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Bond Blog: Spectre – A James Bond Retrospective

First published in March 2020.

Following the triumph of Skyfall, the fourth Daniel Craig Bond was always going to have a hard time living up to the hype, but when Spectre premiered a week early in the UK the reviews were all very positive. The release in the US saw a dampening of enthusiasm and for many, the film ranked as the worst of the series so far. I would be one of those but on rewatching my opinion has and has not changed.

It has not changed in the sense that if I were to rank all the Craig Bonds, it would still be at the bottom of the list. And yet on watching it again, I actually found a lot to like and certainly didn’t hate it. I guess expectations make a difference. Sam Mendes, despite initial reluctance, signed on to direct once more. The writing team of Wade and Purves, John Logan and Jez Butterworth was once more assembled. Series regulars, Ralph Fiennes, Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris and Rory Kinnear were joined by an international cast of some repute. Léa Seydoux fresh from the triumph of Blue is the Warmest Colour appeared as Dr. Madeleine Swann, Dave Bautista as Mr. Hinx, Andrew Scott as Max Denbigh and Monica Bellucci as Lucia Sciarra. The villain – now a plum role after Bardem had shown what could be done – went to Christoph Waltz. The title Spectre represented also an end to the legal troubles that had trundled on since the publication of Thunderball, freeing the production company to finally use Spectre and Ernst Stavros Blofeld once more. Despite some unnecessary obfuscation to the press, Waltz was very obviously taking that role.

The film has some definite weaknesses, as well as offering up some good stuff. It is the longest entry into the franchise and has the perennial problem of too many endings. This could be forgiven of Casino Royale, but here the ending was so contrived – especially Madeline’s last minute to go and get kidnapped was so obvious as to be almost parodic. Generally, despite Seydoux’s calibre, there wasn’t much she could do with one of the most underwritten parts. It shows how far we have come that Bond girls need to do more than this. Especially because she is to be the girl that basically fulfills what Vesper promised and turns Bond away from his job. Other problems include some dodgy green screen work, especially in the Mexico City sequence. The bravura lengthy oner promises a great opening, but the explosion is too big especially as no one else in the parade seems to have noticed what has happened. One niggle is also that we have a sequence in the snowy mountains and no skiing. It feels like a lost opportunity. And finally, and more significantly, Waltz is forgettable as Blofeld. The revelation of his name is a big non-starter – why would his pseudonym be such a big deal anyway? – and the family history that connects him to Bond feels one step too far in a saga that feels like it’s becoming a soap opera. Once more this feels too much like it is becoming a TV show with revelations in every episode. Bond was never about twists and reveals. It was about motorboats and spies. Also, Waltz has spent his villain coin already and he doesn’t seem to bring anything to the role other than wearing culottes without socks: fiendish enough, you might declare.

And yet having said that, the film is full of great lines, exciting sequences and enough witty awareness to be forgiven. The Sam Smith song is a grower and the Paco Rabanne title sequence is enough fun. The opening and the helicopter sequence – green screen aside – is exciting. David Bautista is a great silent sidekick in the tradition of Oddjob and Jaws, and the fight on the train is a great replay of the fight between Connery and Shaw in From Russia with Love. The chase in Rome is also well done. And though the attempt to tie everything and everyone together into a strange alternative family for Bond, there is something much more believable about the world he inhabits than previous films. For better or worse, Daniel Craig has created something unique in the franchise. Skyfall was the one film that stood alone but even here the film is very much about who Bond is, where he came from and his relationships, rather than another adventure in the world of an international spy. Obviously, this hasn’t been a direction that everyone has enjoyed and the drawbacks are apparent from some of my earlier remarks, but the camp silliness of Roger Moore’s Bonds were not destroyed by Austin Powers but actually by the Moore Bonds themselves and shifting times and expectations.

With the now delayed release of No Time to Die, Craig’s final film on the horizon, there is time to contemplate possible ways forward. One would be to simply ignore the whole Craig saga and go back to doing one-off films, with occasional references. Another is effectively to continue the Craig saga. This sounds tricky but there are a variety of ways. One is that his name “James Bond” is not actually his name. So if Craig’s Bond were to die, his successor could simply be given the code name along with his 007 moniker. Another solution could be this: Craig’s Bond doesn’t necessarily have to die. M could die for instance and Bond could take over as M. He would reappear in a limited capacity for the Bonds to come, doing a little bit of work but nothing like the commitment of carrying the film and then whoever took over – and it could be a woman, and/or someone of different ethnicity – would take on the 007 identity. The films would continue to be 007 films the way Star Trek continued to be the adventures of the crew of the Enterprise but not Captain Kirk. I’m not sure what I’d prefer, but I think whatever it is, it will have to move forward and take into account what has been achieved during Craig’s tenure. Any comments would be appreciated and I hope you have enjoyed this blog.

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