“Visionaries… Psychiatric wards are full of them.” – James Bond
Welcome back to 00 Saturdays here at Film Seizure. This is our weekly walk through the Bond saga. This week, we take a look at the fourth James Bond film for Daniel Craig, and the return of a classic Bond villain, Spectre.
Spectre opens with a very cool pre-titles sequence. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that it also brings back the gun barrel sequence for the opening of the film. The previous entries in the Craig era did different things with the sequence (if not completely changed its placement). The key technical thing that the opening has that is really cool is it starts with a long shot that follows a parade at a Day of the Dead festival in Mexico. We see a man pass a couple, then we follow the couple from the street all the way to the room where Bond changes out of his costume and walks along the roofs to find a man he’s been sent to kill. It’s a well done shot that almost feels like something we’d have seen in a Connery film in the very early days of the seres.
He listens in on their convo and when it’s discovered he’s outside across the street, the man he’s after, Sciarra, runs. Bond accidentally blows up a building, and has to commandeer a helicopter. Bond kills his target and the pilot of the helicopter and makes off with a souvenir – a ring with an octopus. It’s a hell of an exciting scene.
Bond’s actions in Mexico gets him suspended. Moneypenny believes there’s something more to what he’s been doing. Bond reveals to her a posthumous video from M (the Judi Dench one) saying if anything happens to her, he needs to find Sciarra, kill him, and not to miss the funeral. He asks Moneypenny to help cover for him and look up anything that might have to do with the “Pale King” – a name he heard when listening in on Sciarra. What’s more, she delivers to him some recovered personal effects from Skyfall. He sees some papers about temporary guardianship to the Oberhauser family after his parents died.
Despite M (the Ralph Fiennes one) not wanting Bond to leave his sight, and nanotechnology in his bloodstream thanks to Q tracking his every move, Bond still goes to Rome to attend the funeral of Sciarra. There, he meets the man’s wife, Lucia (Monica Bellucci – more on her later). Bond goes to her home and romances her after saving her life from assassins who plan to get rid of any loose ends. She tells him where the organization Sciarra was meeting to plan who will be his replacement. He leaves and gives her Felix Leiter’s information to get her somewhere safe. Bond gains entry into the secret meeting with the ring he took from Sciarra, but he raises some alarms being that he’s not a recognizable member of the organization.
During the meeting, the head of this organization, the mysterious Ernst Stavro Blofeld, reveals he knows Bond is there. Bond now has to escape the entire organization, and their brand new muscle-bound assassin, Mr. Hinx (Dave Bautista). The car chase between Bond and Hinx is really good. It’s a late night run through Rome with two very fast, and very nice sports cars. I especially like that Bond thinks the Aston Martin DB10 he has is tricked out to his normal specifications, but Q had reconfigured it for 009 after Bond’s little adventure in Mexico.
Bond discovers that some various attacks around the world are connected. What’s more is that the “Pale King” is Mr. White from the previous films in the series. This organization, named SPECTRE, intends to kill White. Meanwhile, M and MI-6 are in a bit of turmoil. Thanks to his predecessor’s issues from Skyfall, MI-6 has been merged into MI-5, and the head of that agency, Max Denbigh, which commonly goes by C, is pushing for nine countries to combine their efforts into one large spy organization called Nine Eyes. M is most definitely against it because of the over reach of the power Nine Eyes would have and how it is not a democratically chosen body..
Bond finds White in Austria wasting away from thallium poisoning. There is no chance for White’s survival, so Bond naturally wants to know how he can find Blofeld again. Bond realizes White is hiding a daughter. White tells him where to find his daughter, Madeleine Swann, and where they can go to get more info on Blofeld before killing himself.
I’ll say this about the film, many bemoan how much the previous three films seem to be retconned or forced together into a larger, world building story. I am not sure how I feel about it myself. There are pros and cons. There’s something neat about this becoming a larger narrative about the reliability of individual secret agents. With a world becoming more and more global, is it right to have surveillance on everything and everyone? If you remove individual agents with instincts, decision making, and intuition, and broaden your abilities for surveillance, how easy would it be for someone, or a group of people, to obtain control over it, or at least twist it based around some bad ideology?
These are interesting questions and ideas that actions over the past three movies and the first half of this movie do naturally lead to. For the most part, these films do represent a better post-9/11 world than Die Another Day did – considering that film was not really able to appropriately develop a story in time to connect that real world stuff into it. Fear from globalization and technology also offered up more opportunities for people to seize more power. In a lot of ways, this run of four movies calls into question what can one man, even the best at his somewhat nasty profession, do against a large, powerful organization who attracts powerful people who can dip their fingers into many, many pies all at once? It’s something that, whether sanely or unreasonably, people truly worry about. Regardless your political leanings, both sides fear a larger organization that is too powerful to topple.
Bond finds Swann at a mountaintop mental health facility. Bond poorly explains himself to her and she threatens have him removed if he doesn’t leave. He waits knowing that Hinx is on his way, so a second action sequence happens between the SPECTRE baddie and 007. This time it is Hinx, with a couple guys in SUVs, and Bond in a plane. They eventually stop the SPECTRE goons, and Q reveals that Bond’s concerns over a piece of his past, Blofeld (whose name was originally Franz Oberhauser), is connected to everything Bond has been dealing with his entire career.
Swann and Bond go to Tangier to a hotel that White often visited. There, they discover coordinates that seem to track to a place in the middle of the desert where they find Blofeld. Meanwhile, MI-6 will be totally shut down in about 72 hours because Nine Eyes gets officially sanctioned after an attack in Cape Town brings the only hold out, South Africa, on board. When Bond finds Blofeld, this is where things get a little… blech.
So here’s the deal. Blofeld, formerly Franz Oberhauser, is an angry little man. Blofeld’s father adopted Bond after his parents died in that climbing accident. Not too long after, seemingly both papa Oberhauser and Franz died. Franz became Blofeld, and started a revenge plot against James Bond for what he believed as Bond supplanting Franz’s role as son.
Okay, the first problem… This completely removes any simple plot that Blofeld is just a powerful man who wants to seize as much power as he possibly can. That’s simple. That’s understandable in terms of storytelling. It doesn’t do what my second problem is – Bond and Blofeld are not some mystically entangled good guy/bad guy duo. Blofeld was a bad guy who existed in the 60s. He was mostly in the shadows. Was he angry with Bond? Yeah, the dude was always messing up his plans. There is no further need for these to have history. This emotional bond (no pun intended) between the two is lazy. It makes more sense for Blofeld to mess with Bond AFTER he beat Le Chiffre, grabbed White, and toppled Quantum. It doesn’t make a lick of difference or sense to do any of this by way of a familial connection. It makes a very powerful villain with all the resources in the world a completely petty hack.
That’s a real shame too because you have a phenomenal actor in Christoph Waltz playing Blofeld. What an inspired casting decision. He’s great. As is a great deal of the film well made, exciting, and generally entertaining. But that whole Blofeld/Bond sibling rivalry thing is just plain stupid. This is a fairly middle tier film in the rankings, with potential of being a top 10 entry, before the reveal that Blofeld just thinks of Bond as the guy who his daddy loved more than him. This twist ultimately negates the entire third act because I was so frustrated with this story idea that the film tumbles down the rankings because I get so checked out down the stretch.
And here’s where we bring in our old friend, Kevin McClory. The reason why SPECTRE hadn’t been seen since You Only Live Twice and Blofeld not mentioned by name since Diamonds Are Forever is due to some sticky legalities. Ian Fleming created SPECTRE for the novel Thunderball. Of course, McClory is dogged around his rights to Thunderball as a film and a story. So it wasn’t until sometime in 2012 that EON Productions finally secured the rights again to use SPECTRE and Blofeld in a film again. I feel like those involved with the film Spectre was chomping at the bit to use the organization. So they created this relationship between Bond and Blofeld as a way to cash in. I have no reason to believe my concocted story right there is true, but I hate the idea more than any other in this entire series.
Okay, let’s round this out with positives about the movie. The movie looks good. The action scenes are really fun and exciting. Waltz is great even though what he’s got to work with is mostly shit. The torture scene with Bond and Blofeld is interesting to a certain extent but it’s right about there that the reveal happens that causes me to check out. Ralph Fiennes struggling to keep people like Bond doing the jobs they do for all the good and ill that comes along with human error is good and helps you ask the right questions like I did earlier in this review. Interestingly, this plot was used in the first novel that author John Gardner wrote called License Renewed. The idea that MI-6 gets folded into MI-5 and the 00 section of MI-6 is disbanded and potentially deemed obsolete, etc. I’m not sure if that was a point of contention or inspiration, but this isn’t the first piece of Bond material to feature that idea.
I do very much like the Bond Girls – with a caveat. First, let’s celebrate Monica Bellucci as Lucia Sciarra. At age 51, she is the oldest Bond Girl, and the first to be older than the actor playing 007 since Diana Rigg/George Lazenby (separated by only one year). She has long been one of the more beautiful actresses in Hollywood so for her to finally get to be a Bond Girl is great. She only really has two scenes, but they are steamy. Because she is.
The other Bond Girl is where my caveat lies.
As Madeleine Swann, French actress Léa Seydoux is perfectly fine. There’s a look about her that is almost deceptively beautiful. Her looks range from professional to casual to stunning when she is with Bond on the train and they decide, for some reason, to go to the dinner car in their best formal wear. What I find most interesting about her is how pale she really seems to be. When she and Bond go to Blofeld’s desert hideout, you’d swear she’s wearing a white body stocking because she is so pale. That almost makes her prettier.
The problem I really have with her character isn’t her interesting paleness or her general place as a Bond Girl that he picks up by way of promising to protect what seems to be an innocent girl whose father was part of a really bad organization. The problem I have is that she seems to be supplanting two really important women in Bond’s life – Vesper Lynd and Tracy di Vincenzo. One is who makes Bond cold and the other is someone who he settles down with and is seemingly perfect for him. Introducing this new woman into Bond’s life as the love of his life is awkward because aside from there being attraction between the two and his honorable promise to protect her, what do they really have? Nothing really more than any other Bond Girl had in past movies – except for the two I mentioned. I guess they are in love and Bond is leaving MI-6 for her at the end of this movie.
Look, there are things to like in Spectre. I’m not going to call it unwatchable as some have. It most definitely has problems, especially in the third act, but it still has solid action sequences and introduces some really good ideas about what the future is and how we might protect against those who will still find a way to seize power when we normal people feel fear from the bad stuff that happens in the world. This falls to the bottom tier, but I still like this film more, by the sliver of a hair, than Quantum of Solace as that seemed to be mostly devoid of the deeper questions one could ask and a larger feel than just a simple sequel to a superior film.
All that said, I do realize why this is the film I have still seen fewest out of all – not because of the relative recency of the movie, but I lack the desire to pick it up and put it into the Blu-ray player.
Join me next week for a look at the music of Spectre. In two weeks, we take a look at Daniel Craig’s final entry as agent 007, No Time to Die.