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“BOND” RETROSPECTIVE 25: SPECTRE

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The 25th Bond film has been delayed again, and at the time of writing, NO TIME TO DIE is scheduled to arrive on 8 October 2021.

In run up to the release of the movie, we are looking back at all the James Bond films in their nearly 60-year history.  This time, we’re bang up to date. It’s the film that followed the highly-acclaimed SKYFALL, where shadows from Bond’s past reappear.

Spoilers ahead…

GUNBARREL and PRETITLES

The film starts with the gun barrel – the first time it has appeared at the beginning of a Bond movie since Die Another Day and is followed by the caption: THE DEAD ARE ALIVE.

We open in the Day of the Dead parade in Mexico City, where, in one seemingly continuous shot, we see the bustling streets, then focus on a man in a white suit (Sciarra) passing Bond and his partner, who walks into a hotel, up the elevator and into a bedroom.

The shot continues, Sam Mendes experimenting with the long take prior to his wonderful work in 1917, with Bond stepping out of a window and confidently strutting along a rooftop to look in an adjacent building. Bond listens in to Sciarra in conversation with some other bad guys talking about bombing a stadium and mentioning “the pale king”.

He shoots at the men, a briefcase bomb explodes and buildings collapse. Bond pursues Sciarra from the rubble, through the crowds and to an awaiting helicopter. In a well-choreographed struggle Bond manages to kick the villain and the pilot out then fly off with the large ring he ripped from Sciarra’s finger.

LONDON

M (Ralph Fiennes) is deeply unhappy about Bond’s unsanctioned trip to Mexico and the devastation he caused. Bond seems unfazed when he is effectively grounded.

Bond’s flat is spartan and there’s a nice joke when Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) arrives to deliver paperwork, looks around, and asks if he had just moved in. Bond plays a tape where Judi Dench‘s M instructs him to follow Sciarra, kill him and to go to the funeral. It seems that M was aware of a larger conspiracy, and Bond is only too keen to go off books for his former boss.

FUNERAL IN ROME

Bond watches Sciarra’s widow at the funeral. Lucia (Monica Bellucci) is a scared woman, fearing her husband’s organisation has no need for her now. That night at home Lucia grabs some wine and steps outside, knowing that there are two goons are in the shadows ready to kill her. Gunshots ring out – but it is the goons that fall as Bond is there to save her.

As Bond leaves her bed, he confirms that MI6 will look after her and he heads to a mysterious midnight meeting based on her tip-off.

MIDNIGHT MEETING

Sciarra’s ring allows Bond access to the balcony inside a great hall, where onlookers stare down at faceless bad guys around a huge table discussing global schemes.

The shadowy boss sits at the head of the table, silently watching Dave Bautista‘s silent brute Hinx take Sciarra’s vacant seat at the table by pushing in a rival’s eyeballs with his thumbnails. The quietly spoken leader (Christoph Waltz) mentions Bond by name, then turns to look at him. He knew he was there all the time.

This works well in creating a mystery. But for me that is a problem. It’s not a spy film. It’s a glossy mystery, desperate for some action.

THE CAR… CHASE?

Bond escapes in the Aston Martin, pursued by Hinx in a Jaguar. It’s a chase, but Thomas Newman‘s music seems to be scoring a much more exciting pursuit.

Rome looks wonderful, but as the cars glide through the deserted streets it all looks like a very glossy car ad. There is no peril apart from an elderly gentleman in a Fiat who shuffles in from a Roger Moore Bond movie.

Bond presses some buttons in the car, a jet of flame obscuring Hinx’s view, and then the driver’s seat is ejected. As 009’s car splashes into the River Tiber, Bond silently floats down to the road on the opposite riverbank, effortlessly loses the parachute and swaggers off.

A cool Bond moment indeed, but that’s little compensation after that pointless chase with a pointless finale.

During that chase Bond is on a call to Moneypenny asking her to investigate the leader of the meeting – a man he recognised as the deceased Franz Oberhauser. She reveals to him that “the pale king” mentioned by Sciarra in Mexico, is Quantum’s Mr White.

THE PALE KING

We last saw White (Jesper Christensen) in full health at the opera when Bond exposed many of the members of QUANTUM. Here he ill, attached to a drip due to deliberate thallium poisoning, for Mr White is no longer welcome in the organisation.

Bond: Tell me where he is!

White: He’s everywhere! EVERYWHERE! He’s sitting at your desk. He’s kissing your lover; he’s eating supper with your family.

Bond learns that White is trying to protect his daughter so suggests an arrangement – information for protection. White gives up the details, then:

White: You’re a kite dancing in a hurricane, Mr Bond. So long.

And White kills himself with Bond’s pistol. For me it is the best scene in the film, with the best dialogue.

 

Max Denbigh – “C”

In London Max Denbigh (Andrew Scott), shows M the new intelligence building where he will unite the digital technologies of major nations “Nine Eyes”, and disband the 00 project. M worries about who controls the data, and defends his department:

M: Have you ever had to kill a man, Max? Have you? To pull that trigger you have to be sure… A licence to kill is also a licence not to kill.

 

THE HEALTH SPA

Bond arrives at the Hoffler Clinic to find White’s daughter Dr Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux). She quickly ushers him out when he explains why he is there, but Bond lingers at the juice bar (no vodka martinis here). Q appears – surprising for in Skyfall we learned from Moneypenny that Q was afraid of flying.

Q insists that Franz Oberhauser is dead, killed in an avalanche with his father 20 years previously. Bond gives Q Sciarra’s ring to investigate just as security arrive.

The first genuinely tense moment arrives when Q gets on to a cable car from the clinic. He is followed by some goons and is busy with his laptop analysing DNA from the ring when he realises, he is being watched.

 

THE PLANE… CHASE?

Hinx and some goons grab Swann and drive off, with Bond in pursuit in a plane (presumably the clinic had an airstrip). The plane chase odd, for Bond flies toward the cars endangering everyone including Swann before ripping off both wings and a wheel, careening down a snowy field, through a wooden lodge, and into the cars.

 

EVERYTHING IS CONNECTED

Bond and Swann head to Q’s hotel where his analysis of the ring somehow reveals that the villains from Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace and Skyfall were all part of one organisation run by Oberhauser. Swann reveals its name: “SPECTRE”.

 

L’AMERICAIN AND THE TRAIN

Swann takes Bond to Tangier, the location of the “L’Americain” hotel her father mentioned to Bond. They find a secret room full of files and photos of White’s nefarious dealings. A map points them to a remote part of the desert.

So Bond and Swann are next on a train, white tux, and elegant dress for dinner. Hinx bursts along the carriage for a brutal, bruising fight that is genuinely edge-of-the-seat stuff. Towards the end of the punch up, Hinx drags Bond to the open door.

Bond wraps a rope around Hinx’s neck then releases a chain of barrels which fly out of the train one at a time, finally removing Hinx. This homage to the yellow barrel scene in the movie Jaws plays as a gag about Hinx being a silent villain like Richard Kiel’s “Jaws” from The Spy Who Loved Me.

 

EMBARRASSED LAUGHS

Swann says to Bond: “What do we do now?” Cut to the sex scene. And the audience in the cinema laughed awkwardly.

A random sex scene in a Bond film is an accepted stereotype – but unlike Casino Royale, this film doesn’t allow Bond and Swann to be playful or witty or have any real chemistry. Here it’s just a laughable cliche.

 

MISTER BOND, WE’VE BEEN EXPECTING YOU

Bond and Swann get off the train in the middle of the desert and wait. It isn’t clear why. A classic Rolls Royce arrives and takes them to the villain’s high-tech lair, located inside a meteorite’s crater – echoing the volcano from You Only Live Twice.

 

THE AUTHOR OF ALL HIS PAIN

Oberhauser welcomes them revealing that this is where he handles “information” – the supervillain MacGuffin – his technician even have a live feed to inside MI6.

Oberhauser: You came across me so many times and yet you never saw me… A nice pattern developed, you interfered in my world, I destroyed yours… Me. It was all me James, it’s always been me, the author of all your pain.

Soon Bond is strapped into an elaborate chair, while our villain describes how he will be tortured with needles inserted into the memory receptors in his brain.

Oberhauser explains that he uses the name Ernst Stavro Blofeld. After the death of Bond’s parents James was taken in by Oberhauser’s father and for two winters enjoyed lots of attention. The young Oberhauser boy didn’t like the cuckoo in the nest. His father’s death was no accident.

And that is it. That’s the reason for this whole huge, four-movie, multiple year-spanning conspiracy.

 

DEMOLITION MAN

Bond uses his exploding watch – a gadget from Q who obviously got over his disdain for exploding pens in Skyfall – and easily defeats the guards in the compound before blasting some gas cylinders (a recurring trick in all of Craig’s films) and the Biggest Explosion Ever destroys the whole complex. The escape is far too easy.

 

HEADQUARTERS

M and Q head to the new building to try and stop Nine Eyes installing. M confronts Denbigh in a scene reminiscent of Bond’s opening scene in Casino Royale (including the trick of emptying they bad guy’s gun of bullets in advance).

Swann however cannot deal with this type of life any longer, and she walks away, just before

Bond is apprehended by goons. He soon breaks free and realises that they have brought him to the abandoned MI6 building, currently rigged for demolition

 

GHOSTS IN THE SHELL

In the darkened corridors of MI6, we see walls strangely adorned with photocopies of the previous Craig-era Bond villains. Then Blofeld is there, sporting the scars of the explosion – the damaged eye and facial scar that recalls Donald Pleasance’s Blofeld in You Only Live Twice. Welcome back, disfigurement is evil, it’s been a while.

The ticking clock finale is Bond searching the building for the kidnapped Swann before the building explodes, whilst across the river Denbigh and M have their battle of wills.

 

HELICOPTER… CHASE?

As MI6 collapses Bond and Swann boat down the Thames chasing Blofeld’s helicopter. Bond manages to shoot it down, leading to a spectacular crash landing on Westminster Bridge.

Blofeld who crawls from the wreckage and Bond is standing over him. The location on the middle of the bridge creates a nice visual of Bond caught with M at one end and Swann at the other. Despite Blofeld’s goading, Bond chooses not to kill, throws his gun away and walks to Swann.

 

DEBRIEF

I find this film frustrating as it promises much but doesn’t deliver.

The darker tone as established with the titles, the music, and the caption “The dead are alive” never really gets delivered. And while many upset at the darker, sombre tone of Craig’s films might be relieved, it seems odd that the film doesn’t fulfil that promise.

Some of the jokes don’t land well and while some of the action works it lacks excitement. Craig is funnier in this film, and his wit works extremely well. He makes a great Bond.

I have no problem with these films being interconnected, it’s just that is seems so crude. EON embarked on Casino Royale when the rights for SPECTRE and Blofeld were still tied up. It makes sense that they now, free of litigation, reintroduce Bond’s classic adversaries, but retrofitting everything we’ve seen is, for me, a bridge too far.

What they gave us was frustrating and clunky. Spectre is a pale ghost of Skyfall. Puns intended.

 

Production Cast
Produced by: EON Productions
Presented By: 
Michael G Wilson and Barbara Broccoli
Director:
Sam Mendes
Screenplay: 
John Logan and Neal Purvis & Robert Wade and Jez Butterworth
Composer:
Thomas Newman
“Writing’s On The Wall”
by Sam Smith
Production Design:
Dennis Gassner
Cinematography:
Hoyte Van Hoytema
Editor:
Lee Smith
London Premiere October 2015
Daniel Craig
Christoph Waltz
Léa Seydoux
Ben Whishaw
Naomie Harris
Dave Bautista
Andrew Scott
Rory Kinnear
Jesper Christensen
Monica Bellucci
Ralph Fiennes
Judi Dench

 

Teacher of Drama. And Media. Director of non-professional drama/musicals. Writer. Contributor to ReelAnarchy.com. Husband. Father. Ginger.

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