I had high hopes for Spectre, the only Craig movie I hadn’t seen already. I mean, come on: Christoph Waltz as Blofeld; it seems like as much of an open goal as having Christopher Lee play Scaramanga. Yet this movie makes exactly the same mistake that TMWTGG did, squandering a great actor on a poorly-written antagonist.
A lot of this bungling comes from the movie attempting to follow a popular trend. This time James Bond is trying to pull off its own version of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, to tie the events of the past three movies into some kind of larger, overarching story-line. On paper it seems like a great idea, one that could give the franchise some added depth and complexity. But there are two big problems.
The first is that there’s a much larger gap between Bond films than there is between Marvel movies, several of which are churned out each year at a fairly steady pace. This keeps the audience nice and refreshed, and means that nobody is left scratching their heads when an old plotline or side character is reintroduced. Case in point, Mr White from CR and QOS returns in this flick, and it was only thanks to me watching these movies in a cluster that meant that I remembered who the fuck he was and why he was apparently so important.
The second roadblock is the fact that the MCU was planned out years in advance, and was always meant to be part of one continuous story line. Bond movies have always been standalone features. The only preserved continuity I can recall is when Bond seeks revenge for whoever important kicked the bucket last time around. They’re more like anthologies, not serials. So when Spectre tries to convince us that the last nine years of evil plots were secretly under the auspices of Blofeld the whole time, it just doesn’t ring true.
The film begins with a strong opening, and it’s probably not a co-incidence that this sequence was heavily featured in the trailers. It features Bond foiling a bombing plot in Mexico City during Day of the Dead, where he recovers a bit of cephalopod-themed bling from the body of a terrorist leader.
But before Bond can investigate with gusto, he finds himself suspended from duty, after everyone’s favourite catholic priest pin-up Andrew Scott shuts down the 00 department. Andrew Scott is part of a private security company overseeing the merger of MI5 with MI6, and wants to replace the whole network with a surveillance program that would make Edward Snowden hang himself in his garden shed.
This is an interesting set-up, but it only proves that these films weren’t designed with an overarching narrative in mind. We’ve all just sat through a film where the main arc was Bond reasserting his relevance as a spy in the modern world, so to have that character development be stymied at this point in the franchise feels a bit misguided.
Anyway, it makes no difference at all, because Bond decides to go rogue anyway, and investigate on his Jack Jones. He heads to Rome to attend the funeral of the terrorist he just offed a week ago, and (predictably) fucks some intel out of his widow. Jesus. I bet the toe-tag was barely off the corpse before he let loose with his masculine wiles.
Monica Bellucci does a really good job with her character, and it’s quite refreshing to see Craig (who is nearly on par with Roger Moore in terms of uncomfortable age factor) bang someone who wasn’t in diapers when he passed his driving test. Bellucci must’ve had more important things to do, since she barely sticks around long enough to tell Bond about a clandestine meeting, chaired by a dude named Hans Oberhauser.
Bond does a shite job of infiltrating the conspiracy, and is outed within minutes. If this was Metal Gear Solid he’d have been rightly shot to ribbons, but luckily Bond’s plot armour kicks in at just the right moment, and he makes a daring/boring escape via his car. Luckily, he did happen to hear that his old frenemy Mr White (Quantum? Spectre? The Freemasons? How many sinister syndicates was this guy involved in?) is due to be assassinated.
Bond tracks Mr White down, finding a broken and dying old man worn thin from years of looking over his shoulder. Despite the fact that Mr White is probably nobody’s favourite character, this scene was actually quite magnetic. Mr White has a ‘Season Five Walter White’ quality to him, and personally I think it’s actually pretty cool idea to explore what happens to a Bond baddie who manages to live to an old age. Bond clearly thought he had a rough time of it working for the government, but I guess being evil doesn’t do you any favours either.
Anyway, just when it seems as though this subplot is going to be completely pointless, Mr White tells Bond to rescue his daughter Madeleine Swann (despite the fact that he’s A: only about three years his junior, and B: a STI-ridden fuckboi) from the clutches of Spectre, and promptly blows his own brains out. Intrigued by the possibility of pussy, Bond goes to her lush Swiss office and actually books a therapy appointment with her (long overdue methinks) and rescues her from Blofeld’s latest Henchman Drax … I mean Hinks.
Then Q shows up completely out of the blue and delivers a bloated expo-dump, explaining that Le Chiffré, Green, and Silva were all secretly working for Spectre the whole time! As plot twists go, it’s about as plausible as Epstein’s post-mortem report, and made worse by the fact that it retroactively tarnishes the much more interesting motivations of two previous baddies.
Bond then tries to smuggle Madeleine to safety, and predictably ends up employing his very own version of the D.E.N.N.I.S system to make her fall in love with him, which retroactively erases the importance of the untouchable Vesper. It’s not just the fact that Bond and Maddy have barely any chemistry together, and fall head-over-heels faster than two students in a hostel on a gap year, that makes this galling.
Vesper was supposedly the love of Bond’s life, a woman he was willing to abandon his career for. Her death supposedly broke Bond’s heart, shaping the core of his ethics and ideals, and now we’re expected to believe that after the equivalent of a speed date he’s fine again? Swann even has the gumption to call Bond “A good man” (I thought a psychiatrist would be a better judge of character), despite the fact that the last three movies have beaten us over the head with the idea that Bond is a thug on the government’s payroll. So either Maddy doesn’t know Bond well at all (likely) or the movie is trying to pivot Bond’s entire character to pull off a contrived romance (also likely).
I get the feeling that the screenwriters realised that they’d screwed up by not having Blofeld be directly responsible for Vesper’s death the way he was with Tracy’s, and want to have their cake and eat it. I get why the writers of the reboot would want to recreate this iconic moment again. But writing exactly the same character twice and hoping that no-one will notice aint the way to go about it lads.
Before we know it, we’re back on another frigging train, and at this point in the movie I elected to go for a piss, safe in the knowledge that Dave Bautista would show up at any moment and start a fight. Sure enough, I was completely right, and even though Bond managed to chuck the henchman off the express, he and Swann still get captured by Oberhauser’s goons, and are escorted to his Evil Lair so he can monologue smugly about his evil plan. You know, there’s old school, and then there’s old hat, and at times like this I’m sure that studios really don’t know the difference.
Then comes the big twist of Spectre, the one everyone and their pet budgie saw coming: Hans Oberhauser is really Blofeld. Color. Me. Surprised. But the funny thing is that Blofeld introduces himself to the viewers at home, as opposed to the in-universe characters, since this name hasn’t actually been mentioned before in the Craig era soft reboot, and thus means absolutely nothing to him or anyone else.
Again, this kinda thing worked with the Aston Martin, but not so much with a character we’ve technically just met. The movie is trying to evoke Blofeld’s mythic status as Bond’s arch enemy, but since this incarnation hasn’t actually done anything iconic yet, it feels pretty cheap. He might as well have revealed himself to actually be Santa Claus, for all the importance the revelation has.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, the movie throws another curve-ball at us, and it’s so contentious that it actually spoils the whole movie. You see, it turns out that Blofeld is actually Bond’s adoptive half-brother, and was taken in by Blofeld senior after his parents pegged it. It’s as soap opera a twist as it comes, to the point where I’m almost certain that the screenwriters didn’t actually come up with it. It feels like some focus group decided that Bond and Blofeld didn’t hate each other enough, and so the studio came up with something that Austin Powers had actually done in a sequel.
Of course, anyone with two neurons rolling around in their nut can see that this revelation makes Blofeld far less interesting, not more. It turns out that the evilest man in the world just has some serious daddy issues, jealous that James got a caterpillar cake for his eighth birthday and he didn’t. Blofeld calls himself “The architect of all [Bond’s] pain”, but it doesn’t make him seem scary and psychopathic. It just morphs him into a pathetic, petty twat with too much time on his hands, who founded the most dangerous terrorist organisation of all time just to fuck with his sibling. What a loser.
Blofeld decides to torture Bond with some sort of weird machine. I couldn’t really work what this contraption did, only that it was agonisingly painful. bearing this in mind, I’m not sure why Blofeld didn’t just bundle Bond into a van in the middle of the night and strap him into this chair twenty years ago and leave it there. Anyway, Bond manages to escape, knock Blofeld over, and flee the lair after blowing it up, all in about five minutes. Creeping Christ – at least Dr No had the excuse of having shit prosthetic hands. Blofeld is just a literal pushover.
Bond and Swann head back to MI6 headquarters, only to learn that Andrew Scott (you know, the guy most famous for playing Professor Moriarty) is actually working for Spectre, and plans to use his 100 percent unethical surveillance network unethically. Anyway, Q and M run manage to stop him by punting him off a building, but Bond and Swann are kidnapped and taken to the ruins of the old MI6 building, (which is still very much standing IRL) and have to make an escape before it blows up (again). This sequence is actually quite creepy, and more than a little tense, but it is undermined by the anticlimax of the decade when Blofeld escapes by helicopter, and is pursued by Bond via speedboat (urgh) to Westminster Bridge.
It looks like Blofeld is going to get away, thus giving him room to return for sequels. But Bond manages to shoot down his helicopter, with a handgun, while bombing it down the Thames at about 70 MPH. Blofeld, beaten, wounded, and pitiable, crawls out of the wreckage of the chopper, and tries to goad Bond into shooting him. Bond nearly does just that, but then he decides to have his half-brother arrested and dealt with by the authorities.
Hang on a minute; this is James fucking Bond. Are you telling me he’s happy to dob baddies in boiling water and throw goons off roofs, but draws that line at killing the man responsible for every tragedy in his life? What?! Is this one of his new year’s resolutions? It doesn’t make any sense. Okay, so there’s been a vague theme in the script about Bond learning to let go of anger and show more compassion. But Blofeld is a budding totalitarian dictator and the living equivalent of a global catastrophe. He managed to somehow build an evil NSA without NATO or the UN noticing. Plus, he’s already shown that all he gives a stuff about is making Bond’s life hell, so you can bet that he’ll be plotting morning, noon, and night while incarcerated in HM Belmarsh.
So that’s Spectre: a confused and half-brother of a film with petentions of grandeur. It’s a shame, it really is, because I wanted to like this film. I was ready to see the archetype of the Bond MasterMind deconstructed and reconstructed with the same care and forethought we saw Wade and Purvis wielded in Casino Royale and Skyfall. Wouldn’t it be good to really get into the head of a bona fide evil genius? To see the world through his eyes? To understand what would drive someone to want to take over the world? This should have been Blofeld’s movie.
But Blofeld’s not the biggest flaw in the flick. The real problem is that, after breaking down all the conventions of the series, the creators seem to have no new ideas about what to do or where to go next. The end result of Spectre was to take us back to the classic series status quo. I get that some people just want immerse themselves in the nostalgia for the 60s, when the franchise was at the height of its cultural influence. But the beginning of the Craig era promised so much change and innovation, and now it’s looking like those promises aren’t going to be fulfilled. This series is in real danger of devouring itself.
So there you have it. I’ve written more than 40,000 words about James Bond now (the same length as a modest thesis) and watched two days, four hours, and 56 minutes worth of car chases, ski slopes, gun fights, henchmen, gadgets, masterminds, sex scenes, double-entendres and dodgy special effects. Was it all worth it? Um…
Well, that’s a difficult question to answer. On that drunken night when I first had that argument in a South London kebab shop, I was firmly convinced that I liked 0 percent of the James Bond movies. Now, I can say with confidence that roughly about 33 percent of it was actually made well. The rest I found either laughably bad or so-so. However, when it comes to measuring my actual enjoyment, that’s a different matter.
Despite everything, I did actually have a lot of fun cracking open some beers and taking the piss out of the stuff that wasn’t so great, and that’s been a life-saver during lockdown, I can tell you. It’s been five years since Spectre came out, and No Time To Die is almost certainly going to be Craig’s swan (pun unintended) song. It’s due to come out in cinemas at the end of this year, assuming COVID-19 doesn’t delay the release even further, and all we have to go on regarding the plot is a cast list, a trailer, and a bangin’ Billie Eilish song.
Which makes this a very interesting time to be a Bond fan. I’ve always said that the James Bond franchise needs to be a little bit more daring. In fact, much like the main character, it needs to learn to be a little less conservative. It needs to try new things, embrace new concepts, and stop cannibalising its own history for the sake of increasingly diminishing returns.
Bearing that wish in mind, No Time To Die might give us something we’ve genuinely never seen in a Bond film before: an ending. Not just the unceremonious end of an era thanks to an actor’s expired contract, but a genuine conclusion to Bond’s journey. After all, the last film showed that the studio wants to tell an overarching story, and giving Craig’s Bond a proper send-off might be just what we need to tie everything together.
It won’t be permanent, of course. 007 is too big and too profitable to stay retired for long. But you see Mr Bond, we’ve been expecting you. Ready to get back to work?