). When the music heightened, we’re prepared for a dramatic climax to the fighting. Even Bond, tired of brawling, at one point warned an incapacitated security guard to “stay!” grounded instead of getting his arse kicked again.
Ass kicking wasn’t the only booty Bond got, of course. Bond girls, somewhat shamefully, have been iconized based on the size of their breasts and thinness of their waistline. In Spectre, that tradition continued. Weirdly, Bond pressed a grieving widow (whose husband he killed) against a mirror, whispered in her ear, and tingled her arms with the tips of his fingers, and somehow scored a night beneath her bed sheets. Some things will never change.
The main love interest was the mistrusting damsel-in-distress Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux, Inglorious Basterds, The Grand Budapest Hotel), who kept Bond at arms length for less than 30 minutes until he proved his romantic value by tossing assassin Mr. Hinx (WWE’s Dave Bautista) out of a high-speed train.
“What do we do now?” her accented voice purred.
The two then burst through a bathroom door, lips locked, and their hands clawing each other’s clothes off. It was ridiculous, but you appreciated the spontaneous sex more when Madeleine whispered, “I love you!” to a wounded Bond 24 hours later, as well as to the eye roll of (hopefully all) viewers. Bond’s mutual feelings felt like it was meant to be more central to the plot, as expressed in the opening credits theme, “Writing On The Wall.” A chilling rhythm and Sam Smith’s beautiful falsetto touched on the absolutism of Bond’s love-or-death relationship with Madeline.
But their love never felt absolute. Madeline’s romance was abrupt, disjointed, and unnatural compared to the reality of love and relationships, justified in Spectre only by classic Bond’s embodiment as the ultimate male fantasy. It’s almost as if the hilarity of the scenario was intentional, a wink to classic Bond’s seductive ways, but it’s not even funny. Spectre barely highlighted and explored any personal fragility or vulnerability beneath Bond’s masculine armor.
This all came as a disappointing endnote considering Daniel Craig, the sixth 007 in the series–preceded by Sean Connery, George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, and Pierce Brosnan–recently discussed the possibility of resigning after ten years and four films of playing the tuxedo-clan gentlemen.
“It’s been an amazing ride doing [Spectre] and we’ve had incredible fun and it’s been a lot of hard work,” Craig said in an interview. “But it has taken up all of my life these two years. So, maybe a little of my life back would be nice.”
The 24th Bond film’s weakness was its past. Spectre retreated to the comfort of author Ian Fleming’s source material. Director Sam Mendes’ second 007 film sacrificed creatively modernizing and innovating Bond again for predictable action thrills and fantastical romance.
(Photo credit: James Bond/Spectre – Facebook)