Sunday, 13 December 2015

2015- The Year of Thespianage No. 4 - SPECTRE - Deja Vu, Mr Bond.

And here we are, heading towards the end of a year which saw a noticeable resurgence in spy thrillers on the big screen. I had planned to do a write-up on the Melissa McCarthy espionage comedy, Spy, but I think I've run out of puff with regard to doing a long review of that film. So, I'll just give you all a brief summation of what I liked and disliked about the movie. 
Naturally, in writing about these films, there will be SPOILERS SCATTERED THROUGHOUT.
Just thought I'd mention that.

Okay, firstly, Spy.
Given that 2015 gave us so many espionage/ spy thrillers, it was perhaps bound to be the case that we'd get at least one film that would spoof the genre. Remember that the spy film/tv show craze of the 1960s, thanks to the success of James Bond on-screen, also spawned a few comedy variants in the super-spy category. Perhaps the most notable would have been the classic tv series Get Smart, starring Don Adams as the bumbling Agent 86, Maxwell Smart. 
So, it was only a matter of time before modern Hollywood would come up with a comic spy movie. Spy manages to use a few Bond tropes throughout, most obvious of which is Jude Law as Bradley Fine, a tuxedoed super-agent who appears in the film's opening scenes. Melissa McCarthy plays Susan Cooper, a CIA analyst who sits at her computer and uses satellite imaging and CCTV cameras to help guide Fine through his mission. I won't go into plot details, but Fine is killed early on and Susan convinces her boss to let her go to Paris to continue Fine's mission and report back.
The film becomes a classic fish-out-of-water tale as we see Susan bumble her way through her mission. The strength of this film lies in its casting. McCarthy handles her role with ease and is a joy to watch as she delivers sarcastic one-liners and increasingly becomes the butt of jokes regarding her lack of femme fatale qualities. 
Jude Law and Jason Statham are both great as Fine and tough-as-nails agent Rick Ford, respectively. Statham plays his role straight and that makes it even funnier, as he catches up with Susan in Paris and keeps telling her that she's ill-equipped for field agent work, reminding her of all the outlandish injuries he's sustained in the course of his duties as a spy. 
Rose Byrne is great as the villainous Rayna, keeping a straight face as the film gets further into absurdity. 
All in all, Spy isn't a bad film, but Director Paul Feig has a tendency to climb down into the gutter to get a laugh. Some of the gags are cheap shots and unnecessary.
Maybe I need to watch it again?

Okay, now it's time for the main topic of this post. With the phenomenal critical acclaim and box-office revenue generated by Skyfall back in 2012, Bond film Producers Danjac/EON Productions were probably eager to repeat the success. So, there was a lot riding on this follow-up film. The press conference was held in December last year and this is where we saw the unveiling of the main cast of the next Bond film.
However, the biggest bombshell from this press conference was that the film would be titled SPECTRE.

Oh my God!, I thought to myself. Finally! My head began to fill with possibilities. Here's why this is a big deal to a hard-core Bond fan like me;
Back in the late 1950s, Ian Fleming collaborated with two screenwriters named Kevin McClory and Jack Whittingham to create a James Bond story which would be made into either a tv series or film, I can't remember which.
The project ground to a halt at some point. 
Fleming later used much of the material from this co-authored story to write his ninth Bond novel Thunderball, which was published in 1961. 
McClory took Fleming to court, claiming that this new book used elements from the screen story that he had written with Fleming and Whittingham. 
The court case dragged on for a couple of years and was finally settled out of court in McClory's favour. McClory would own the rights to the Thunderball screen story and would also get a producing credit on the subsequent film that was made in 1965. 
McClory still owned the rights to the Thunderball story and he tried on numerous occasions throughout the 1970s to produce his own James Bond movie using this story. 
He finally managed to get the film made in 1983 as Never Say Never Again, returning Sean Connery to the role of 007. 
Further legal wranglings continued throughout the rest of the '80s and '90s, with McClory once again attempting to remake this story. 
The 1990s were a mess, as far as ownership rights to the character of James Bond were concerned. United Artists, the film studio that had produced all of the official Bond movies, went into bankruptcy. 
MGM studios bought out what was left of United Artists. Meanwhile, Sony had entered the film-making arena and were interested in McClory's plans to remake his Thunderball script. 
It all got pretty convoluted, with regard to who owned what, but things began to settle around 2004 and EON Productions were back in control of ownership of the cinematic James Bond. 
Kevin McClory died in 2006 at the age of 89.  
EON Productions finally acquired the rights to McClory's estate in 2013. This meant that all Thunderball-related material was back in its hands.
Which meant that Bond could once again go up against his arch nemesis, Ernst Stavro Blofeld and his world-wide criminal organisation, SPECTRE. And his fluffy white Persian cat.

This whole legal saga is the stuff of Bond film legend and further (and more detailed and, most  probably, correct) information can be found all over the web. Entertainment writer Robert Sellers covered this saga in his book, "The Battle For Bond", published in 2007. I'm once again indebted to wikipedia.com for the info outlined above. I personally think that the legal proceedings brought against Bond author Ian Fleming back in the Sixties contributed greatly to his having a fatal heart attack in 1964.

The previous Bond film, Skyfall, was a critical and financial blockbuster, so there was a lot riding on this follow-up film. Given the success of that movie, Danjac/EON were eager to repeat it. They wanted Director Sam Mendes back for the next film, but he was committed to various theatrical projects. So they waited until he was done with those.
Skyfall proved that Mendes could give Bond and his world the respect that it deserved, so I, for one, was glad to hear that he'd be back to helm the next 007 installment.

"To be inside that car [the Aston Martin DB5] is like driving a national monument. I got nervous even shooting it. And when I blew it up, it was like I'd slashed the Mona Lisa. I snuck into a screening of Skyfall at the Imax on the South Bank and the audience dealt with the death of various characters without blinking an eye. But when the car blew up, the gasp that drew!"
                                                                                           
                                                                                            - Sam Mendes, British GQ, November 2015


Principal shooting began earlier this year. The infamous Sony e-mail hack exposed details of the film's storyline, but I maintained total radio silence and managed to avoid reading anything about it. I wanted to see this film with fresh eyes.
I went along to my first viewing about ten days after it's release here in Australia.

I was underwhelmed. I'll say it straight off the bat.
As a Bond fan, I wanted to like this film, but I began to get that old feeling that I used to have back in the early to mid 1980s when Roger Moore was Bond and the films had devolved into campy Carry On-style escapades filled with skiing onto restaurant tables, telling wild tigers to "Sit!", and diffusing nuclear warheads while dressed as a circus clown.
Obviously, there was none of this kind of silliness in SPECTRE, but it bugged me in other ways. Big time. 
Anyway, right, now pay attention, 007.

AND HERE COME THE SPOILERS, FOLKS

The screen is black before a short phrase appears; The dead are alive.

SPECTRE then opens with a stunning scene set during Mexico's Day of The Dead festival. In a brilliant steady-cam take, we see a man in a white suit make his way through the crowd. We learn later on that his name is Marco Sciarra, and that's what I'll call him, rather than repeating the phrase 'the man in the white suit' over and over.

Everyone is wearing painted faces and masks of death and skulls, etc. Sciarra walks past a couple. The man in this couple wears a black morning suit with a white skeleton painted on it. A skull mask covers his face and a black top hat completes the look. Shades of Baron Samedi out of Live And Let Die. 
Yes, of course it's Bond wearing this outfit, and it's a great opening scene. This couple slowly begins to follow Sciarra. He's unaware of their presence as he enters a building. The couple enters a nearby hotel and takes the elevator. All the while, the camera has been following them.
I already mentioned that I'm a sucker for a well-staged Steadicam or tracking shot. If you need a crash course, then check out Orson Welles' Touch Of Evil, the restaurant scene in Scorsese's Goodfellas, and the first thirteen minutes of Brian Di Palma's Snake Eyes.

So, Bond and this woman get in the elevator. There are already a couple of people in it and the camera gets in too. The elevator stops, Bond and the lady get out and make their way to a hotel room. She opens the door, they walk in and Bond walks out of shot while she takes off her mask and lies down on the bed. The camera pans around and Bond has removed his Day of The Dead outfit and stands there wearing a sharp Tom Ford suit.
"I'll be right back", he says as he steps out the window and begins walking along the hotel's parapet two storeys above the street, cradling a short rifle slung over his shoulder. So far, there have been no cuts, but I have to assume that some CGI was employed because, as Bond makes his way along the building's edge, the camera pulls up and back. And no Steadicam operator's arms are that long;


It's extraordinary camera-work, going from an intimate medium close-up of Bond and the lady to a wider shot which shows Daniel Craig effortlessly walking the building's edge. Craig is great in this scene. He moves with cat-like grace as he arrives at a rooftop opposite the building Marco Sciarra entered moments earlier. Sciarra is visible through the window of a room, talking to another man. Bond crouches down and makes some quick adjustments to the rifle. He flicks a switch along its barrel, activating a microphone, and we hear the two men talking. One of them puts a briefcase on the table and we get mention of a bomb going off in a stadium at six pm that evening. Sciarra reaches for the briefcase. Now, despite having seen this film twice, I'm unclear as to whether Bond starts shooting unprovoked or whether the man sees him and then the shooting starts. Either way, guns start firing. Bond aims low and fires a shot at the briefcase. It explodes.

By now, I'm thinking this will be a great Bond film. While I would have liked to have seen Skyfall Cinematographer Roger Deakins return for this film, so far, I'm happy with the work of Hoyte Van Hoytema, who was responsible for the camerawork in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (2011) and Interstellar (2014).

The exploded building begins to topple towards Bond and he just manages to leap to safety as the floor beneath him caves in, in a very Uncharted/Tomb Raider video-gamey kind of way (which I liked). Bond manages to land on the ground, in a very Bondy fashion, before he sees Sciarra stumble from the debris and begins to follow him again through the festival goers.


                                   pic courtesy of www.bild.de

Sciarra pulls his mobile phone and barks an urgent order into it. Momentarily, a helicopter appears and lands in a square as the festival crowd parts and Sciarra climbs aboard. Bond catches up and scrambles onto the 'copter as well. A fight ensues as the pilot struggles to get the chopper out of there while Bond grapples alternately with him and Sciarra. It's a slightly overlong fight scene and feels repetitive. Soft alarm bells go off in my head at this point- Is this film's 148 minute running time gonna be padded out with repetition like this? Because, it breaks the tension of the scene.
During the fight with Sciarra, Bond makes a point of removing a ring from the man's finger.
Bond gains control of the chopper, after throwing out both Sciarra and the pilot and he flies off, taking his eyes off the sky for a moment to look at the ring. The camera does a slow zoom towards it to reveal a stylised octopus logo engraved on it...


...before the soundtrack fades into Sam Smith's song, Writing's On The Wall. 
Sorry, kids. I like a falsetto voice as much as the next man. I love Jagger's vocals on Emotional Rescue and the chorus of  Fool To Cry, and his voice on Worried About You is simply beautiful;


...but I don't want to hear falsetto on a Bond song. Sam Smith is a very accomplished singer, judging by his success, although I know nothing of his other work. I think, though, that he was not the right choice for this track. It seems that the Bond films have a tendency to use singers who just happen to be big at the time. Sheena Easton came out of nowhere with her breakout tune (9 to 5) Morning Train back in 1981 and was quickly scooped up to sing the title track for Roger Moore's For Your Eyes Only that same year, but she never reached the same level of fame afterwards that she had with her debut single.
I have a theory on how the Title track can be an indicator of the film itself. I call it the Die Another Day Theorem. More about that later.

Anyway, the title song ends and we find ourselves in M's (Ralph Fiennes) office as he tosses a newspaper down on his desk with a headline about 'Mayhem in Mexico' and we once again have a scene where Bond is being berated by his boss for bringing attention to himself. There was a similar post-opening-credits scene in Daniel Craig's first outing as Bond, Casino Royale.
Again, some alarm bells went off in my head. Is this going to be another Bond film where he's temporarily suspended from active duty?, I thought to myself. Both Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace contained a similar plot point.
Bond then meets Denbigh (Andrew Scott), head of the Joint Intelligence Service, which plans to merge MI5 and MI6, and also implement a surveillance program called 'Nine Eyes', designed to incorporate the intelligence resources of England and eight other member states worldwide. Needless to say, M is not thrilled with this initiative and so begins his power struggle with Denbigh, also referred to as 'C'.

The next scene shows Bond in his minimally furnished apartment as Miss Moneypenny (Naomi Harris) pays a visit. She tells him word back at headquarters is that he's getting past his use-by date. He turns on his television and shows her a video of the previous M (Judi Dench) delivering him a posthumous cryptic message about Marco Sciarra. M's instructions were for Bond to kill him and "Don't miss the funeral".

This was a neat touch, but it didn't go much further. I read afterwards on a Bond forum where one member suggested that Bond should have had more video information from M that propelled him further throughout this unauthorised mission of his. That would have been cool. Bond could have progressed through the story with a few more video updates on his cellphone from a deceased M, along the lines of "By now you'll have infiltrated this organisation. Now, you need to look for a man named..." etc, etc. 
That would have been grand! Bond going off and taking orders from his dead boss, all the while trying to stay one step ahead of his current boss.

Bond heads off to Rome, after instructing Q (Ben Wishaw) to mask his whereabouts for 48 hours so that he can go to the man in the white suit's funeral to see what he can uncover. It is there that he meets Sciarra's widow, Lucia (an underutilised Monica Bellucci), who delivers the first of the 'In Praise of The Villain' statements; 'You are crossing over to a place where there is no mercy.'

It's a screenwriting trope. Used in many films, it is usually a line or two given by somebody to the hero to let them know that they are messing with forces that they can not possibly comprehend or hope to defeat.
Bond then uses Sciarra's confiscated octopus ring to gain entry to a super-secret and diabolical meeting at a large villa. Everyone at this meeting stands to attention when a back-lit figure enters the room and takes a seat at the head of the biggest board-room table I've ever seen. The figure sits there quietly, listening to the meeting in progress before he speaks, to inform everyone of Marco Sciarra's demise and the fact that 'the pale King' must still be dealt with. Are there any volunteers for this?
Enter Mr Hinx (Dave Bautista), a giant of a man who walks in and doesn't say a word before being given the task after he murders another man who had volunteered for the task.
The shadowy figure continues talking and then he stops, turns his head, and looks up and directly addresses Bond, who is assembled among the group at this ominous gathering. A look of shock registers across Daniel Craig's face as he recognises the man as Franz Oberhauser, a ghost from his past. Immediately Bond busts out of there as goons start shooting at him. He gets into his car, and is soon followed by Mr Hinx and we get a quick car chase through surprisingly vacant streets of Rome at night.
Bond is tearing along in a flashy Aston Martin DB10, but this car has actually been customised for Agent 009 before 007 'borrowed' it from Q's lab. Bond attempts to use some of the Q gadgets fitted in this car and there are some amusing results during this chase. It's a nice touch which plays with the 'Bond's Car Gadget Scene' that audiences have come to know, and it injects a little humour in the film. Bond manages to get away.

He contacts Moneypenny and asks her to search for information regarding Franz Oberhauser. After his parents were killed in a climbing accident, Bond's guardianship was temporarily fostered out to a family friend, Hans Oberhauser and his son Franz, who was a few years older than Bond. Two years later, Bond was transferred to the guardianship of his Aunt. Some time after that, Oberhauser and his son Franz were killed in an accident, but it would seem that the younger Franz did not die at all.

Bond later meets up with Q to ask about doing a search for 'the pale King' on the MI6 database. The results point towards Mr White, the shady character who appeared in the first two Daniel Craig Bonds. Double-O Seven tracks him to a house in the Austrian Alps where he's in hiding. Mr White (Jesper Christensen) tells Bond that he's been poisoned with Thallium and doesn't have long to live. It would appear that this shadowy organisation got to him after all.
Bond demands information on this cartel and Mr White delivers the second 'In Praise of The Villain' speech, ending it with; You're a kite, dancing in a hurricane!'
White said something similar back in Quantum of Solace (2008) when he laughed off M's threats of punishment by telling her and Bond; "We have people everywhere" right before M's own bodyguard pulled a gun and started shooting at her and Bond, allowing Mr White the opportunity to escape.
Here, he refuses to give Bond any information. Bond suspects that White is protecting someone and surmises that he is remaining tight-lipped in order to protect his daughter. As a show of trust, 007 gives him his Walther PPK. White tells Bond where he can locate his daughter and instructs Bond to take her to 'L'Americaine' and all will be revealed. At this point, we don't know if 'L'Americaine' is a person or a place.
White then picks up the gun and blows his own brains out.

More occurs from here on in, but I have to say that the next 45 minutes or so take a long time to say very little. It's a long series of sequences and scenes that don't propel the story forward very much, and it all could have been handled in half an hour of screen-time. Worse still, I found the action scenes not very inspired or tense.
And, for me, here's the thing- you know going in to a Bond film that 007 will manage to survive till the end. The real trick is to make the audience forget this. And to do this, you need to put him in some real harm's way where you're not certain that he will survive.

Anyway, Bond finds Mr White's daughter, a girl named Madeleine Swann (Lea Seydoux). I have not read Marcel Proust's Remembrance of Things Past, so any and all references to it were lost on me. Suffice to say, there's a story in it called Swann's Way and it begins with the narrator's reminiscence of eating some madeleine cake.

Sure, I get that this story is much to do with Bond's past (again) but...

Like I say, there's a whole chunk of this film here where things happen slowly- despite a fight with Mr Hinx on board a train, once again an action scene devoid of innocent bystanders- and we get to the beginning of the Third Act where Bond and Madeleine arrive at a secret location in the desert, built in a shallow crater that was formed by a meteorite. Shades of the classic carved-out volcano lair in You Only Live Twice. Bond and Madeleine enter a darkened room and there is a fragment of this meteorite displayed on a stand in the middle of  the room with a light above it.
Then, we hear a voice off-screen; 'Touch it. You can touch it if you like', and I was reminded of the scene in Dr No (1962) where Connery's Bond and Honey Rider (Ursula Andress) have just been ushered into Dr No's secret lair and, as they look at a huge aquarium built into the wall, we hear Dr No say off-screen; 'One million dollars, Mr. Bond. You were wondering how much it cost.'

There have been 23 James Bond movies made before SPECTRE and I can understand the temptation to mine elements from past films, but this just smacked to me of lazy and/or unimaginative writing. Worse yet, it gave me the impression that they were perhaps heading in a direction where they were going to remake scenes from past films. I don't want to see that. I want to see some originality in the writing and the story.
The man with the voice in the darkened room in SPECTRE steps out of the shadows and reveals himself to be a very much alive Franz Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz). He killed his father and faked his own death before resurfacing years later under the name of Ernst Stavro Blofeld.
Plausible enough, but not where I wanted the story to go. It's a melodramatic plot device that's been done to death on daytime television. Doesn't belong in a Bond movie.

A little later, we get another lift from Dr No. After hearing of the villain's evil plan, Connery says; 'World domination. Same old dream. Our asylums are full of people who think they're Napoleon. Or God.'
In this new film, Blofeld outlines his plans and explains how Denbigh is actually working with SPECTRE and that the whole Nine Eyes surveillance initiative is designed to give Blofeld's organisation unparalleled access to top secret information from a variety of intelligence services. Bond asks if Denbigh is being well paid for betraying his country and Blofeld tells Bond that Denbigh is a fellow visionary.
Bond then says; 'Ah, visionaries. Our asylums are full of them.'

At this point, the film really began to grate on me. Because, like I said earlier, as a Bond fan, I wanted to like this film, but it was just taking too many turns in directions that I didn't like.

Then we arrive at a high-tech torture scene. Bond is cuffed to a chair while Blofeld sits at a computer terminal. Madeleine is sitting helplessly next to him as he explains his hatred of James Bond, which stems from young Bond having usurped young Franz's position as son so many years ago during his guardianship. Franz's jealousy at seeing his father spend more time and energy with Bond pushed him to the point of committing patricide and faking his own death.

I didn't want to see this! I don't want the bad guy to have some deep-rooted and personal vendetta against our hero. Not this particular villain! This in many ways taints the relationship between Bond and Blofeld forevermore, in my view. Is everything that Blofeld does from now on going to be out of sheer hatred/revenge for 007, rather than personal or financial gain?
'It was me, James. The author of all your pain', Blofeld tells him at one point, thus tying him to the plots of the entire Daniel Craig arc. 
What's Blofeld's next grand scheme? Is he going to blow up the Gordon's Gin Distillery in Fife? Punch a dent in Bond's Martini intake?

When I heard that Blofeld would be returning for this film , and that he would be played by the great Christoph Waltz, I pictured him to be some sharp-dressed jet-setting criminal mastermind with a vast array of henchmen and high-tech weapons at his disposal. Alas. Blofeld's Nehru-collared jacket is a nod to the Blofeld of old, but, in an era where we've had three Austin Powers movies (which was two too many) with Dr. Evil's campy version of the Pleasance Blofeld, I felt that he could have been painted a little differently in this Bond film.

So, we have Bond cuffed to a chair and he's about to get tortured. Blofeld explains what he's going to do as he taps a few keys on a console. A thin steel arm spiders out from the side of the chair. There's a slender drillbit on the end of it. He explains that, by careful insertion of the drill, he will touch on nerves that will affect parts of Bond's memory. He goes on to say that it will upset Bond's balance and equilibrium as well. We see the drill position itself just below Bond's right ear. Blofeld tells Madeleine that, in a few moments, Bond won't even recognise her face. And then the drilling commences.
It's a little bit cringe-inducing, because I reckon it would hurt like hell. Still, it doesn't match the nature of the classic torture scene from Casino Royale, which still makes my legs tighten reflexively whenever I see it.

Madeleine rushes to Bond after the first round of torture. By now, 007 has managed to remove his wristwatch, the limited edition Omega Seamaster 300 Master Co-Axial GMT model (I'm a wristwatch collector, remember?) that Q gave him earlier in the film;

Bond: 'Does it do anything?'
Q: 'It tells the time.'
And a minute later, he says to Bond; 'The alarm is rather loud.'
Which is code for 'the watch has an explosive in it.'
Told you there'd be spoilers in this review, kids.

Now, my bug about this gadget is that, back in Skyfall, Q gives Bond his new pistol and a radio transmitter and, registering the look of disappointment on Bond's face, says; 'What were you expecting? An exploding pen? We don't really go in for that sort of thing anymore.'
And yet, here we are, just a few short years later, and Bond has himself an exploding wristwatch. Again, I get that it's an homage to Live And Let Die (even down to the red colour of the markers on the dial when the device is activated), but it just seemed...oh, I dunno, lacking.

Anyway, Madeleine rushes to Bond and he's managed to activate the one minute timer on his watch, which she unobtrusively takes from his hand. 'One minute', he says to her, and she resumes her seat next to Blofeld.


Oh, the cat! We see a small fluffy white Persian cat in the room, too. Not a kitten, but not fully grown either, as if to suggest that Blofeld himself has not yet reached the sinister status that we know him for. Same thing goes for the meteor crater where his lair is located. Blofeld hasn't yet graduated to a fully-fledged volcano.
Bond looks down at the cat after his first encounter with the drill and mutters; 'Hello, pussy.' I take that as another reference to previous Bonds, namely a nod to Pussy Galore from Goldfinger. Sure, I'm probably drawing a long bow here, but it would seem to me that the phrase 'hello, kitty' would be more entrenched in pop culture consciousness due to the lunchboxes and pencil cases, etc, that feature this fluffy white cat. I know, I'm stretching things here, but have a free wallpaper, courtesy of www.desktopnexus.com;


The minute counts down on Bond's watch in Madeleine's hand. Bond mutters 'tempus fugit' and Madeleine tosses the watch towards Blofeld before leaping out of her chair. The watch explodes, the computer fizzes out, Blofeld is thrown across the room and Bond's electronic arm restraints open up.

He and Madeleine make their escape out of this secret lair. Bond casually walks out of the facility with a submachine gun, mowing down henchmen as they appear. I found no sense of urgency in this scene and worse, it made Bond look a little too superhuman for my liking, which threatened to undermine the more realistic and gritty Bond that we have come to see over the last ten years. This film, and Quantum of Solace as well, appeared to undo the work of the film that came before it.
And Bond's sense of balance was perfect. So much for the 'this thing's gonna mess with his equilibrium' BS.

Bond and Madeleine return to London, where M, Moneypenny, Q and Tanner (Rory Kinnear, underused here) are attempting to thwart the Nine Eyes program from going active while trying to locate and arrest Denbigh as well. Madeleine stops there and tells Bond that she can't be a part of his world. She has spent her entire life being on the fringes of her father's nefarious doings and can't go on. She bids 007 goodbye and walks away.
Bond and his group are ambushed and he gets kidnapped, only to find himself in the depths of the old MI6 building that had been attacked in Skyfall. The building has been shut down and is due to be demolished.
He escapes his captors and finds Blofeld in the building, safely standing behind a wall of bullet-proof glass. He has a nice fresh scar across his face, echoing Donald Pleasance's make-up as Blofeld in You Only Live Twice (1967). Blofeld tells Bond that Madeleine is trapped somewhere in the building before he activates a three minute countdown timer that's rigged to the demolition explosives throughout the building. It's the old save-yourself-and-you-might-get-out-in-three-minutes-OR-save-the-girl-and-you-stand-no-chance kind of scenario.
Blofeld runs off, Bond furiously attempts to find Madeleine as the seconds tick by.

He finds her tied to a chair in M's old office (natch) and outside the blown-out window, Blofeld sits in a hovering helicopter, waiting to see Bond's death.
While this is going on, M confronts Denbigh and tries stalling for time while Q hacks into Denbigh's computer in an effort to shut down the Nine Eyes program once and for all. Denbigh pulls a gun on M, who opens his hand to reveal the bullets from Denbigh's pistol, thus reminding me of a very similar set-up in the pre-credits sequence of Casino Royale, dammit!
They scuffle and M stumbles back while Denbigh loses his footing and falls to his death from the balcony.
Bond and Madeleine attempt to get out of the MI6 building. 'Do you trust me?', he asks her before taking her by the hand and leaping into a bombed-out section of an upper floor of the building. They land in some netting stretched across the ground floor. The building shortly erupts as the explosives are detonated, and we see a speedboat pull out of an opening underneath the building onto The River Thames.
Up ahead, Blofeld's helicopter speeds away. Bond fires at it with a Glock that he took off one of his captors earlier. He empties the entire magazine with no luck. Then he pulls his Walther PPK from his holster and resumes firing at the escaping chopper. He pauses, takes careful aim, and fires off one shot...which hits the helicopter's engine. Thick smoke billows out of the helicopter as the warning siren blares inside the cabin and Blofeld's face takes on a very worried look. The pilot struggles to maintain control and the copter crash-lands on a bridge over the river.
Now, if you were piloting a helicopter over a river and somebody was shooting at you from a boat, wouldn't you just turn away from the river?
And really, one lucky shot with a pistol? Again, it turns Bond into a superman.

Blofeld is injured and attempts to crawl away from the helicopter's wreckage as Bond transfers from the speedboat onto the bridge and slowly walks up to him with the PPK in his hand. Then he points it at Blofeld's head.

Now, at this point, I didn't know which way the film was going to go. Would Bond shoot him or not? My reasoning for this was due to Spider-Man 2 (Dir: Sam Raimi, 2004). If you're into the adventures of everybody's favourite web-slinger, then you'll know that Dr. Octopus is Spiderman's equivalent of Batman's Joker, Sherlock Holmes' Professor Moriarty, or James Bond's Blofeld. And yet, at the finale of that movie, (highlight the rest of this line) Dr Octopus dies.
I'm friggin' spoiling everything, aren't I!?
So, for a brief moment or two, I thought that maybe Bond was going to blow Blofeld away, despite the fact that he is an ideal on-going villain in the series.
I thought the filmmakers were maybe going to mess with audience expectations. They'd certainly messed with mine.
I was expecting a better film.

Blofeld looks up at Bond and gives him the old 'Well, what are you waiting for? Do it.' line. Bond removes the magazine from his gun and says; 'Out of bullets. And I've got better things to do', before walking away from Blofeld as M, Moneypenny, Q, and the police close in.
Bond walks along the bridge to a waiting Madeleine. He looks down at the Walther PPK in his hand and casually tosses it aside. That's the first clue, and I began to worry a little then.

The film ends with Q in his lab as Bond enters. 'You still here? Thought you'd gone', says Q.
'Here we go. Bond's leaving the Service again', I thought to myself. And I began thinking that this film was Daniel Craig's swan-song in the role of James Bond.
Bond says that there's one more thing he wants from Q.
The next shot shows his classic Aston Martin DB5 pull out of an alleyway, and in the front seat are Bond and Madeleine. He pauses for a second, before popping the gearstick and driving away.

Roll end credits...

What!!!??? Maybe it was just me, but this film gave all indications that it was Daniel Craig's last Bond movie. The tossing aside of the PPK is Bond's equivalent of a resignation letter.
Now, I understand if this was to be his last Bond. He's done four of them since 2006 and, between Skyfall in 2012 and this film, he hasn't done much else. So, I can understand if he'd like to get back to doing other stuff.
That's cool. Thanks very much for your services, Mr Craig. You resurrected the franchise, and I love the fact that you shut up all the naysayers after you were cast in the role back in 2005 by delivering a beautiful, multi-layered and gritty performance as Bond.
I hope I meet him someday. I'll shout him a couple of beers and we can talk about watches and stuff.
Assuming he'll wanna talk to me after reading this review. 

Aside from the signs that this is Craig's last Bond, it worryingly gives the impression that this is the last Bond film, full stop (that's 'period' to y'all in The States). I know, crazy talk, right?
However, if you showed this film to somebody who had never heard of James Bond, you couldn't blame them for thinking this this was a one-off, self-contained movie where the hero drives off with the girl at the end and they get married and settle down and live happily ever after.
The story structure actually plays a lot like some big 1950s adventure film or western. Just replace Daniel Craig and Lea Seydoux with Robert Mitchum and Grace Kelly. And the DB5 with a horse.
Also, I didn't feel a real spark between Bond and Madeleine, so it struck me as odd that, if Bond was leaving the Service for a woman, it would be for someone like Madeleine Swann.

So that's it, pretty much, and I found it to be a disappointing effort. However, Daniel Craig turned in another solid performance as Bond, and the rest of the cast were great too. Although, I found Waltz's Blofeld a little too one-dimensional and, worse, non-threatening. This is why they included a character like Mr Hinx, designed to be a greater physical match and threat to our hero. But I don't blame Waltz. I blame the script.

Hoyte Van Hoytema's cinematography was great. Such a rich palette of earthy tones and lots of contrast. Although, Roger Deakins' work on Skyfall feels more memorable to me.

Thomas Newman's score was pretty good, but I thought that he used a few too many arrangements that he'd done for Skyfall. That irked me a little because I felt that he underused the Bond Theme in this film. I will say, though, that his theme for Bellucci's character, entitled 'Donna Lucia', is a beautiful piece of music, as was his 'Severine' theme in Skyfall. He tends to write very evocative scores for the Bond Girls Women.
A fellow Bond fan suggested to me that Newman re-used much of his Skyfall music in SPECTRE in an effort to create his own 'Bond Theme', with a view to it being used by other composers in later films. Hmmm. That makes sense.

Technically, from the cast to the key-grip, nobody puts a foot wrong. It's an extremely well-made movie.
Sam Mendes did a fine job of directing this film, but he didn't have much to work with in terms of a screenplay.
Which brings me to my ONE BIG main gripe with this film- the story.

I have cut regular Bond screenwriters Neal Purvis and Robert Wade a lot of slack over the years. When I read a newspaper article for The World Is Not Enough (written by Purvis & Wade and Bruce Fierstein), back in 1999, it stated that Bond is injured early on, after MI6 Headquarters is attacked.
I thought 'Cool! We've not seen Bond hobbled by an injury before. Maybe this will affect his mission.'
What was his injury? A dislocated shoulder. A WHAT!!! Was he playing a Saturday morning game of cricket?
Purvis & Wade have co-written the last six Bond movies. Although, I don't really rate Casino Royale because they had Fleming's original book to work from. Paul Haggis also did some polishing on that script and I strongly suspect that he wrote the classic 'Bond Meets Vesper on the Train' scene, because its cutting wit and sharp dialogue is so far removed from anything Purvis & Wade have done in past Bond films.
The lacklustre screenplay for the follow-up, Quantum of Solace, was blamed on the writer's strike that was going on in Hollywood at the time. Bulldust! Haggis also worked on this script. I shudder to think what it would have been like without his input. Forget it, Jake James. It's Chinatown Bolivia.
Skyfall was a great story, even though Bond fails in his mission to keep M alive. Hey, I told you there'd be spoilers, man! John Logan collaborated with Purvis & Wade on this story and it breaks the template of a standard Bond film scenario where he is given his orders by M and then goes off on his mission. Logan was quoted as saying that 'writing a Bond film is hard.'

And I'm sure that Purvis & Wade would say to me 'Why don't YOU try writing one and we'll see how YOU run?'
You know what, chaps? I can't guarantee you that I could write a winning screenplay, but I can guarantee you that I could damn well throw a little tension Bond's way. Maybe even bring back Smartass-Bond, like he was in the early Connerys.
I agree with John Logan. Writing a Bond script is hard, if that 35-page 1st Act in my computer is anything to go by (started it when Brosnan was Bond!).
Three Act Structure (if you're gonna write it old-school), Character arcs, sub-plots, themes, etc, it all has to mesh smoothly with a great story.

It's been said that Bond writers have very strict parameters that they need to follow, but SPECTRE's storyline was a wasted chance to do something great. Man, such opportunity. Gone.
Furthermore, I understand that Casino Royale showed us a freshly Double-O'd James Bond who was not yet fully formed.
I get that Quantum of Solace gave us a Bond who was out for revenge over Vesper's death.
I even forgave Skyfall for presenting me with Bond as an 'old dog' who's time had passed, because that film made up for it in so many other ways.
But I cannot forgive the writers for giving us a story where so much could have happened, yet didn't. This film had Logan and another writer, Jez Butterworth, working on it with Purvis & Wade. I don't know who wrote what, but this movie took a long time to say not much at all.

I had my own version of what I would have liked to have seen in this film, since it marked the return of Bond's greatest adversary.
I wrote about six months ago that I would have liked the film to open with the Quantum organisation robbing a large bank. You may recall the news of how ISIS managed to amass half a billion dollars plus a large amount of gold when it raided the central bank of Mosul last year?
Well, I would have started this film with a scene like that except, as the Quantum bank robbers storm into some massive bank in Berlin or Geneva screaming for staff and customers to hit the floor, the tellers pull out automatic weapons and wipe out the Quantum dudes. The bank tellers, you see, are SPECTRE operatives. They got to the bank first.
This would have eradicated all memory of Quantum- which I never found to be threatening or all-encompassing, anyway- and it would have established SPECTRE as a super-slick and far-reaching entity.
Firstly though, I would have locked Daniel Craig in for two films. That way, you could paint James Bond into the tightest corner of his life and end the first film on a cliff-hanger and then release the second film six or twelve months later, Harry Potter/Hunger Games style. It would perhaps have made a fitting end to his tenure as 007.
Ah well...

So, by the end of SPECTRE, we have Bond more like we know him from the earlier films. We have M, Q and Moneypenny, We have Q Branch gadgets. We have a few gags. Daniel Craig's 007 is now closer in spirit to Connery's 007. And it took four movies to get him that way.
Now, where to from here?

Like I said earlier, I don't know if Daniel Craig will be back for another one. I suspect that, if they do indeed get started on the next one sometime in 2016, the first thing they'll have to do is lock Craig in to strap on the PPK's holster one more time. If he doesn't, then the hunt will be on for a new actor to play 007.
Does that mean that they'll re-boot the character again? I don't think so. Man, I hope not. I'd rather just see the new guy walk into M's office and there's Ralph Fiennes giving him his next assignment. Business as usual.
But hopefully, with a better story than the last film.
Actually, how's this for openers? (highlight the gaps and spaces if you want to read further spoilers. For a movie that hasn't been written yet!)
- A large-scale assault on a super-secret facility out in the middle of nowhere. Leading this assault is Mr Hinx, since we didn't actually see him die in SPECTRE. He's carrying a metallic case as his henchmen wipe out guards left and right. He gets to a huge steel door and his crew blow it to smithereens. The smoke clears and there's Blofeld, sitting in his maximum security cell. 
Mr Hinx enters the cell, puts the metallic case down on the floor and taps a combination into its keypad. There's a hiss as the case opens up. Blofeld reaches into the open case and pulls out his fluffly white Persian cat.
Sure, it's all a little cartoony, but the Bond movies are not exactly documentaries on the lives of Secret Service operatives.

Back to SPECTRE. I should have known as soon as I heard the title track. Remember the Die Another Day Theorem that I mentioned earlier? In a nutshell, if the title song is bad, then the movie's gonna be bad. This doesn't apply to every Bond film, but it does apply to every Bond film since 2002.
Madonna's title song for Die Another Day was dreadful. No point arguing, kids. It was.
Chris Cornell's 'You Know My Name' for Casino Royale was a great song. The movie was outstanding.
Jack White and Alicia Keyes did the song for Quantum of Solace, entitled 'Another Way To Die'. I didn't like it and felt that it didn't belong in a Bond film. I didn't think much of the film, too.
Adele did a great job with the title track to Skyfall. And we all know how much I loved that movie;

 Skyfall Review-Third Time's a Charm, Mr. Bond

SPECTRE had a lacklustre title song, followed by a lacklustre movie. Lacklustre being the key-word here. It was a well-made film, production-wise. Every one of its 245 million dollars is up there on-screen. Being used on a lacklustre story.

I did Film Study back in high school, and I keep dabbling with writing my own film scripts and fan fictions. I love movies, but don't see as many as I used to. Time, parenthood and the ever-changing technologies surrounding film viewing all ensure that I see less films than I used to.
I know almost all of the usual suspects that make up the history of Hollywood film. I say almost because, while I have seen The Kid, It Happened One Night, Citizen Kane, Sunset Boulevard, Psycho, Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid, among other countless classics, I haven't ever seen Intolerance, (the original) Scarface, The Lost Weekend, Rebel Without A Cause, Doctor Zhivago or 2001: A Space Odyssey. 
I like films and can discuss them with a reasonable degree of seriousness, but I'm not an insufferable cinephile.
But I am a Bond fan, too. And I love a good story in a Bond film. Hell, I love a good story in any film.
I get it. Every Bond film cannot be all things to all people. Therefore, I understand that there will be folks out there who rate SPECTRE highly.
There are those who absolutely love the Roger Moore Bonds and consider them the best of the series. I find them hard to watch nowadays, but Moore will always hold a special place for me because he was the Bond that I grew up with.
The Bond fan in me wanted to like SPECTRE, but the film student/wannabe screenwriter in me found much to dislike about it. I also began to wonder how this screenplay got past Sam Mendes' normally sharp eye for telling a great story. Were they all under great pressure to deliver the movie by late 2015? Did the story just look really good on paper, thus fooling everyone until it was too late for rewrites and reshoots?
Whatever the reason, I strongly think that it's time to get some new screenwriters for the next film.
Time for some fresh thinking.
Time to see Bond under serious threat again.
Time to see Bond doing a little more spy-type stuff.
Just to remind us all why, when it comes to Bond, nobody does it better.

Thanks for reading!

11 comments:

  1. I think they just utterly shit the bed with "Spectre," personally. I liked a few things about it (Bautista for one, and -- surprisingly -- the Sam Smith song for another), but overall, I thought it was dreadful. Bond doesn't behave like Bond in it; Blofeld's plot is silly at best; the Blofeld plot twist is an offense to the memory of Ian Fleming; the cinematography is flat and unappealing; and so forth.

    If you'd told me twelve months ago that of the two movies, I would prefer "Spy" despite not actually liking "Spy" all that much, I'd have told you you were nuts.

    Oh, well. These things do happen from time to time.

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  2. I always enjoy your Bond articles, but I must say that I'm more of a John LeCarre fan, prefering Smiley (or even Pym) to our Mr. Bond.

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  3. Compare Spectre to MI5. Tom Cruise made the film that Eon couldn't.

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  4. Well, I guess I'll save my money for the new Star Wars, assuming it doesn't try to rip out my soul like episode 1 did.

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  5. Solid review and argument. My wife and I took the afternoon off to get lunch and see the movie. So few are the occasions we can do that now with parenthood and all else that I was determined to enjoy myself and successfully turned my brain off. It wasn't until afterwards in discussion with Mr. Burnette up there in the comments that a lot of these things you bring up began to occur to me.

    The abundance of well-worn tropes and lazy swipes from other Bonds is really disappointing.

    I'm with you on the theme song, as well, specifically the lack of appeal of sustained falsetto for a Bond song.

    I'm assuming the next one will be some kind of reworking of "On Her Majesty's Secret Service," with Madeleine catching the proverbial bullet from Blofeld (or Irma Blunt)'s drive-by.

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  6. Great review. I saw the movie in the theatre, but I'm reserving my judgement until the Blu ray when I can watch it again. With the big screen, big sound, and big bucket of popcorn (along with a special SPECTRE 3D lenticular drinks cup) you miss a lot of stuff. My feeling is they wasted a lot of good chances they had with the material now available to them. Still Blofeld has had worse outings *cough* Diamonds are Forever *cough*

    I'd like to see that Bond screenplay of yours. My guess is it involves Bond's mission to Australia where he's paired with a Super Secret operative known as "Agent T" to foil the plan of a mysterious villain known as "The Watchmaker". Initially Bond is put off by how smart and stylish Agent T is, and is jealous of his Surfing and Kung-fu skills, but in the end they become best buddies.

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  7. @ Bryant Burnette, yep, the plot twist is the biggest turn-off for me. I'll be interested to read your take on this film when the time comes. If you can stand to write it.

    @ Joe V, George Smiley is pretty much the polar opposite to Bond, without a doubt. I started reading "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" back when I was a teen. I wasn't ready for it, to be honest. Now that I'm a few weeks away from 50 (Good God!), I think it'll be time to take another crack at it.

    @thecyclingweb, I didn't like M:I5 as much as I liked M:I4. I'll definitely have to watch it again. Besides, there's a completely different mind-set between a Bond film and a Bourne or Mission:Impossible.

    @ Ted, I think you just may be in good hands with the new Star Wars. J.J. Abrams tends to show some reverence for the source material. Hopefully, Jar Jar Binks will be nowhere in sight. Enjoy the film!

    @ B McMolo, I, for one, will be majorly pissed off if they do a re-work of "OHMSS". It would depend (for the sake of continuity) on whether DC will be back for one more film.
    As I said in the review, so much potential and opportunity. Wasted. But what do I know? SPECTRE has racked up $820 million dollars so far. I though it would fizzle out at around seven-fifty.

    @ thenumberthirteen, I also think that "Diamonds Are Forever" was a low-point in the series. As for my screenplay, I'll have to finish it one day.

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    1. I'll certainly write it eventually. I'm letting it settle for a few months, though, in the hopes that I can at least be fair to it.

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  8. Oh to have been the creator of Hello Kitty $$$$$$$!

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  9. Just got around to finding time to read this today. You know, after I saw this bond the first thing I wanted to do is give you a call and trying and hook you up for a coffee. I felt I needed to debrief. I have to say, I was equally as underwhelmed, and at time frustrated. I loved the film - despite the re-using of cliche elements - right up until the line 'smart blood' was used.
    From there the film strayed into elements that were either silly, or were well done but just not suited to this movie. The slow-burn spy drama feel didn't help or give Bond the charm he needed, and it didn't continue the amazing energy and feel generated in the first 10 minutes of the film.
    I do feel this may be Craig's last outing. Either that or they are intending to set bond on the outer of MI6 and possibly drawn back in by Blofeld with a revenge attack.
    The biggest sin of this film wasn't that they messed with so many elements. I liked what they did with all the elements individually. It's that they strung it together with some ponderous editing. That scene in the desert where the complex explodes is visually stunning, but I honestly couldn't care by that stage as it felt so.... energy-less. I felt like I was being carried along by a cast that were tired, and were managing to achieve everything with no effort.
    I felt conflicted. There were elements in it that I liked, and have been missing from cinema for a long time, but it just didn't feel like a bond film.

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    1. I agree, SK. It wasn't in any way a badly made film. It was just a great disappointment to me when I consider the ways in which the story could have gone. Bond wasn't Bond enough in this one.

      And yep, we'll have to try and catch up sometime.

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