November 7, 2015


 Weakest of the four Daniel Craig Bond films, SPECTRE takes a terrific premise and goes nowhere with it.

Spoilers Ahead

SPECTRE opens with the classic James Bond "gunbarrel" sequence, then proceeds with a spectacular opening sequence as Bond follows a SPECTRE agent through a Mexico City Day of the Dead parade, then into a hotel, up an elevator, out the window, and across rooftops...and it's all one continuous shot. In a series of films that must top themselves with stunts and spectacle, nothing like this has ever been attempted. A jaw-dropping cinematic feat.
Thanks to some reverse engineering, the mysterious and sinister organization QUANTUM (see all the bad guys in the first three Craig adventures) is revealed to actually be SPECTRE, the classic cadre of bad guys from the Ian Fleming novels (and introduced in the early Connery Bond films), led by the iconic, mysterious Ernst Stravro Blofeld. Made silly by Mike Myers parody as Dr Evil, Blofeld wears the grey tunic, strokes his kitten, and seeks to extort, corrupt, and control the whole world.
Christoph Waltz's bad guy is certainly mad and evil, but he's not that mysterious; his introduction in a shadowy and gothic SPECTRE conference tingles with mystery and suspense, but in the third act he's completely revealed, and even a little silly as he tortures Bond. It's annoying that the writers masked Waltz' identity as Blofeld until the third act. The plot makes excuses why Waltz' character is known as "Oberhauser" through most of the movie until the "Blofeld" reveal near the end, but this is pure "fan service" - the writers are trying to surprise the audience with a twist, but there's no reason why Blofeld could not be called Blofeld throughout the film. By calling him by an fake name, and constructing an excuse for why he changes his name, the screenplay simply makes the story less clear when it's already mysterious. This petty trick was also pointless because Waltz appears in the trailers as Bond's antagonist, wearing the same tunic as the classic Blofeld, in a movie named SPECTRE? Even a casual Bond fan could put together that Waltz is Blofeld, so what's the point of the misdirection? Star Trek Into Darkness [2013] pulled this same annoying trick, calling Khan "John Harrison" for no good reason until late in the movie.
Once again the Bond film is all about Bond- how did he end up like this? Why does everyone around him die? Why is he alone? What is his purpose? I feel like this ground has all been covered in Craig's first three Bond films. I was ready to move on, but SPECTRE continues to ponder these eternal questions, going to great lengths to tie Bond's childhood history (previously unexplored in the entire Bond film series) together with the genesis of SPECTRE...but it's strangely not explored with much depth or meaning. Either the filmmakers weren't sure what point they wanted to make, or the movie was botched between the page and the screen. I don't think tying Bond and Blofeld together is necessary, but if you're going to do it, really make it resonate!

Bond Girls

I have a movie crush on Monica Belluci, and her seduction scene was very exciting and powerful. Hubba hubba! Ironically her character was completely extraneous in the longest Bond film of all time. She shares information with Bond that moves the plot along, but there's no reason why her character would know what she told him. As much as I love Bellucci, and their seduction scene is very steamy, I might not have included it in the film. (This may be a Bond first - Bellucci is 6 months older than Craig!)
Léa Seydoux is beautiful and competent, but she falls in love with Bond for no reason and so quickly it's just bad writing. She actually successfully defends herself from the bad guys twice, so on the spectrum of capable Bond girls, she's up near the top with Michelle Leoh and Honor Blackman. Her silky grey dress on the train in Morocco is spectacular. (She's only 17 years younger than Bond)
I was sad to see the new Moneypenny squandered. In Skyfall she shoots Bond off the top of that train in the opening sequence, and later assists Bond in the field (remember the shaving scene?) but all she does in SPECTRE is deliver a package and Google some bad guys for him. I was hoping she'd participate in his adventures again - what was the point in developing her character in Skyfall if she isn't used well in SPECTRE?

Bond References

SPECTRE has a bunch of overt reference to the history of Bond movies...
  • Hat on a Bed - it's bad luck to put your hat on a bed, and a Bond girl is spooked by a hat on his hotel bed in Live and Let Die. During the opening shot, Bond tosses his hat on the hotel bed- this cannot be a coincidence. Bond also tosses his hat onto his hotel bed in From Russia With Love.
  • Foot Pursuit In A Parade - Bond chases a guy through the Day Of The Dead parade, just like he was chased through a parade in Thunderball.
  • Snowy Mountaintop Spa - Just like in On Her Majesty's Secret Service. Bond is also admitted to a spa in Thunderball. But when chasing the bad guys down the mountain, he steals a plane - did they feel that skiing sequences were too played out for a Bond film? Bond has such a rich history with winter chase scenes, it seemed odd to eschew skiing or sledding...although it was neat to watch Bond try and steer an airplane sliding on its belly down a snowy hill.
  • Ridiculous Mountaintop Airport - It is impossible to build a runway atop a mountain! This reminded me of the opening sequence in Goldeneye.
  • Daughter Of A Villain - Bond romances, and allies himself with the daughter of one of the villains. Bond has made an uneasy alliance like this before, most notably in Thunderball (although technically Largo is not Domino's father). 
  • Gadgets - The Craig-era Bond films have been light on the gadgetry, and SPECTRE is no different. A classic Bond trope is the gadget Q gives him at the beginning of the movie that is precisely what he needs by the end of the movie- the screenwriters underplay the moment when Q gives it to him; in the old days, Q used to explain in complete detail how each gadget works, but in this film Q only says "it tells time...and the alarm is quite loud, if you catch my meaning."
  • Goldfinger - When Oberhauser says to Bond "I thought you came here to die" I was reminded of Auric Goldfinger's famous line, "No Mister Bond, I expect you to die."
  • Silly Foreigners Are Poor Drivers - I could hardly believe this sequence was even shot: Bond is racing across Rome in his Aston Martin when a Fiat 500 driven by an elderly Italian blocks his progress. Bond tailgates and honks while the Italian slowly creeps along, fussing and gesturing, until eventually Bond rams the Fiat out of the way. The Fiat taps its bumper on a railing and the airbags activate. The airbag joke has been hackneyed for ten years? Twenty? The scene felt like it was lifted whole from a Roger Moore Bond film.

Fun (and sad) Connections: You might not think much about that guy Tanner at MI6 who works with "M" and Moneypenny. Tanner is played by Rory Kinnear, whose dad was also in some iconic British movies - Roy Kinnear played a bumbling scientist in The Beatles' HELP! and Veruca Salt's dad in Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory. Kinnear Sr. died in a tragic horse riding accident while filming a Three Musketeers movie when Rory was just a kid.
(AMC Burlington with Adam)