A little over a month ago at Pinewood Studios Director Sam Mendes, James Bond… er, Daniel Craig and several other actors announced the name of the 24th canonical Bond film to be released on 11/6/15: SPECTRE. It took me about a month to calm my nerves and let the excitement wash over me like a perfectly mixed wave of Gordon’s, vodka and Kina Lillet.
Now I need to break down what exactly we know and what we can expect. We know that Craig will be reprising his role as Bond. We know that Christoph Waltz will be his villain and that Lea Seydoux, Monica Belluci, Andrew Scott and Dave Bautista (a henchman) will exist in the spectrum between the two adversaries.
We also have a plot synopsis from the announcement: “a cryptic message from Bond’s past sends him on a trail to uncover a sinister organization. While M (played by Ralph Fiennes) battles political forces to keep the secret service alive, Bond peels back the layers to reveal the terrible truth behind SPECTRE.”
We know that film locations include Rome, London, Mexico City and the Austria Alps. We also know that a new car, the Aston Martin DB10 will make its debut in the film.
Based on this information, despite my excitement, I have very low expectations for SPECTRE. So low that I think I will actually enjoy SPECTRE when I finally march into a theatre to see it, just because it will be slightly better than I expect and probably contain a single scene that I will make one of my many “top five” Bond lists. I’m guessing this one will make my list of Bond’s sexiest moments, as Craig’s films typically do.
Why do I suspect such a terrible outcome in what will likely be Craig’s last film as the main character? Well, for one, Craig has a record of being shortchanged when it comes to material, with the exception of Casino Royale. Quantum of Solace was as nonsensical as its title, with plenty of grit but no clarity, and Skyfall will only be remembered as “pretty good” simply because it was leagues above Quantum, not because it was a decent and entertaining flick.
Neither of these sequels are very good spy movies, or thrillers, or even action movies; they are just giant unwieldy bundles of classic James Bond clichés mixed with a few overwrought ideas of how this Bond is different.
This is deeply regrettable because, after the release of Casino Royale in 2005, Daniel Craig was the most promising Bond in franchise history. His portrayal of the British superspy in that film is so brilliantly updated in that film that it is was easy to forget that the character was over 50 years old at that point.
Craig’s Bond is brutish, playful, loyal, aggressive and deeply emotional. He is the bulldog Bond. His tongue-in-cheek lines flow from a schoolboy’s bantering wit and his dark feelings towards women seem more of an act of self-defense against his own violent emotions than simple sexism. He is a lover in a profession where love only leads to murder and extortion: mistrust of the people he longs to submit to is his body armor.
Unlike the Bonds of Dalton, Brosnan and Moore, Craig’s Bond is insecure about his identity as a hired gun, despite being more violent than any of the other three. This split in his character gives us a view of someone who is constantly becoming James Bond, not someone who simply is him. The second best moment in Casino Royale (after the Aston Martin barrel roll) demonstrates this, and why the film is so brilliant, perfectly.
It is the first time we see Craig in the classic dinner jacket ensemble. He has just exchanged a terse yet comic moment with the love of his life and the inspiration of his signature cocktail (Vesper Lynd) in which the two pick out their evening wear for one another (something Sean Connery’s sexist and chauvinist Bond would never allow).
James is in the bathroom examining the fit of the jacket Vesper had tailored for him. He stares down the man in the mirror and approaches him with the intensity of a killer just to adjust his bowtie. The timeless theme builds up in the background. Tonight, his attitude suggest, James wants to play the part of the Bond he imagines we all expect. Vesper passively admires him from beyond the threshold. She laughs to herself at how egotistical this British secret agent is, and yet when he casts those razor-sharp blue eyes at her, we are all smitten.
Craig’s Bond always seems conscious of the previous Bonds, something no other actor has dared to pull off. He knows he is an update, not a copy of the Bond we first saw in Dr. No, and he uses that awareness to become his own version of the character (rather than relying on present day politics or gadgetry to bring him out of the herd). The effect of that scene is that we are reminded how much we love James Bond flicks, and how excited we are when we see a new actor courageously step into the humongous shoes left for him.
Casino Royale is a highpoint in franchise history, and it seemed at the time that we might get to have Craig’s fantastic portrayal for at least four more movies, yet these days I have the terrible feeling that this Bond will be remembered as an entirely mediocre adaptation. And details from SPECTRE don’t exactly cheer me up.
Firstly, there is the title. Considering that it suggest that Bond is up against the most evil organization in the world (as it is known in the other movies), it is safe to assume that Christoph Waltz will be playing “Number 2” to Ernst Stavro Blofeld, Bond’s arch-enemy and the SPecial Executive the first three letters the acronymic title refers to.
The problem here is that, thanks to copyright, the first three films make no mention of SPECTRE or Blofeld whatsoever, so to introduce this supranational terrorist group that supposedly has its tentacles in everything is probably going to involve a lot of exposition. We can therefore expect an overdue third-act entry of Waltz and a lot of confusion around how SPECTRE is not Quantum (the evil organization from Craig’s second film).
The plot synopsis suggests that modern day politics surrounding spy agencies will be a huge theme, because apparently we didn’t get enough of that in Skyfall. This means we can expect more of diplomats sitting and talking rather than focusing on Bond doing his job, which is just awful no matter how great an actor Ralph Fiennes is.
There is also the hint that Bond will find out the “terrible truth behind SPECTRE”, which is ridiculous because we haven’t even been introduced to SPECTRE yet. But assuming the film can pull off that clichéd premise, it is kind of tough to imagine an interesting “truth” to come up with. It’s a global terrorist organization whose purposes are Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion. What could possibly surprise us? The way I see it is that either it is revealed that SPECTRE is setting the stage for WW3, or that it controls the elements of the British government that are trying to shut down/take control of MI6 from the inside, making it a stuffier version of The Winter Soldier. Either way, big whup. We have seen it all before.
Finally, there is the reveal of the locations and the DB10. While this Bond has been deliberately anti-gadget, we are probably going to have to choke down a lot of obvious marketing shots of his spy car. I hope he crashes it while drinking a Heineken and checking the time on his Amigo.
As for the locations, this Bond film seems to make the same mistake that so many other Bond films do: believe that more is better. London, Rome, the Alps and Mexico City have absolutely nothing to do with one another unless the director contrives a way to turn his job into a world-tour vacation. This overdone travel porn belonged in the mid-20th century. I do not need to see a foot chase across the roofs of a Mexican favela, or an explosion in the Vatican, or yet another poorly choreographed fight scene on skis all in one movie. I just want to see a well-developed plot that doesn’t randomly throw Bond to the most beautiful locations in the world just to have him order a Martini.
Part of the problem with the job of the cast and crew in this new film is that Craig’s series began with a film that was pitch-perfect and relatively simple. The follow-ups were both overdue and overcomplicated in an attempt to outdo the first with scenery, style and violence, rather than with substance. It is doubtful that this strategy will change, as much as Craig’s series would benefit from it. All that we can really hope for now is that SPECTRE is a little bit shorter, a little bit simpler and not come off as trying too hard to be these things. Oh, and that Idris Elba gets the part in the next film.