24 07 2016

After multiple viewings, I realized it was time to talk about the 4th instalment in the current James Bond franchise with Daniel Craig, Spectre. The movie is the 24th “official” James Bond film, and the 26th movie made about the iconic secret agent. Some have complained it is too long, and wasn’t as good as some of the previous 3 movies. My only complaint is that it was following the “Bond out of bounds” motif yet again, but otherwise I found it to be classic Bond.

SPOILER ALERT: In this piece I discuss important plot points that may give away the ending. Read at your own risk.

Too Long?

Let’s address one of the more common complaints about Spectre: some feel it’s too long. Frankly, I don’t find that to be the case. The pacing is pretty good. It doesn’t lag or slow too much, with enough “downtime” to allow the audience to catch their breath. Sure, there’s a lot to take in, and it does result in the longest Bond movie to date, clocking in at around 148 minutes. That’s 4 minutes longer than Casino Royale, 5 longer than Skyfall and a whopping 42 minutes longer than Quantum of Solace (which was a decidedly compact 106 minutes).

I think it was necessary to tell the story properly. Some feel it should have ended when the compound in Africa was destroyed, and that would have trimmed about 20 minutes off of the movie. But that would leave the whole thread with “C” unresolved, as well as leaving the issue of the Double-O program in more limbo that it was.

Bond movies traditionally were self-contained, but the most recent movies have broken with that tradition to some degree. Granted, Blofeld was one of the few bad guys to get away at the end of the movies he appeared in (and was eventually “killed” at the beginning of For Your Eyes Only, although he was never actually named because of the copyright dispute). But typically, the main boss was confronted and meets their demise in the film’s climax.

The last 4 movies have broken with that tradition, in some ways sticking closer to how the books were written. In the books, the end of each novel was another step in getting closer to taking out the bigger target. Bond and MI6 was up against a larger foe, and the main bad guy was simply another cog in the machine that was eventually named SPECTRE (it’s an acronym in the books, but no mention is made of that in the most recent movie).

So, while Spectre could have left us hanging, it did need to wrap some bits up to keep the movie somewhat self-contained. Not doing so may have resulted in a less satisfying movie.

Bond Breaks The Rules (Again)

The one element of Spectre that is getting a little old is the continuing “Bond isn’t acting officially/has his licence to kill revoked” theme. It started with Licence to Kill way back in 1989 with Timothy Dalton in his final Bond appearance. It features Bond on a mission to seek revenge for an attack on his friends, which MI6 can’t officially sanction, so he goes “off the reservation” and outside of his brief. The plot device disappears for a while, but has become a bit of staple in the past 4 Bond movies.

Okay, Bond does have a habit of breaking the rules. It usually gets him a stern lecture from M, but it gets the results desired. However, he resigns (briefly) in Casino Royale, is “suspended” in Quantum of Solace and his entire department eliminated in Spectre. As a plot device, it’s getting a touch repetitive. It’s time to find a new hook.

Channeling Bernard Lee

We had a major character change in Skyfall, with Gareth Mallory (played by Ralph Fiennes) taking over as M. We never did find out Judi Dench’s character’s real name or background, other than knowing she ran Station H in Hong Kong for a time. Watching Fiennes performance in Skyfall and Spectre, I see some degree of Bernard Lee, the original cinematic M. He can be gruff or abrupt when necessary, but isn’t above subterfuge and deception to get the job done.

The result is a character that is the right combination of pragmatic and political, and Fiennes plays that role well. While his performance isn’t a complete copy of Lee’s performance, there’s enough to hint at the M many of us grew up with. I hope Fiennes continues in the role, at least for a while.

The Theme Song

Most of the time, the opening theme song for James Bond is a hit. On occasion, though, they can fall flat. The opening themes to Moonraker, Thunderball and Octopussy weren’t particularly strong efforts, particularly when heard alongside classics like Diamonds Are Forever, Goldfinger or For Your Eyes Only. The previous 3 movies had theme songs that suited a Bond movie and set the tone for the story. The driving songs at the start of Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace set the tone for the movies: hard, fast and edgy. Skyfall was more melancholic and orchestral, but so was the movie.

Then we come to Sam Smith’s  Writing’s On The Wall, the theme for Spectre. It wasn’t anywhere near the weakest of James Bond themes, but it wasn’t the strongest either. I would rate it mid-pack: acceptable but not among the greats. The lyrics tended to be a bit repetitive, and not in a good way, and it wasn’t something you came away humming the first time you heard it. The movie is an important development in the larger story arc for James Bond, and frankly, the movie deserved a better song.

A Worthy Instalment

Is Spectre the best Bond ever? Probably not, at least not in my eyes. The “best” Bond movies for me are Goldfinger, Man With The Golden Gun and Casino Royale. The first features all the classic Bond elements: the Aston Martin, a reasonably complex plan by the bad guys, and a grittiness that we came to expect with Sean Connery’s Bond. Golden Gun was Roger Moore’s second outing as Bond, and was the last of the “pre-campy” Bond films. Casino Royale was a reboot of sorts, and took us back to a Bond that was both harder and tougher than before, but with enough class and taste to be classic Bond.

Cristoph Walz played Blofeld as I would have expected. He’s menacing in a way that is intellectual, but still quirky and a little unbalanced. It features strong supporting performances for the good guys from Ben Wishaw (Q), Naomie Harris (Moneypenny) and Rory Kinnear (Tanner). On the other side, we have a strong uber-henchman (Dave Bautista as Mr. Hinx, who utters exactly one word in the entire movie), a slippery and annoying frontman (Andrew Scott as Max Denbigh/C) and a reappearance of Mr. White (played again by Jesper Christensen).

The “Bond Girls” are some of the strongest characters to date. Monica Bellucci and Lea Seydoux are both strong, intelligent and capable. They aren’t there just to be rescued or to act as eye candy. They form important elements of the story, and aren’t just window dressing.

Overall, I enjoyed Spectre. I though it was a decent Bond movie. Not the best, to be sure, but still watchable and a worthy instalment in the current franchise.




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