A New Bond film is a special thing. You see all kinds of people excited for something that at the best of times is plain silly fun. With the forth Daniel Craig Bond film, SPECTRE, upon us, we have been having a bit of a golden time with our old 007. While I had issues with Skyfall, hopes for the second Sam Mendes Bond are high. SPECTRE has been out for over a month now and by the half full cinema I saw it in, it is engaging with the masses and raking in a fair amount of coin. The thing is, I really can't see why? This is a Bond film that makes no sense whatsoever and that is based against the history of a franchise where sense has never been a reliable commodity.
SPECTRE opens shortly after the events of Skyfall. Bond has gone off reservation, again, and we join him on the streets of Mexico City where he is tracking a man. This is a fantastic scene. The faux-tracking shot, with a serious nod to the much better one in Orson Welles' Touch of Evil, is a sight to behold. We follow Bond through the streets and the crowds of The Day Of The Dead celebrations and up to the woman he has collected's hotel room. For those sad enough to notice these things, its a hotel Bond has visited before in License to Kill. Bond jumps out the window and a quick rooftop dash later, he is listening in on this target from across the street, discussing planting a bomb at a crowed stadium, before hunting down "The Pale King". Bond intervenes, manages to shoot the bomb, blowing up the building in the process. Bond and his guy are the only two who seem to survive, prompting a chase through the parade and onto a helicopter where, a flaying helicopter ride later, Bond takes care of his man and the pilot to boot. Bond then flies off into the sunset, cue opening credits and insipid song by Sam Smith. This, (pre-credit scene, not the song) believe it or not, is the high point of the movie. Bond returns to London where he is dressed down by M and we meet C (Andrew Scott), who is the new boss of the combined MI:5 and MI:6. C (the codename for all heads of The Security Service and in this case the butt of a rather poor, repeated, joke) is clearly after shutting down M and his Double-O division and while the idea is interesting, it is oddly handled. Given the great dynamic between Ralph Fiennes and Judi Dench in Skyfall, you'd have thought this would be the starting point for an encounter like this. Obviously they want C to be creepy, but it also waves a flag that it doesn't need too. Bond, despite standard telling off, continues on his quest, off to Rome to witness the funeral of his target from Mexico City and our first meeting with SPECTRE, via the incredibly under used Monica Bellucci. "Used" is probably the operative term as it is a shameful waste of an icon that leaves you feeling a tad tawdry. Bellucci is not given the same depth that Gemma Arterton or Bérénice Marlohe were and they were given paper thin roles, but they were at least been given a little something to work with. Given the hype surrounding her casting, the blink and you miss it moment she is on screen are somewhat off. Rome provides us with an introduction to Christoph Waltz's Oberhauser and a gratuitous car chase which is oddly lacking in bite. The DB10 and Jaguar C-X75 are wonderful to see racing through the deserted streets of the Eternal City, but as there are jokes and Bond on the phone, it is oddly lightweight and utterly superficial. We then track down The Pale King as none other than Mr White (Jesper Christensen from Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace, "Pale King"/Mr White... See what they did there... Oh dear...) who points Bond in the direction of his daughter, Madeleine Swann (the brilliant and again rather wasted Léa Seydoux), a psychiatrist working in an Alpine retreat that is oh so very On Her Majesty's Secret Service. Bond saves Swann, heads off to Tunisia where we have more reminders of Casino Royale, a train fight with the cookie-cutter villain in the shape of Dave Bautista that is straight out of any number of better Bond films and we finally meet up with Mr Oberhauser again. His beautifully over-the-top lair in the desert is in a meteor crater. This is Bond production design at it's finest. The lair is pure Ken Adams' style by way of Jonny Ives and it is fantastic. But, besides the design, we start getting into bad-Bond habits again, with the silly reveal of the baddies' links to Bond and the diabolical scheme being hatched right under MI:6's nose. Over the top escape later, usual single massive flaw in the lair design that Bond shoots leading to massive explosion and we are back in London. If all this seems silly, reading the above back makes more sense than what is going on on screen. The London section, with Bond rescuing Swann from the rigged for demolition Vauxhall Cross and M, Moneypenny and Q hunting down C and stopping the countdown clock for a computer system coming online (because every time we cut over a computer system in the implementation work, we spend time and money on a countdown...) is lacking in any peril whatsoever. Needless to say, Bond saves the girl, gets the bad guy and drives off into the sunset with the girl and there endth the movie.
I thoroughly enjoy silly movies. But the best silly movies stay true to their silliness and this gives you a buy in. That SPECTRE clearly believes that it makes perfect sense is its biggest issue. It doesn't make sense even in the world it is trying to create. By harking back to much better Bond films and even Touch of Evil, a film that put's it's heroine (Janet Leigh) in incredible danger and gives the female icon cameo incredible depth (Welles called in Marlene Dietrich to play a pivotal scene), belays the fact that while it has clearly set the bar high, they then ignored the bar and started playing with the toys. It is just such a shame. And I've not even touched on the real problems, as they are spoilerish to the extreme. So, its silly and if you where to rank Bonds on a scale of You Only Live Twice as the best and Licence to Kill (a Bond film referenced far too often in SPECTRE) at the bottom, SPECTRE is more on the Licence to Kill end of that sliding scale. To be fair to Dalton's final outing to Bond, the sharks eating Felix's legs made more sense than a lot of SPECTRE. Now, if you want the spoilery bits, please scroll past this picture of Monica Bellucci in a film that reveled in it's silliness and was all the better for it. A film that not only had the gall to pull a dissolve from the curves of Ms Bellucci's body to the hills of the Gévaudan, but manages to pull it off; that film is the wonderfully over the top Brotherhood of the Wolf.
Right, if you haven't figured out that Christoph Waltz's Oberhauser is our very own Ernst Stavro Blofeld, you haven't been paying attention. And this is one of the big problems with SPECTRE. When JJ Abrams attempted to hide the fact he was bringing Khan back to his new Star Trek universe, he clumsily hid it behind a façade of Benedict Cumberbatch and "John Harrison", he then dropped the ball in the reveal. The director and his writer, Damon Lindelof, have both said it was a mistake and have apologised for its handling. Mendes and Craig, who had producer level input to this Bond, do exactly the same thing with the reveal and the ham fisted attempts to hide it. That they have Oberhauser use the "I expect you to die" line in almost the exact way as in Goldfinger is face palming annoying and that it was one of the clips released prior to release is just plain stupidity on the part of EON. But the real shocker is the "reveal" itself. Bond, strapped to a chair with computer controlled needles, controlled by a Nehru-suited Blofeld, to undermine his memory so that he has no idea who Swann is as she watches him die, includes a whole speech about how the Oberhauser's took an orphaned Bond in and taught him to ski, climb and cope. Only young James monopolised Herr Oberhauser's affection to the point where young Franz tires to kill them all with an avalanche. James must have broken one of Franz's toys along the way too. You are sat there in the dark, watching this play out in front of you and you are thinking, "I seriously hope Mike Myers is getting a story credit and residuals for this", because this whole scene was done better in Goldmember! Kim Newman, one of the best film critics in England, said in his Empire review that this film casts aside the Austin Powers issues. He's wrong, they borrow them, get better actors in and do EXACTLY the same thing. It would have been far more impressive if the big reveal was that Oberhauser was just Oberhauser. Waltz gives a big speech about how he has taken a hand in killing everything Bond loves, Vesper, M etc. But this is undermined by the fact when Bond discovers a tape of an interrogation of Vesper in Tunis, he tosses it aside, which should mean that jab and the pictures later have no impact, but they do and it feels off. Ok, the interrogation tape was on VHS and who has one of those machines laying around any more, especially in a film sponsored by Sony, Blu-Ray or the high way. But still, if it doesn't mean anything any more, why does Bond let Oberhauser/Blofeld bait him with it, when they are clearly trying to show Swann's influence on a softening Bond. Coupled to this, the last time Waltz and Seydoux were on screen together was the incredible cabin scene in Inglorious Basterds, we know how good they are and they are wasted with this material. Moving on, that Bond blows up the entire lair with one shot makes more thematic sense than most of the rest of the film. Plus, in this post Mad Max: Fury Road world, one insipid car cash and one massive explosion don't cut it any more, Mad Max engaged and stayed true to it's premise. Getting back to the Bond/Swann "love" angle, once we get back to London, Swann wanders off, leaving Bond and M to hunt down the villians. Here you hope to find out that Swann was a SPECTRE agent all along because that would be a twist that works and would mean Blofeld knows the real way to get at Bond, just as he did with Vesper or that she just legs it in a moment of sanity. But no. Swann is nothing more than a damsel in distress in this bit of the movie. Bond rescues the girl, shoots down Blofeld's helicopter with his Walther from 200-odd yards while on a speed boat, that then crashes on Westminster Bridge and everything in London, a city constantly on high alert for just this sort of thing, stops to allow Bond to catch up and have a moment with his "brother". This is almost as annoying to a Londoner as Thor being able to get the Central Line all the way to Greenwich. When you are repeatedly using the word "silly" in a regards to a Bond movie, you know you're in trouble. The final scene though, for three seconds, gave me hope. Bond returns to Q's lab to collect the same DB5 that everyone is making out is perfectly normal to have been kitted out in 1960's tech and also that it was issued by Q branch in the first place. Which doesn't make sense as we have just spent the last two hours plus being reminded of Casino Royale where Bond won the bloody thing playing poker. The DB5 has been rebuilt, polished and Bond and Swann climb in and, just for a second, you mind starts putting together hopes: "Alpine retreat where Bond meets the girl, Blofeld showing up, Blofeld gets his comeuppance, we are going to get a On Her Majesty's Secret Service moment!" No, you are not. Despite Blofeld's resources and claims of killing all Bond loves, he manages to get caught with only a helicopter and his butler and instead of gunning down Bond's girl as he drives off into the sunset, as per Diana Rigg's Tracy at the end of OHMSS, Bond just drives off into the sunset with the girl... What is the point of all the references if the only thing your going to do is choose to ignore them all at the end? It's moment of possible redemption gone, the credits roll (no Mike Myers credit, incidentally) and the somewhat worrisome "James Bond Will Return" which usually gives so much hope is even buried amongst other stuff. They've drawn a nice line for the Craig Bonds, now recast, restart and give us a Black Bond. That would be the logical step in the 21st century and we can forget the fact that given all the toys, Mendes and Craig have forgotten that Bond is a Shark and needs to keep moving forwards. Two films of reminding us why we love Bond and not giving us new reasons to do so has just undermined the product. But, what do I know. I'm just a fan who even buys the new novels when they come out. Given the positive reaction in the theatre and the money rolling in, this is the Bond we are going to be getting for the foreseeable future and it is a damn shame.
SPECTRE is out now everywhere.