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Warning: spoilers ahead

I’m feeling a quantum of disappointment with the latest James Bond movie Spectre. But maybe my expectations were unreasonably high. The last Bond movie, Skyfall, was one of the very best. And Spectre has two of the most artful and enticing trailers ever produced (here and here). With such a buildup, maybe I was doomed to disappointment.

What did I like about Spectre

First, and foremost, there is Daniel Craig, who is the best actor to ever to have played Bond. Craig is not a handsome man, but he is highly charismatic. He is pure masculinity untainted with prettiness. He brings a depth and emotional complexity to the character that were well-exploited in Casino Royale (2006) and Skyfall (2012). Craig was wasted, however, in his second outing, Quantum of Solace (2008), which was a frenzied and unmemorable clone of a Jason Bourne movie. I call it Quantum of Bollocks. (When Craig retires, he should be replaced by Tom Hardy.)

Second, there is the return of Spectre and Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Christoph Waltz) — and the cat.

Third, there are two extremely feminine but formidable Bond girls: the elegant, aristocratic Léa Seydoux as Dr. Madeleine Swann, and Monica Bellucci, still stunning at 51, as Lucia Sciarra, the widow of a Spectre assassin.

Fourth, I very much enjoyed the title song, “Writing’s on the Wall” by Sam Smith. Also good was Adele’s “Skyfall” song. But there’s a long list of pretty forgettable Bond songs before them. Thomas Newman’s score is quite good. And the tentacle porn title sequence is also pretty over the top.

Finally, this film has all the Bond touches: exotic locations; beautiful buildings, interiors, people, clothes, and cars; and spectacular fights, chases, and stunts, all of them stylishly directed by Sam Mendes.

What didn’t I like about Spectre?

The main problem was the plot, specifically the plot in the last 30 minutes. Skyfall was such a powerful movie because in the last half hour it shifted from being just another Bond thriller into something mythic. Bond realizes that his nemesis, Silva, can use any computerized technology against him. So he decides to go back to the old ways. He loads M into a classic Aston Martin from the 1960s and heads to his family home, Skyfall, on the blasted heath of Scotland. There he meets his family game-keeper, played by Albert Finney. Both he and M are about the age that Bond’s parents would have been, had he not been orphaned in childhood. Thus not only is Bond going back in time to his family seat, he is recreating his family. Then the family pulls together to defend their fortress from attackers. It is emotionally powerful because it is mythic and primal.

In Spectre, similar expectations are set up. Bond again goes back into his past. After he was orphaned, a guardian was appointed by the court. The guardian had a son, who was jealous of his father’s affection for Bond. He felt cuckolded, and he says so. Later, he murders his father, fakes his death, and takes on his mother’s name. This is the origin of Ernst Stavro Blofeld. It is the stuff of Greek tragedy.

But once this back story is revealed, the rest of the movie is just a bunch of fights and chases, including the equivalent of Blofeld tying a woman to the train tracks, which is the stuff of Dudley Doright, not Greek tragedy. In short, the enormous dramatic and emotional potential of the back story and the plot so far is simply dissipated in farce.

What should have happened? They should have recapitulated the primal scene of cuckoldry, this time Blofeld trying to cuckold Bond with Dr. Swann as the object of affection. Instead, we have a pointless torture scene followed by a ridiculously easy escape, followed by fights and chases and escapes with helicopters and speedboats and some other things I probably missed as I was glancing at my watch.

Spectre is a good Bond movie. But it could have been a great one.


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  1. Gladiator
    Posted November 9, 2015 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

    I thought that Blofeld represented the moribund EU. Aspiring for total control of the people.

  2. Sutton Who?
    Posted November 10, 2015 at 1:57 am | Permalink

    Looking forward to reviewing this?

  3. Martin
    Posted November 10, 2015 at 6:58 am | Permalink

    A problem with James Bond is that he glamourises the British intelligence services and, for people in Britain, leads them to think that the spooks are always benignly serving their interests. Jonathan Freedland – not someone with whom I would generally see eye-to-eye – recently wrote a good piece citing Bond as one factor in the complacent British acceptance of a snooping state.

    • Thaddeus
      Posted November 13, 2015 at 11:15 pm | Permalink

      Did you see the film? In it, Bond, M and Q actively fight against over-intrusive British surveillance.

      As for the original review, I agree with the criticisms of the plot, but this is still my favourite of Craig’s four turns as Bond. Madeleine Swann is the best Bond girl in… wow, in an eternity. I can’t even remember the last time I liked a Bond girl. Certainly not in any of Craig’s previous outings. Couldn’t stand Vesper. (My all-time favourite is the Bond girl in From Russia with Love.)

      Madeleine is the closest that we will probably ever again get to a feminine and Nordic-beautiful Bond girl. I wish she’d had even more scenes with Bond, to better set up the “I love you” line (which I still enjoyed, because I liked her character so much).

      Nice final scene, with Bond choosing life (the girl) over death (killing Blofeld). The death motif was very well presented throughout.

      All the same, the plot problems were real. But not enough to kill my enjoyment of the film.

  4. UFASP
    Posted November 12, 2015 at 1:52 am | Permalink

    I, too, was disappointed with this one. Much more so than the author, in fact.

    Unlike most people that have reviewed this film negatively, I was not upset with the “back to Bond basics” approach. I like “Bond by the numbers” in many ways. That’s what makes a Bond movie a Bond movie. It’s nice to have a detour like Skyfall here or there. But bringing it all home fits my tastes just fine. After all, the end of Skyfall seemed to set everything up in place for just such a chapter with Bond going into that familiar office to meet the new M (Ralph Fiennes). So I had no problem with the supposed “lighter” tone; Bond can’t be emo every go-around. The comparisons of it this film to the inane Roger Moore era that I’ve seen are absurd. Him waving at Bautista in that plane before firing away was perfect good fun for a Bond film. Hardly something silly like Bond dressing as a clown as we saw in Octopussy. The humor was far less over the top than even the Connery Bond humor. (Connery was a good Bond but he’s vastly overrated. My take is that Dalton could have been the best had he gotten better scripts and a better opportunity but I like Craig as well.) Many of the action scenes that people have complained about for being “stale” I found to be fine. Particularly the one at the beginning. So my criticisms aren’t with the basic structuring of much of the movie (even if a bit more inventiveness with some of the action would have been appreciated).

    What really annoyed me was the contrived nature of some of the script. I was rather surprised to see this film compared to Greek tragedy here in this review. When Blofeld revealed his past connection to Bond, I thought “soap opera stuff.” I mean, I see where you can get King Lear about this kind of thing (that Shakespeare drama is pretty stylized fluff in a lot of ways), but the modern setting and the gravity of Bond’s mission makes the whole close arrangement laughably absurd. I literally almost laughed out loud in the theater when Blofeld spelled out his motive and claimed that he was “the author” of all Bond’s pain. Not only is this script asking me to accept quite a bit in terms of Blofeld’s ability to manipulate EVERYONE (and in effect trivializing the previous storylines from the other films), but his motive for amassing all that power came down to something that was utterly uninteresting and really quite petty. Which is what annoyed me about Silva in Skyfall. But with Silva, his petty mommy issues were sort of novel for a Bond villain. Bond villains are normally very emotionally sterile. So I let that pass. Plus Silva was pure anarchy; kind of like the Joker. Blofeld is supposed to be a guy running a tight ship for a reason. Making Blofeld, the villain of all Bond villains, someone with petty “you took my daddy” issues just trivializes him into something he just hasn’t traditionally represented. As Spencer mentioned in a podcast about Bond, Blofeld is a man who wants to remake the world. A visionary. Closer to Drax in Moonraker over Silva in Skyfall. Crying about daddy issues for 30 years just seems absolutely beneath him. It seems like something he’d sneer at with contempt before feeding such a person to some sharks. I almost feel like the writers were in a rut or just plain too lazy to give him a motive outside of some contrived personal vendetta.

    I understand why they dropped the idea of “Spectre” being an acronym. It’s meaning is a little hammy in 2015 (though I still like how Dr. No spells it out for Bond in the first film). In the old Cold War Bonds, S.P.E.C.T.R.E. was sort of that wild card organization, that joker in the deck playing off of NATO and the Soviets. With the Cold War gone, Spectre obviously had to be re-invented to some degree. And it’s a shame that the screen writers couldn’t think of anything better than having it basically be a large vehicle for Blofeld to get revenge on Bond for his daddy issues. I mean, really…It also leaves you with a lot of questions that are of course never addressed in the hasty finish to a film that was actually painfully long. People bitching about the “camp” of the cat are idiots. The cat is fine. It’s a great Bondian archetype, I guess. It’s the person holding the cat that’s the issue.

    What I would have done is gone the Christopher Nolan route and made Spectre an organization with a vision counter to the globalist world order Bond upholds similar to (but not identical to) the League of Shadows in Batman Begins. I mean, weren’t they always sort of proxies for Nazis, anyways? If you think about it that way, it really sort of fits. But I think a huge opportunity was blown here. But Blofeld is an aristocrat; a cruel one, in fact but still an aristocrat in sensibility. Not a crybaby with a “cuckoo” grudge. I won’t even get into how terrible the script was for the supporting Bond girls…Suffice to say, it was hardly their fault that they came off as unmemorable or even annoying despite their physical beauty. They had nothing work with unlike Eva Green who was, of course, wonderful in Casino Royale.

    So yeah, I walked out of the theater very depressed despite being entertained in some parts. I’m sure we’ll get a magic negro Bond for the next theatrical installment. After all, it’s the current year. So like…he needs to be black now….for some reason…err….Oh well…there’s always the dvds…they can’t take that away from me and the fact that we got two really great Bond movies with a great actor like Craig (Skyfall/Casino Royal).

  5. UFASP
    Posted November 12, 2015 at 2:07 am | Permalink

    P.S. The Sam Smith (?) intro song is terrible.

    • Greg Johnson
      Posted November 12, 2015 at 9:29 am | Permalink

      Tastes differ

  6. witty tongue
    Posted November 13, 2015 at 5:45 pm | Permalink

    I’d like to see a movie about Bond vs. the villainess Barbara Lerner Spectre. (wink)

  7. Jane Gray
    Posted November 18, 2015 at 3:22 am | Permalink

    Timothy Dalton is by far the best actor who has ever played Bond. Craig is quite good but comparing him to Dalton is absurd.

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