Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Spectre [2015]

First things first: do you suppose the official spelling should be Spectre or SPECTRE?  I've seen it listed in all caps in various official Bond places, but I've also seen ALL the titles listed that way; so that's no answer.
  
My feeling is that it's the former, but if you'd care to mount a vigorous defense in argument of the latter, go for it in the comments.  
  


I won't bury the lede: I hated this movie.  It's my new least-favorite Bond movie, and by a wide margin.  I don't think the scores will be entirely reflective of that, which may indicate once and for all that the experiment that was/is the Double-0 Rating System is a failure.  It's only a partial failure, maybe; but a failure nonetheless.  Or perhaps it's a success, one that permits for math to overrule me in some regards.  Maybe it's both a failure AND a success.

You could say the same about Spectre, although I'd argue that it's not merely a failure, but a betrayal.  I know there were some Bond fans who felt the same about Skyfall.  I didn't -- and still don't (I think) -- agree with them, but now, I believe I understand how they felt.  Part of me thinks that when I return to Skyfall, I'm going to like it substantially less; Spectre has infected it, and has weakened it in retrospect.


I'm getting ahead of myself a bit.  That's going to be a persistent problem throughout this post.  Maybe I'll fix that during revision; maybe I'll leave it in to serve as a document of how this movie made me feel.  Dunno.

Here's how I see things.  The first series of Bond films ended with Die Another Day, which most Bond fans cite as being the worst of the bunch.  I suspect the producers agree, because after it was done and dusted, they decided to start over from scratch, perhaps feeling that the James Bond formula had been stretched to its farthest possible boundaries.  The only way to continue was to start over from an origin point, and deconstruct the formula so as to be able to put it back together again in a more meaningful fashion.

In Casino Royale, they did just that.  Was it the James Bond we'd been watching for decades?  Not precisely, no; but it was easy to integrate this new version with the older one.

Quantum of Solace was a sequel to Casino Royale, and in some ways served as a resolution to it.  Not a perfect film by any means, but one that pointed a way forward toward a style of 007 movie that integrated the old formula with modern sensibilities.

Skyfall, then, provided a more traditional Bond adventure.  It was unrelated to the previous two films, except insofar as it brought an end to the M-a-la-Dench storyline.  It did serve almost as another origin tale, though, which bothered some fans.  Others were even more bothered by Bond's callous attitude toward Severine's death; they argued that Bond wouldn't have let her die.  I maintain that Bond (A) didn't have much of a choice and (B) had no reason to care about her, given that she was aiding and abetting a murderous criminal.  Be that as it may, I felt that Skyfall made a strong argument for why James Bond, as a concept, still matters.  The end of the film outright promised that the next movie would be a traditional use of the Bond formula.

Spectre does seem to represent a return to that formula for a great many Bond fans.  But is it a good return?  For my money, no.  Say what you will about Bond's callousness toward Severine in Skyfall, but it's in line with certain aspects of Bond as he has been portrayed through the years.  As we will see with Spectre, however, Bond himself just doesn't behave in a very Bond-like manner, so much so that I can scarcely even see this man as James Bond.  And because of that -- because of the emphasis the series in Craig's era has put on Bond's character arc -- I'm now retroactively seeing the first three Craig-era films differently.  They seem less like the beginnings of a character arc that leads toward what we think of as "James Bond" and more like a rewriting of what we think of as "James Bond."  I didn't sign up for that, guys.

Say what you will about Die Another Day, but it didn't make you change the way you felt about GoldenEye, because the two movies' plots had no bearing on one another.  Say what you will about Never Say Never Again, but it does at least endeavor to give you what you want from a James Bond movie; I think it does a piss-poor job of it, but the intent is there.  Say what you will about the sixties spoof version of Casino Royale (another worst-Bond-film) contender, but it at least had the sense to not try to even be a proper Bond film; it was content to be the Mad Magazine version (though it couldn't even get that right), and therefore did no harm to any of the other movies.

The only precedent for the loathsome decisions of Spectre is to be found in the misfire known as Diamonds Are Forever.  I hate that movie, too; it's a betrayal of the film that immediately preceded it, On Her Majesty's Secret Service.  But even in this instance, it's understandable: Majesty's had been a financial failure, and the new Bond actor had quit after a mere one film.  The producers had little choice but to course-correct, and they did so by more or less pretending that the foregoing film no longer existed.  I don't like the resulting film, but I understand why it exists, and why those decisions were made.

That's not the case with Spectre, which follows on the heels of the most financially successful Bond film ever made.  I think you can justifiably claim that Spectre insults Skyfall, and I think you can also say that it insults both Quantum of Solace and Casino Royale.

But it gets so much worse than that.  It also insults the original series of films.  As if that weren't bad enough, it insults the Ian Fleming novels.

The means by which it does so, of course, is the treatment of the character Ernst Stavro Blofeld.  We'll get into that in depth later.

But by no means is that the film's only sin.  Apparently, a great many Bond fans love Spectre.  This is the point at which I have to make a conscious decision to avoid saying something haughty and imperious like "...in which case I don't understand how they can call themselves Bond fans."  In writing these blog posts, I'm constantly expressing my own viewpoints, my own feelings.  I make the occasional mistake of being unclear as to the fact that I do understand that not everyone sees things the way I see them.  And I do understand that.  If you love Spectre, I'm not immediately assuming that you love it for the wrong reasons, or that you don't understand something that I do understand.  That might be the case, but it equally might not be the case; and even if it is the case, that doesn't lessen your ability and right to enjoy the movie for whatever reasons you see fit.

I suspect that I am going to say things during this post that sound as if I've forgotten that.  I haven't, and all I can do is insist right up front that that is the case.  What I'm saying is that just as you have your right to enjoy Spectre, I have my right to loathe it.  This post represents me engaging myself in a process of understanding the reasons why I loathe it; it doesn't represent me trying to talk you into seeing things my way.  You might end up doing so; but you might equally be able to bring me around to your way of thinking.

I wish someone would!

I suspect it won't happen.  I suspect that instead, Spectre represents a point at which a wedge has been driven between me and my Bond fandom.  From this point forward, it's apt to be fractured into a before-and-after divide.  That breaks my heart a little bit.  Maybe even a lot.  I hope I'm wrong; I fear I'm not.

Let's get into the specifics:
    
(1)  Bond ... James Bond

There's no better place to begin than by discussing the fact that I don't like James Bond in this movie.  I don't like what he does, I don't like why he does it, and I don't like how he does it.  I can't honestly say that I don't like Daniel Craig in the movie . . . except, yeah, I can.  I don't think he gives a bad performance; no, I think he gives one that has moments of greatness and moments of indifference.  But overall, I think he's okay.




I just don't think he's actually playing James Bond at this point.  Based on some of his comments to the press, I don't know that he has any actual interest in playing that version of James Bond (or, perhaps, ANY version of James Bond).

I'd been viewing his era's Bond films as a progression.  In Casino Royale, he's (as is point-blank stated) a blunt instrument who must learn how to work with some finesse; he never quite manages it, but completes the process in Quantum of Solace.  The implication of Skyfall is that he's become the traditional sort of Bond between films, but that we haven't seen it; then, he receives a bit of a setback as the result of the near-death experience he has at the beginning of the movie, which he sees as a betrayal by M.  The rest of the film then becomes a narrative about Bond working out his feelings about M (which really means his feelings about his job and his country).  Silva is a dark echo of his worst feelings, and he has to resolve them by killing them.  In doing so, he's put in a position to (again) return to being the James Bond of old.




So what does Spectre do with this narrative?  It insists that he would be so loyal to Dench's M that he would go off on a lamely unspecific crusade for her, effectively betraying Fiennes' M (which really means he's betraying his job and his country) in the process.  All that might be fine if the movie did anything interesting with this.  After all, Skyfall is arguably a step backward from the progression of Quantum of Solace; but it was a good movie, and I'll forgive a movie a few blunders if they are made for good reasons.

Spectre, on the other hand, turns James Bond into an idiot.  Worse than that: a dangerous idiot.  In the film's mostly-spectacular opening sequence, Bond takes at least two actions which are idiotic in the extreme.  First, he shoots an explosive device, causing it to go off; it destroys the building it's in, which then collapses into another building.  How did Bond know this wouldn't kill dozens of people?  He didn't.  The film skirts the issue by seemingly have nobody even quite be aware it's happened, whereas the reality is that it would have caused panic in the nearby festival; it skirts it further by having Bond later claim that this was preferable to allowing it to detonate inside a stadium.

I guess he's right about that, but my 007 would have infiltrated the building, killed everyone, and disarmed the bomb.  Would it have counted all the way down to 007?  Well, maybe; but he'd have saved the day.  And by the way, don't try to convince me that Bond shooting the briefcase is an accident.  It isn't.  You can clearly see Bond adjust his aim downward so as to bring the suitcase into his sights rather than Sciarra himself.

Our second idiot-007 move comes a few minutes later, moments after he attacks Sciarra as the baddie boards the helicopter.  It takes off, and after battling Sciarra for a bit Bond inexplicably attacks the pilot, which not only puts his own life at risk, but risks the lives of hundreds of people in the city square beneath him, who now are actively in danger of being killed Vic Morrow-style.

I feel there may be people out there who insist that Bond has to do what he does, for some inexplicable reason.  So as to help refute that hypothetical claim, I've taken a series of screenshots that shows the progression of events once Bond boards the helicopter:



Bond follows Sciarra into the helicopter

Bond attacks Sciarra

the helicopter (whose pilot might theoretically be unaware of Bond's presence) takes off

Sciarra throwsw an elbow at Bond

Bond punches Sciarra in the face, knocking him backward

in an entirely unprovoked and illogical manner, Bond attacks the helicopter pilot



The only thing that makes any sense to me is that the producers had decided the film's opening sequence was going to involve a spectacular, never-before-seen stunt in which a helicopter does a barrel roll -- pardon me if my terminology is off -- above a crowd of spectators.  At no point did anybody stop to ask why, from a story standpoint, that would logically happen; the desire to innovate via thrills was first and foremost in everyone's mind.

I understand the desire to do that.  However, if you can only do so by turning Bond into an active public menace via his bullheadedness (which was allegedly resolved by the end of Quantum of Solace, by the way), you've failed as a producer.

Now, I'm not a complete fool; I know that Bond has been risking the lives of the public for over half a century.  But generally-speaking, he's typically done so out of necessity in the past.  Does he go careening through the streets of San Francisco in a firetruck?  Yeah, he does; no denying it, he could have killed any number of people.

But that version of Bond was one stop short of being a superhero, and it was implicit in the material that when Bond did things like that, he did so from a highly capable and highly cognizant point of view that minimized risk of civilian lives.  He's also on a bit of a deadline in that moment of A View to a Kill, and if he fails at his mission, then a large portion of California is going to be sunk to the bottom of the ocean.  In that scenario, by all means, do whatever the fuck you need to do, because it's a needs-of-the-many-versus-the-needs-of-the-few scenario.

During the opening scene of Spectre, the only thing actively at risk is . . . uh . . . there must be something, but I'm not sure what it is.  Oh, yeah, now I remember: he'd gotten a video from Dead M telling him to kill the guy.  She didn't say shit about attacking a helicopter pilot mid-flight, but maybe that was written between the lines somewhere.

There were other ways the same goal could have been accomplished.  Have the pilot attack Bond first, making it necessary for him to respond.  Have Sciarra try to shoot Bond, and Bond then knock his hand away, causing the pilot to take a bullet.  Have a bullet damage the helicopter.  I don't know what, specifically; fucking do anything other than what James Bond does here.  (Although I will grant you that there is a great moment when the helicopter is doing the barrel roll when Bond falls backward from attacking the pilot, only to then allow gravity to plunge him right back into the fray a moment later.  That's some James-Bond-ass shit, right there.)

If this helicopter fiasco were the extent of Bond's stupidity, I might be able to forgive it.  Unfortunately, it continues throughout nearly the entire film.  For example, after Mr. White tells him where to find Madeleine, he goes to her.  What does he do once there?  He behaves like a complete turd.  To be specific, he behaves as though he's been sent there to kill her.

She asks him what he does for a living, and he answers, ominously, "I kill people."  She puts two and two together and intuits that he must know her father.  It becomes clear that her father is dead, and she asks Bond if he killed him.  "I was there when he died," Bond says, in a tone of voice that says, "Yep, sure did, and you're next."  Madeleine is 100% correct to distrust him and throw him out of the building.  He comes off sounding like a serial killer.

There's no reason for this to happen, other than that the screenplay wants there to be tension between Bond and Madeleine at the outset of their relationship.  But, again: WHY?  The seeds of it were already there!  Madeleine is somebody who has rejected her father and his lifestyle, so the tension could have arisen from Bond showing up and being kind and protective toward her, but her wanting nothing to do with him.  That enables you to do all the things the movie ends up doing anyways, but with the added bonus of James Bond not coming off like a creeper and a homicidal maniac.
 
The contention between the two of them does result in one great moment: when they engage in a bout of survivor-sex after being attacked by Hinx on the train.  I think that the reason they are at odds up until that point is to make that moment sexier.  Sexier?  Sure.  But it also needed to be romantic, and if it played as the first engagement of an actual love affair, you could have had both sexier and more romantic.




The idea, I guess, is that this particular James Bond doesn't give a shit about Madeleine; he only wants to get info about L'Americain out of her.  I could live with that if the movie didn't turn its back on the idea later on, but it does, and not in a compelling fashion.  As is, I can't live with it.  And even if I could, this is not James Bond.  This is not what he does, this is not how he behaves.  Deviate from your successful-for-half-a-century formula if you must, but have a better reason for doing it than this.

Bottom line is that there was no reason for Bond to go into that first scene with Madeleine wearing a baseball cap reading "I'M GOING TO MURDER YOU" on his head; and he may as well have done.

It proceeds from there.  Hinx kidnaps Madeleine, and Bond goes chasing after her.  His plan to get her back is jaw-droppingly stupid.  He chases after them all in a plane, and tries to make them crash.  He could have gotten Madeleine killed half a dozen times or more during this chase, and he has no control over the situation whatsoever.  Again, this happens only because the film needed an action scene at this point and because the screenwriters were too lousy at their jobs to think of anything better.  Three years between films and you can't do better than this?  Inexcusable.

Thing is, I think the movie is trying to integrate some of this into the plot.  "Did it cross your mind that you led them to me?" Madeleine angrily asks him.  "Derp-a-derp!" he replies. "I sure didn't, nawp, nawp, nawp!  Goll-ee!!!"  Chowderheaded imbecile!

These are not thoughts I should be having about James Bond.  I should be watching the movie wishing I had lived my life in a better fashion so that maybe some day I could hope I might be half the man he is.  Instead, I'm watching Spectre thinking that I could have done a better job of convincing Madeleine to trust me right off the bat.  And I could have!  This is amazing to me, but it is almost certainly true.  At the very least, I would have tried, which is more than one can say of 007.  Later, he points his gun at a cute little mouse; you kind of expect him to shoot the poor thing.
 




At some point, the screenplay says he falls in love with Madeleine.  I assume it says it; the movie somehow expects me to believe it has happened.  She decides she can't be around, so she tells him she's taking off.  He just kind of looks at her.  Doesn't try to talk her out of it; doesn't tell her to fuck off; doesn't ask her to, at the very least, wait in the safehouse until he comes back and tells her Oberhauser has been dealt with.  He may as well shrug and say "whatevs."  Except that would at least have been a reaction of SOME sort.  Instead, Bond gives us nothing.




Finally, he makes the worst decision of all: he refrains from killing Oberhauser when he's got a gun to his head.  This is the Bond who has been stone-cold murdering people left and right for the past few films; this is the Bond who's been risking innocent lives to get the merest clue of where to find this dude.  And you expect me to believe Bond wouldn't pull that trigger?  Yes, I know he says he's out of bullets.  I got the impression that was a lie.  Yes, I know the screenplay has tried to sell me on the idea that Madeleine has told/shown Bond that he could just walk away from the life he leads.  But their relationship is too shallow to make that idea really work.  This is the equivalent of Bond standing there and her walking up and saying, "You know, you could just NOT kill him."  And he then thinks real hard for a second and says, "Fuck, you're RIGHT!  I literally never thought of that!"  And, having meant "literally" literally, he throws his gun away and goes off for a life as a grocery-store manager.

Thing is, I know why this decision was made.  Couldn't be any plainer: Oberhauser (or possibly a version of Irma Bunt) will kill Madeleine in the next movie.  That way, Bond can be tortured by thoughts of how he could have prevented her death by killing Oberhauser when he had an opportunity.  Woe!  Woe is 007!  Maybe, when and if that comes to pass, I'll change my mind about this scene and about Spectre in general.  But for now, it doesn't feel even vaguely true to the character.

Something that does feel true to the character but nevertheless didn't work for me: Bond's seduction of Lucia Sciarra.  For me, this scene gets very close to being rape.  People occasionally talk about Bond being rapey, but I've never agreed.  The two most notable examples are Pussy Galore in Goldfinger and the nurse in Thunderball.  In Thunderball, there is clearly sexual chemistry and desire between Bond and the nurse from the outset, but it's stymied by her professionalism.  When he sees a chance to vault under those guards, he does so; but there is NOTHING there implying anything other than willing (if reluctant) participation.  With Pussy Galore, I think it's arguably the same, but I will grant you that there is much more room for claiming rape; I don't see it that way, especially within the context of the era, but if you do see it that way I'm not hugely inclined to disagree with you.

With Lucia, I think we're supposed to find what happens sexy.  I don't.  She seems like a distraught, drunk, and possibly unbalanced woman who is scared to death of this murderer inside her house.  I don't want to be James in that sequence, and that's a damned strange thing to say about a scene in which 007 is putting the golden gun to Monica Belucci.  It's also worth asking: doesn't James need to get to the meeting?  Should he be bothering with coitus at a time like that?




There are a few good moments sprinkled here and there:
  • Craig is terrific during the Dia de los Muertos sequence.  His body language while Bond is wearing the skeleton suit is fantastic; you can practically feel his excitement at playing Bond in a way nobody else ever has.
  • M reads Bond the riot act after Mexico City, and tells him the extent of personal effort it's going to take the untangle the mess he's made.  "You're right sir," says Bond; "you have got a tricky day ahead."  This Bond is a complete asshole, which I resent when he's being an asshole to M or Q or Moneypenny.  However, if he does it with sufficient panache -- as he does in this moment -- then I can at least live with it.
  • When Q injects him with the smart-blood, he gives a startled-but-gruff cry of "Christ!"  Very funny.
  • "How can you talk like this?" says Lucia in response to having been implicitly threatened by Bond after the funeral.  "Can't you see I'm grieving?"  "No," Bond says in a "I know you're not grieving, and now you know I know you're not grieving" tone of voice; he's wonderful at little things like this that have some actual subtlety to them.
  • Craig is great in the moment when Bond, having ejected from the car, lands on the streets of Rome and saunters on about his not-even-vaguely-merry way.  That's my 007.
  • "I'd recognize you anywhere," he tells Madeleine to show he hasn't lost his memories.  I don't like the scene, but I like that moment; it's the only thing in it that works, and it works well.
  • Bond has been captured, and is cuffed with a sack thrown over his head but STILL manages to take out the baddies and get loose.  THAT'S my 007.
  
Does any of that make up for the fact that this version of James Bond is a loathsome, careless, maniac?  Not for me.

And here's where things start to get ugly: for my money, this is the worst James Bond performance of them all.  Craig has not suddenly turned into a bad actor, but he does seem to have suddenly lost his grip on what makes Bond cool.  Much of this is due to the writing, which is abysmal.  But for me, the fact is that in this movie, I don't like James Bond.  That's never happened before.  This guy is gross, he's negligent, he's inefficient, he's careless, and he's stupid.  I could buy any or all of that if the plot accommodated it; it doesn't.

There were a lot of reports around the time of this movie's release about Craig being fed up with the role; and indeed, just a week prior to the time this post is being published, a new tabloid rumor went around that he'd turned down a massive payday for two further films.

I'm shocked to be saying this, and I bet anyone who read my reviews of his first three films is shocked to hear it: but I hope Daniel Craig is done.  He looks throughout the entirety of Spectre as if he'd rather be doing anything else; for example, slitting his wrists, which is what he's suggested in interviews that he'd rather do than a fifth film.  Looks to me like he didn't even want to do the fourth one.  Well, pal, don't let the door hit you in your perfectly-formed arse.  Who needs you?




I certainly don't, if this is what you're going to do with the role.

Points awarded:  001/007.  I prefer James Bond Jr to this, and no, I'm not kidding.

(2)  SPECTRE
  
Main Villain:

My impulse here is to write about 2000 words about how much I hate what this film did with Blofeld.  I'm going to try to resist that impulse, and simply give you the broad-strokes version of it.  You don't need to read all that shit, do you?  You're a smart Bond fan, you just read what I had to say about Spectre's take on James Bond; you can extrapolate what I think of Bloferhauser.  Suffice it to say I don't think much of him.

The films had not owned the legal right to put Blofeld on screen in a very long time.  His last official appearance was 1971's Diamonds Are Forever (although he's unofficially present in For Your Eyes Only), but thanks to the resolution of a decades-long court battle, the producers finally got the character back during the leadup to making this film.  I celebrated when I heard about it, and celebrated even more when the movie's title was revealed.

AND THIS IS WHAT THEY DO?!?!?

Apparently, it doesn't bother a lot of Bond fans that Blofeld has been turned into someone who has known James for years.  It bothers me, and I'll tell you why: there was no reason for it.  It makes the world of James Bond smaller.  In the novels, did Ian Fleming -- or, for that matter, the folks who helped Fleming create S.P.E.C.T.R.E. and Blofeld -- have any intention for there to be a personal connection between Bond and his quarry?  Certainly not.  In the novels, Bond is a sort of knight-figure, one who is dispatched into the world on occasion to help safeguard the realm against the various threats which confront it.

Bond might or might not have internal struggles, but they mostly do not overlap with his external struggles, except for the degree to which the external struggles cause internal struggles.  Rarely, if ever, do the internal struggles prevent him from pursuing his mission; he must continually shove them further and further down inside himself so as to be able to focus on his external struggles, and the process of doing so results in colorful character tics like womanizing, snobbishness, and alcohol abuse.  Perversely, some of these things end up actually making him better at facing and conquering his external struggles.

This is what we refer to as "James Bond."

If you invert this formula, and leave room for the internal struggles -- such as the mostly-untold (and contra-Fleming) story of Bond's quasi-foster-brother, Franz Oberhauser, who became jealous of the affection his father showed James and who then committed patricide as a means of beginning a new life, one which ended up being a life of criminal overlord-dom -- to drive the external struggles, then you've made a very significant change to "James Bond."  I'll admit that turning a formula on its head in that manner can result in interesting stories, but this sort of thing is best left to deconstructionist satire.  For example, if you want to create a Bond-like character for whom you invert many of the traditional formulas, then you're doing something interesting on a metafictive level.

If you do it with Bond himself, you are willfully changing what the character is about.  You are in opposition to Ian Fleming, you are in opposition to Albert Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, you are in opposition to Sean Connery and John Barry and Ken Adam and Richard Maibaum, et cetera.

So if you're going to do all that -- what is what you are doing by giving Blofeld so personal a connection to Bond -- then you had better bring something very, very tasty to the table when you sit down at it.  And if -- IF, mind you -- the point of this movie had been that James Bond is incompetent and foolish, whereas the former Franz Oberhauser is super-competent and wise, then that might have qualified.  They certainly got the Bond-as-idiot part down.  But I think they only managed that accidentally, because Oberhauser is no better.  He's an idiot, too, one who is obviously aware of how great a threat to his endeavors Bond is but who nevertheless manages to allow 007 to escape him on about four occasions within this movie alone.  The implication is that he's allowed it numerous other times over the course of the previous three films, too, which makes all of this even worse.

With that in mind, what sense does it make for Blofeld to have been altered in this way?  There were rumors that he was going to be turned black and be played by Chewitel Ejiofor; there were rumors that he was going to be turned female and be played by Monica Bellucci.  I might have gotten a bit grumpy about the latter, but I could have lived with it, and Ejiofor playing the role would have been fine by me.  So don't think that I'm simply opposed to change.  That's not the case.

I am against change for the sake of change.  Ever heard the saying, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it"?  Sure you have.  At some point, asking that question became a litmus test for certain types of individuals who can't stand the idea of not fixing things.  I have encountered people who use it as a question in job interviews, and it's designed to weed out candidates who they believe to be okay with the status quo.  Thing is, sometimes things AREN'T broken, and sometimes they DON'T need to be fixed, or improved.  Sometimes, trying to improve a thing results in you breaking it.  I'm all for challenging the status quo, but along with that must come the recognition that a thing CAN be fine when left alone.  The status quo need not be negative; it should be constantly reevaluated, but if your default belief is that reevaluation always leads to the need for change, then your philosophy of life is very much in opposition to mine, and I would contend that it is very likely that your reevaluation methods are probably driven not by insight but by selfishness, and by the need to justify your existence by constantly rewriting things so your stamp can be on them.  This is ego masquerading as opposition to stagnation.

This brings us to whoever decided to make Blofeld and James brothers.  (Yeah, I know they aren't actually brothers.  But Blofeld refers to their relationship as brotherly toward the end of the movie; he's doing so as a satirical refutation of his father's command to treat James as a brother, but this nevertheless puts the emotional weight of the film onto theirs being a brotherly relationship.)  This can only have come from one urge: some filmmaker's desire to subvert the status quo by putting their own stamp on the character.  Ego!  That's all this is, folks.  Whoever made the decision -- be it Barbara Broccoli, Michael G. Wilson, John Logan, Sam Mendes, Daniel Craig, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Christoph Waltz, or some multi-person combination of the above -- had to consciously look at the extant books and films and say, "Nope, not good enough, we've got to give Blofeld a personal connection to Bond so as to make Bond's story grittier and edgier and more psychologically interesting."

It's worth pointing out that something like this is what the Austin Powers movies did as parody nearly two decades ago.  THAT'S how uninteresting an idea this was.




Gah...!  It all makes me quite angry.  I can't bear to rant about it anymore, so here come some additional thoughts via bulletpoint:

  • "Touch it.  You can touch it if you like."  That's what Oberhauser says when James and Madeleine are looking at the meteorite.  Making Blofeld into a bit of a weirdo was kind of a cool idea, and my gut tells me that Waltz was the one bringing most of that to the table.
  • We all know that Waltz is great at monologues, and he does fine with the monologues he has here.  Thing is, he doesn't have Quentin Tarantino writing for him, and a monologue is not made merely by the actor reciting it, but by the writer who has composed it.  These are mediocre at best, so what you get is a great actor elevating mediocre material.
  • "I came to your home once to see your father," Oberhauser tells Madeleine.  "I don't remember that," she replies.  "But I do," he says in his best creepy-man tone.  Great!  Love it!
  • "It's always been me, James," says Oblofelderhauser of the deaths of the women in his life; "the author of all your pain."  Except no, because Vesper killed herself and M was killed by Silva.  So if you want me to believe in Bloferhauser as the architects of those death, I say bullshit to the former; and even if I were inclined to believe the latter, it weakens Silva massively as a character and makes Skyfall less interesting.  If I opt not to buy into what he's saying, then what I've got on my hands in Oberhauserfeld is a villain who is failing at trying to pack an emotional punch.  So either way you look at this, it doesn't work.
  
  



  • When I watched this movie the first time, there were several acquaintances in the theatre.  One was sitting a few rows ahead of me, and when Oberhauser told Bond his new name was Ernst Stavro Blofeld, I saw this acquaintance raise both arms into the sky and do a double-fist-pump of victory.  Later, I found out that he had never actually seen any of the other Bond movies that have Blofeld in them, and in fact did not have a clear idea of who Blofeld was.  Why the excitement, I asked?  Well, just because he knew Blofeld was an old villain the Bond movies hadn't been able to use, but now they had him back, so here he was.  He took it as a victory for nerd-dom at large.  This is a fascinating response, and I wonder how typical it is for viewers of the modern Bond films.  It's certainly the opposite of my reaction.  I simply don't accept this as Blofeld.
  • Allow me to play devil's advocate briefly.  One criticism of the movie's big reveal I've seen is that it plays the Oberhauser/Blofeld thing as a plot twist, but that it's essentially a hollow twist on account of the fact that so many modern moviegoers have no clue who Blofeld is.  This isn't the case; the music rumbles ever so slightly, but beyond that, Waltz's delivery is very matter of fact and the movie makes no big deal at all of it.  Of course, THIS begs the question of why the production bothered with the obfuscation at all and didn't simply refer to him as Blofeld in all the promotional material.
  • Let me rewrite this movie a bit.  In my version, Oberhauser isn't Blofeld at all.  He's just Oberhauser under some other name; we'll call him Adolphe.  Adolphe is the head of S.P.E.C.T.R.E., but Bond kills him at the end.  Bond retires.  Cut to another S.P.E.C.T.R.E. meeting, where several members are having a heated argument over which one is going to assume leadership.  A few others are silent, observing.  Eventually, a door opens and a man -- whose face we never see -- walks in and sits down at the head of the table.  He places a white cat on the table and begins petting it.  The members who have been bickering among each other begin haranguing him.  The silent onlookers take out knives and slit all their throats, while above, minions are slitting the throats of other minions; the coup is complete.  Something like that, at any rate.  You could have made this entire movie and then brought Blofeld in at the end, unsullied.







Points awarded (Main Villain): 001/007.  My initial impulse was to award a 000/007.  But I think Waltz's performance is good enough that it counteracts some of the minuses.

Henchmen:

I think Hinx has two great scenes in this movies: his entrance into the S.P.E.C.T.R.E. meeting hall is excellent, as is the fight scene on the train.  Dave Bautista has a great presence, moves with tremendous authority, looks great in a suit, and is generally memorable.

He's barely in the movie, though, so much so that I never bothered to get a good screencap of him.  The stated aim with Hinx was to mold him into a henchman to rival the great henchmen of Bond movies of yore.  Given that, why was he not in more of the movie?

Simple.  He had to free up screen time for this tool:




I will come back to this subplot -- which is arguably the MAIN plot, meaning that Max Denbigh is arguably the film's main villain -- in another section, but suffice it here to say that while I think Andrew Scott does decent work, I'm not a fan.  He's too likable at times, which is a poor quality in a character I believe we are meant to despise on sight.  This is probably further proof of how weak the writing and direction are; what ought to be simple work with Denbigh is awfully muddled, not the least because he's presented in something not at all unlike the way Ralph Fiennes was presented in Skyfall.  So we've been down that road before in some ways, and every bit of time this character has would have been better focused on Oberhauser, Hinx, and S.P.E.C.T.R.E.

Points awarded (Henchmen):  003/007.  Hinx is good, but underused; and Denbigh is bland at best and a mixed message at worst.
  
Total points awarded (S.P.E.C.T.R.E.):  002/007

(3)  The Bond Girls
  
Main Bond Girl:

Madeleine is one of the most boring Bond-movie female leads in years.  I'd say you would have to go back to A View to a Kill to find one more boring.  It's not Lea Seydoux's fault; she brings some passion to the proceedings, and at least vaults the role into being tolerable.  Without her efforts, Madeleine would certainly qualify as one of the worst main Bond girls of all time.




"The daughter of an assassin...the only one who could've understood him," says Oberhauser of Madeleine.  There are a few times when the screenwriters take a moment to underline their thesis statements, and this is one of them.  I don't feel as if the movie as a whole supports the idea very well.  In fact, I think that Craig's movies have been filled with women who could understand him: Solange, Vesper, Camille, Severine, M herself, Moneypenny, even Lucia Sciarra.  they all seemed like they either understood him or would have been capable of it.

But for some reason, this screenplay decides that Madeleine Swann is some sort of Bond whisperer, so much so that he will resign from the Service at the end of the movie to go run off and be with her.  It might even have worked if Craig and Seydoux had any chemistry; apart from their sex scene after the train fight, they don't.  Staking what appears to be the entire trajectory of the franchise on this relationship is silly.  None of it feels earned.

The screenplay's approach to the relationship can be summed up by the scene in which Swann tries to break up with Bond.  A few scenes earlier, she's been (implausibly) declaring her love for him while he's being tortured.  Now, back in London, while Bond and his whole crew are in crisis mode, she decides to pull the ripcord.  "I can't," says Madeleine.  "I can't go back to this life."  She adds that she can't ask him to change his.  Bond looks at her woodenly, and she looks back at him woodenly.  Then she leaves, because it's the only way she knows of to get kidnapped by Oberhauser, which is what her screenplay told her she had to do.  Later, once it's all done and dusted, she decides to get back together with James, apparently because he's changed his life.




Nothing here has any emotional resonance.  It's all just chesspieces being moved around on a board.

Points awarded (Main Bond Girl):  002/007.  It's now plainly evident that with Vesper Lynd, this series created a real obstacle for future films to overcome.  In Quantum they went about it by having Bond and the "Bond girl" not pursue a sexual relationship; in Skyfall they went about it by not really even having a Bond girl at all.  It could not be more clear that what this movie needed was for Bond to get hooked up with a supremely strong and confident woman who would engage him sexually, help him with the plot a bit, and then leave him emotionally free to go about life once it was all over.  You know, A BOND GIRL.  Here, they've tried -- quite poorly -- to go back to the same well from which Vesper emerged, but with the twist of having her not die.  Madeleine is here to challenge Bond to reexamine his life choices, but Vesper beat her to the punch and left nothing to subsist upon.  The filmmakers have attempted to subvert formula and have only shown the need for it.


I have yet to decide whether I love or hate Bond's reaction to this.  It's one or the other, to be determined at a later date.


Secondary Bond Girls:

The only reason Lucia is in the movie is for Bond to fuck her into revealing Oberhauser's whereabouts.  Is that a proper use of Monica Bellucci?  Of course it isn't.  The Bond movies have engaged in this porno-quality plotting before, of course, so it's nothing new; but this is the use to which one puts a Playboy model, not an award-winning world-famous actress.  It's kind of embarrassing, to be honest.

Points awarded (Secondary Bond Girls): 001/007

Total points awarded (The Bond Girls): 001.50/007

(4)  "Oh, James..."
  
Action/Stunts:

The action scenes in Spectre mostly don't impress me.  The collapsing wall in Mexico City is kinda cool, but looks a bit too CGI; the helicopter fight and barrel roll are obviously great stunts, but for me they are weakened by how offputting the story is in those scenes.

The problem with the Rome car-chase is that it's just kinda uneventful.  Conceptually, it's very half-baked.  It feels as if they said, "Alright, we're going to do a night-time car-chase through the streets of Rome, because we've never filmed in Rome before and that'll be cool."  And then they just never managed to make the sequence mean anything.  It's not awful.  Many of the individual moments are fine, and there are a couple of good jokes.  But does it amount to anything in the end?  Not really.




The scene in which Bond chases Hinx and Madeleine with an airplane is even more underwhelming.

Hinx vs. Bond on the train is probably the movie's standout action scene.  Much of this is made by Dave Bautista, who just looks so huge smashing through this train's little walls.  Hinx is like Jaws if Richard Kiel had actually been able to move in as menacing a manner as he smiled.  If I'd been allowed to rewrite this movie, I'd have had Hinx not only survive this fight, but emerge as the victor.  He then takes Bond and Swann back to Oberhauser, and Bond has to fight him again at some later date.

Points awarded (Action/Stunts):  004/007.  Not bad, but far from being a series highlight.

Editing:

The helicopter fight is mostly great, especially since it seems like a lot of face-replacement CGI was used.

What's with that audio edit as Hinx gets pulled off the train?  I think the audio has him say "shoot," but his lips say something else entirely.  What was it?  Why not leave it?  Why not have him say "shit" instead of "shoot"?  Why kill him at all?  Why, why, why?!?

Points awarded (Editing): 004/007.  Didn't pay much attention to it.  Let's assume it was okay.

Costumes/Makeup:

For the Mexico City sequence alone, this would have to earn highest marks.



I forgot to mention Estrella in the secondary-Bond-girls section!  As played by Stephanie Sigman, she is gorgeous.  But she barely even qualifies as a character, so it makes sense that I forgot her.



James has some good suits; I really like the brown one he wears after getting off the train, and for that matter, I like the brown suit suit Hinx is wearing on the train.

It's kind of subtle, but Oberhauser's minions all have the same uniform (except for a few of the wait staff).  Nice.

Points awarded (Costumes/Makeup):  007/007

Locations:

You can't do much better than that Dia de los Muertos sequence.







Rome is okay, but they get out of it pretty dang quick, and the car-chase isn't memorable enough to make Rome really pop as a Bond location.

The Hoffler Clinic is cool, but severely underutilized; if you're going to go for a riff on Majesty's Secret Service, you've got to do better than that.

Tangier is nice, as is wherever Oberhauser's base is.

Points awarded (Locations):  007/007, most of it on the basis of that stunning opening sequence.

Overall points awarded ("Oh, James..."): 005.50/007.  Here are a few more location-centric screencaps:









(5)  Q Branch

Bond's Allies:

For the second movie in a row, we've got the ensemble most likely to make for a GREAT weekly Bond-and-MI6 television series.  The four MI6 allies -- Ralph Fiennes as M, Naomie Harris as Moneypenny, Ben Whishaw as Q, and Rory Kinnear as Tanner -- are all very good.

Here's the problem: you can't hire Ralph Fiennes to be your M and then have him do nothing in the movie.  You've got to create something for him to do.  And hence, we've ended up with the subplot of Max Denigh and Nine Eyes, all of which is a distraction from the rest of the plot.  Is Fiennes great in it?  Yeah, he sure is.  I wish this had just been an M movie, frankly.  But it isn't, it's a James Bond movie, and every minute we spend away from Bond is a minute we could have been spending with Bond.  In order to service Fiennes' subplot, a tertiary villain had to be created, and that's time that could have been spent with either the primary villain or the secondary one.




I was worried about this when Fiennes was cast.  A great choice, but one who seemed likely to spur efforts to have him be involved in the plot.  That's always been a tricky thing for the Bond series, because it tends to steer the movies in directions they seem not to want to go.  Such is the case here.

The screenplay does better with Q, because he's primarily assisting Bond (and, later, M).  Strangely, Q seems to have reversed his no-gadgets policy that was explicitly implicit in Skyfall, because he's now rigging explosive watches and cars with flamethrowers and whatnot.  This is good, because I -- like all right-minded Bond fans -- want my Q to be concocting gadgets that have at least a whiff of ridiculousness about them.  But it's another instance of the series turning its back on Skyfall, and why do that?  MOST SUCCESSFUL BOND FILM EVER.  In this case, I approve, but wish there had maybe been at least a bit of transition.

Points awarded (Bond's Allies): 007/007 for the performances minus two points for the ill effects, so 005/007.  I probably should have mentioned Mr. White, who ought to be counted among the allies.  Ah, well.  Here's an apologetic screencap:


HE'S EVERYWHERE!


Direction:

The gunbarrel is back!




I'm not sure if director Sam Mendes should get that credit or not, but I'm giving it to him.  I'm also giving him the credit for what happens next:





As the gunbarrel fades away, a low-end bass note hits: "The dead" appears on the screen, and is followed a few seconds later by crowd noise, then "are alive."  Is this the single most pretentious thing ever to appear in a James Bond movie?  I'll grant you there aren't many competitors, but yeah, I think it's got to be.

It's got to be a reference to Blofeld, who is "alive" again after being dead to the series for over forty years.  It will also end up being a reference to Oberhauser, who James thinks is dead.  I wish it was a reference to Albert Broccoli, who might have stopped some of this nonsense.

Be that as it may, I think Mendes does competent visual work for most of the movie, and inspired visual work on occasion.

The opening sequence is, of course, masterful.  Say what you will about the movie, but take nothing away from this opening shot, which is good enough technically to make Hitchcock or Kubrick envious.  It's mostly a single take, although there is evidently an edit somewhere prior to Bond firing upon Sciarra.  But so what?  It's certainly the best single -- "single" -- shot in Bond history, so that ain't nothing.

Another bit I love: Lucia walks into her villa, grabs a drink, and then walks outside to go stand reflectively by the pool.  The camera faces her front in front as she walks, and reveals two assassins standing inside her house.  They silently follow her outside, and we slowly get the idea that she may actually know they are there.  They raise their guns, and are then -- surprise! -- shot dead by good old 007.  This is a terrific little sequence.

From a technical standpoint, it's a well-made movie.  But none of it really hangs together in any way, and while it might be folly to take a Bond director -- as opposed to a writer or producer -- too much to task for that, I'm giving Mendes at least part of the blame.  He famously didn't want to make the movie, and I think his reticence is right up there on the screen.  It seems to me as if maybe he said everything he wanted to say about James Bond in Skyfall, and was very bored with Spectre.  There's enough gesturing toward depth that you can sense him having occasional ideas; but this may merely be ideas floating to the surface of the screenplay and Mendes resolutely refusing to put in the work that would have been needed to cause them to coalesce.

Give me John Glen any day of the week, great shots or no great shots.

Points awarded (Direction):  003/007.  Some great moments, but also an evident lack of engagement.

Cinematography:

The opening sequence is about as virtuosic as virtuosic gets, an immediate winner in the best-Bond-shot-ever sweepstakes.  I also love the lighting in this scene:




A lot of the film looks a bit flat and underlit to my eyes, though.  It's a very brown movie.  I wish I had some examples to give you, but I don't.  I can say, though, that this has been my reaction each of the three times I've seen the movie: twice in IMAX and once on Blu-ray.

Points awarded (Cinematography):  005/007.  Overall it's a nice-looking film.  I'm probably being too harsh here.

Art Direction:

The Day of the Dead is just gorgeous, as are the S.P.E.C.T.R.E. meeting hall, the CNS building, the Hoffler Clinic, Oberhauser's base, the ruins of MI6, etc.  I don't have much to say about any of this, except to note that Spectre is probably one of the best-looking of all the Bond film from a production design and art direction standpoint.  Maybe even top two?  Top one wouldn't be out of the question.

A few random screencaps:











Oh, and one other:




I'm not going to hold this against the art direction, since this would have been a screenplay and direction issue, but having Bond's apartment be Spartan and undressed is a miscalculation; for most of his life (be it on film or in prose), James Bond has been a rather fussy and materialistic fellow; so I'm not sure the notion of his apartment looking as though he just moved in works in any way.

Points awarded (Art Direction):  007/007

Special Effects:

The collapsing wall bit at the beginning looks a little wonky, but only a little.  Apart from that, the effects are very solid.  Nothing really jumped out at me, but it's strong work.

Points awarded (Special Effects):  006/007

Gadgets:

I don't think I know what the filmmakers are trying to accomplish with their approach to gadgets in this movie.  On the one hand, we're still stuck in Skyfall mode, pretending that gadgets are gauche and lame and generally to be avoided.  On the other hand, we've got a lot of them: smart blood (which never amounts to much of anything) and exploding watches and tricked-out cars with ejector seats.  We've even got Q's lab again, except Q's lab is drab and unmemorable and everyone is still acting as if all this stuff is something to be ashamed of.  So...the approach is what again?  I just don't get it.

"I believe I said 'bring it back in one piece', not 'bring back one piece'," quips Q of Bond's Aston Martin.  He then chuckles in self-amusement.  Guys, this is a James Bond Jr reference; Q is basically being IQ in this moment.  Oddly, it kind of works.

Points awarded (Gadgets): 004/007.  Depending on your perspective, it's either a step forward or a step backward.  I'm inclined to say it's a mild step forward.

Opening-Title Sequence:

I guess some people don't like it, but boy, I love this motherfucker, and I'm very close to being prepared to say that Daniel Kleinman has now eclipsed Maurice Binder as the all-time best when it comes to Bond opening titles; he's done four of THE very best now (Skyfall, Casino Royale, and Die Another Day being the others).


We get a sort of live-action lead-in to the credit sequence as Bond begins to examine the ring he's taken off of Sciarra.




















Just as Sam Smith did a better job of selling the romance than the movie itself did, I think the opening sequence does a better job -- in tandem with the mood generated by Smith's song -- of selling the haunting connections between this and the other Craig-era films.  Seeing Silva, Vesper, and Le Chiffre reflected in those "million shards of glass" is an undeniably thrilling and moving device.  (So much so that I failed to screencap it.)  The rest of the movie kind of bungles that aspect; Daniel Kleinman knows how to sell it.

Points awarded (Opening-Title Sequence):  007/007
  
Overall points awarded (Q Branch): 005.28/007
  
(6)  Mission Briefing

And now, complaining notes I took while watching the movie:


  • I've heard mention of this movie being like Daniel Craig's take on Roger Moore.  Okay, I guess I could buy that in theory.  No way on Earth does Roger Moore not do one of two things in the pre-credits sequence: (1) bone Estrella before he goes to take out Sciarra or (2) return to the hotel after killing Sciarra to bone Estrella.  Either way, in a Roger Moore movie, Estrella is getting boned.  This movie seems embarrassed to go to places like that, so it pulls back.  Guys: don't give me a cake with no icing.
  • "Congratulations on your new appointment.  I suppose we should call you C now," says Bond to Denbigh, somewhat confusingly.  (The joke is that he means "cunt.")  "No, no; Max, please," says Denbigh politely, welcomingly.  "No, I think I'll call you C, C," says Bond, as petulant as he's ever been.  "As you wish," says Denbigh.  Bond comes off as a complete prick in this scene.  He's not clever.  He's not funny.  He's not charming.  He's not justified.  He's just a prick, and the only reason he's got for being a prick is that the screenwriters know Denbigh is secretly a villain, so they want Bond to already be in opposition to him right from the outset.  And yet, there is no justification for it during the scene itself, so it comes off as utterly hollow and forced, a contrivance and nothing more.  This is poor screenwriting at best; at worst, it's that plus incompetent direction.
  • Okay, so here's what you want me to base a great deal of my belief in this movie on: the idea that the former M recorded a video for James in case she died, and that within this video she told him to kill a specific man and then go to his funeral.  "Jesus," says Moneypenny in response to this, as though she's just witnessed a flying saucer come down from the heavens.  This, writers, this is what you want me to pin the rest of the movie on?  That M records a video in case she dies, but that during the events of Skyfall while death is almost literally nipping at her heels, she would opt to just not mention any of this Sciarra business?  Do you figure her thought process was on the order of, "Nah, no need, I recorded a monumentally vague video, so if something happens, he'll see that, so I'm covered."  THIS is what you expect me to buy into?!?  This surely ranks among the dumbest things in all of James Bond history.  This is James Bond Jr territory.  And hey, guys, here's the deal: I might be able to let it slide if not for the fact that you clearly want me to invest in this on an emotional level.  You've given me Newman's touching M theme from Skyfall to nudge me in that direction.  Fuck you.  Don't you dare be pretentious.  You leave shit like that to other movies.  Also, do you for one second expect me to believe that the new M would not sanction Bond to follow a directive from the former M?  This is all inane.  It's just illogical tomfoolery designed to steer the plot in whatever direction you wish it to go.
  • Q says to Bond, "May I remind you that I have a mortgage and two cats."  Bond says, "Then I suggest you trust me, for the sake of the cats."  Has this colossal cock-bucket just threatened to kill Q's cats if he doesn't help him?  His tone suggests he's joking, but what sort of joke is this?  It's certainly not funny.  I say that not strictly as a cat-lover, but also a lover of humorous humor.  It's simply lame and unfunny, with an extra level of psychopathic weirdness on top.
  • "You're a kit dancing in a hurricane, Mr. Bond."  Great line!  I wish the movie it was in wasn't terrible, but still, great line.
  • Where does Bond get that plane when he vacates the Hoffler Clinic?  This is the sort of thing that I ought to not care about, but here, I really care quite a lot.  He didn't fly in on it; he flew in on a passenger plane.  So he must have stolen it from somewhere.  We probably ought to have seen that happen.
  • The DNA-ring nonsense is nonsense.  The ring links Silva, Sciarra, Le Chiffre, and Greene to Oberhauser via DNA?  Get the fuck out of here.  Again, this is James Bond Jr level writing.
  • The meteorite looks rather like a chestburster's egg.  I now begin to entertain notions of Oberhauser being revealed to be an Ash-style android, which would be only a bit more ridiculous than where the movie actually goes.


In space, no one can hear you scream, Mr. Bond...


  • "You must know by now that the double-o program is officially dead, which leads me to speculate why you came.  So, James: why did you come?" asks Oberhauser.  "I came here to kill you," answers Bond.  "And I thought you came here to die," Oberhauser retorts.  "Well, it's all a matter of perspective," Bond says back.  Is this meant to be witty banter?  Roger Moore would wipe the floor with these clowns.  And he WAS a clown at one point!



  • Hildebrand Prints & Rarities, eh?  Here's the thing: you want me to find that clever.  You want me to be proud of my ability to brag to my non-indoctrinated friends about how that's a reference to the Ian Fleming short story "The Hildebrand Rarity."  You THINK this means that you and I have become a bit closer via our shared knowledge of the roots of James Bond.  Thing is, the titular rarity of "The Hildebrand Rarity" is a fish.  That story has bupkes to do with prints (or, indeed, safehouses), which means that this reference is shallow at best, and incorrect at worst.  You might think it's making us closer, but it really means that you don't know Ian Fleming as well as I do.  And since my knowledge is cursory and shallow, what does that mean for yours?  It means you've made a movie in which Blofeld is Bond's quasi foster-brother, in defiance of anything Fleming ever wrote.  It means you're in this to tick off boxes on a checklist, and have no need of actually understanding any of the meanings behind why the boxes are on the list to begin with.


There are things in this movie I simply cannot accept.  Perhaps this means I've reached some sort of breaking point.  I don't think so; but it's a possibility.  Nevertheless, I have such naked contempt for these elements of the movie that I am awarding the first-ever negative-numeral score in this blog's history.  I'll take an invisible car any day of the week over Blondfeld.
  
Points awarded:  -001/007.  I know from past experience that some people don't like it when I "cheat" the math like this.  My feeling is that it's acceptable in this instance because this is THE worst screenplay for any Bond movie, and that it's so bad that it redefines my notions of what the lower end of the grade spectrum can mean.  Previously, I'd given the score of 000/007 to Casino Royale '67 and to James Bond Jr, but I fervently believe that Spectre is worse than those two by a considerable margin.  Why?  Because where as those projects are silly and awful, they are silly and awful in a way that does no actual harm to the Bond franchise.  I can't say that of Spectre.  This movie betrays Ian Fleming's work, and it also has no notion of who James Bond is in comparison even with the previous film in the series.  Apart from that, it's one illogical inanity after another.  It's a disaster, and it will cause me to rethink how I grade things in the future.  With that in mind, going below zero is my only option.

(07)  The Music

Title Song:

For the first time since at least Licence to Kill (and possibly farther back than that), I managed -- on purpose -- to not hear the new Bond song prior to seeing the movie.  I wanted the experience of see a brand-new Bond movie and watching the opening titles without having any clue what the song sounded like.

I got that experience, and the song made little impression on me at all.




The next day, I listened to the song in my car on the way to work, and loved it.  It's been catching flak from a lot of people ever since it came out, and the Oscars were widely mocked for giving it the song of the year statue.  This post certainly proved that I've got no problem firing flak when I feel it's appropriate, but I don't think it's appropriate in the case of "Writing's on the Wall."  It's a beautiful song, it's sung wonderfully by Sam Smith, and it's got a classically-Bondian sound to it.  I think it sounds like a better version of the movie than the movie we actually got.

A criticism: the song never gets quite as big as I think it secretly wants to get.  The strings get it close in a few moments, but everything else doesn't quite make it.  It gives the song a slightly defeated mood that doesn't quite seem warranted.

One way to defuse that: pretend it's a theme song for Quantum of Solace, to which it would be more appropriate.

Consider this notion: the song actually does a much better job of selling the Bond/Swann romance than the movie does.  Smith wrote  the song after he read the screenplay, without benefit of seeing the film; he tried to put himself in the mindset of James Bond, and tried to anticipate the movie that would be the result of the screenplay.  Smith was writing a song for a version of the movie that would have actually made that relationship work on screen; this version of the movie does not.

So if you feel thesong doesn't match the movie, I'd argue that it's because the movie failed Sam Smith, not the other way around.

Points awarded (Title Song): 006/007.  Not quite up to "Skyfall" but nevertheless a new classic, from where I'm standing.  I'm seemingly in the minority, and I'm okay with that.

I'm probably also in the minority in that I love the song Radiohead wrote for the movie.  It wasn't used, but they released it onto the Internet so people could hear it.  I don't know that I like it as a Bond song, but I do like it on its own; and it even works pretty well when laid onto the opening credit sequence of the movie.  There's no category here for rejected songs, so it doesn't factor into the score; but it seemed worth a mention.

The Score:

A few random notes:


  • Once the helicopter fight ends, there is a good -- if perhaps a bit underbodied -- statement of the Bond theme; after that, the music relaxes into something a bit more languid, and it seamlessly melds into the opening strings of "Writing's on the Wall," leading into the opening credits; this is technically part of the song, but it functions as score, so I'm going to talk about it here.
  • There is some good incidental music accompanying Bond's stroll out of MI6 post-meeting-Denbigh and leading into Moneypenny coming to his flat; it's a bit more Newmanesque than Bondesque, but that's okay.
  • Newman has some good choral-infused action music during the Rome car chase.
  • The airplane-car chase is good action music.
  • The arrival-in-Tangier music is good.
  • The cut from the train fight to Bond and Swan furiously making love is scored with an instrumental version of "Writing's on the Wall," which plays through the segue into the next scene.  Great stuff.  I complain sometimes about how the series composer isn't writing the  title songs the way John Barry used to, but -- as was the case with Skyfall -- if the songs are this good and can be used this well within the score, what does it matter who's writing it all?
  • Toward the end, Newman brings in what sounds like a speed-metal riff that he uses as a motif.  It's kind of awful; it's restrained, so it doesn't sound as incongruous as my description makes it sound, but I really don't like it at all.  And I flat-out HATE it when listening to the soundtrack divorced from the film.
  • Speaking of the soundtrack, this one is missing the theme song AGAIN.  Stop that, please.  That is a very bad trend.
  • There's a mysterious nine-note motif that pops up here and there, mostly in relation to Bond and Swan; it's kind of cool, and shows up at the very end of the credits.  Hmm.




Points awarded (The Score):  005/007.  Not as good as Skyfall, but Newman has done a solid job.

Total points awarded (The Music): 005.50/007
  
So, how does that all tally up?



  
Double-0 Rating for Spectre:  002.82/007
  
I suspect some people are going to think I've lost my mind ranking it this low.  Worse than Die Another Day?  And sorry, but yeah, I think so.  See, Die Another Day didn't do any harm to the rest of the series.  This movie retroactively makes Skyfall less cool, but worse than that, it ruins the character of Blofeld, who cannot be redeemed until the series is rebooted again.  Not a soft reboot, either; this'll take a hard reboot.
  
006.48 -- Skyfall
006.47 -- On Her Majesty's Secret Service
006.40 -- Casino Royale
006.37 -- Thunderball
006.23 -- From Russia With Love
006.03 -- Goldfinger
005.58 -- The Living Daylights
004.84 -- Moonraker
004.76 -- Dr. No
004.42 -- For Your Eyes Only
004.41 -- Quantum of Solace
004.39 -- Live and Let Die
004.36 -- GoldenEye
003.96 -- A View to a Kill
003.92 -- Octopussy
003.77 -- The Man With the Golden Gun
003.75 -- Licence to Kill
003.66 -- The Spy Who Loved Me
003.63 -- Die Another Day
003.09 -- You Only Live Twice 
002.82 -- Spectre
002.55 -- Climax!: Casino Royale
002.45 -- Tomorrow Never Dies
002.44 -- The World Is Not Enough
002.38 -- Casino Royale [1967]
001.43 -- Never Say Never Again
001.02 -- James Bond Jr


You Only Blog Twice will return in . . . "Worst to Best: James Bond Songs."

But, before that happens, I've got a treat for you: a conversation I had with B McMolo, the author of the excellent blog Dog Star Omnibus (and frequent commenter on the posts here).  We talked about Spectre at length via email around the time of the film's release.  I thought it was a great conversation, so I've tidied it up a bit (mostly so as to make it sound like a proper back and forth as opposed to a series of bulletpointed emails, an effort which did not 100% work) and am attaching it onto the bottom of this post for your edification.

Here it comes!







McMolo:  Okay, I saw it.  I enjoyed it, actually!  There were a few things I thought were dumb, but nothing that was a dealbreaker.  I kept waiting for the one-thing to happen where I'd say "Oh, okay, I can see why all my friends hated it." (You're not the only one.)  

Bryant:  Glad to hear you enjoyed it!  I'm hoping that in time, the positive attributes -- which are numerous -- will outweigh the things about it that I disliked.  Looks like you jumped right out of the gate with that attitude, so as far as I'm concerned, you win this round of Bond Fandom.

MM:  I'm very curious to hear what repulsed you so much. It's likely you'll change my mind, even.  When I reviewed the reviews of Star Trek Into Darkness after I saw it, I was dismissive of all the negativity.  Then, after sitting with it for awhile, I came around to agreeing with most of the bad reviews.  (Though I still don't hate it the way everyone else seems to.) Maybe the same thing will happen here.  

BB:  Into Darkness is a terrific comparison piece.  You and I were -- and, it looks like, still are -- on the same page with it.  I didn't like the Khan plot twist, nor the repurposing of Wrath of Khan scenes; but in that movie's case, I felt that the good FAR outweighed the bad.  In other words, it felt to me like a fundamentally good (and occasionally great) movie that had a few serious blunders.  If I can use a weak analogy, if the movie was a runner, it stumbled a bit, but still got across the finish line in strong fashion.  But my opinion of the movie has weakened over time; I'll be curious to see where it goes when I watch it again, but for now, it has begun to feel like a big missed opportunity.
  
  


MM (on Spectre):  I thought the pre-credits sequence was great.

BB:  Me too.  All that Dia de los Muertos stuff was exquisite; handily one of the top travelogue moments of all of Bond, if not THE best (I could be persuaded that it is without much effort).  The helicopter stuff didn't entirely work for me, though, and I'll get into that later when I give you my big gripes.

MM:  The credits were lame. I usually find all the credits sequences lame. Most of them, anyway. 

BB:  Really?  I don't think I knew that.  

MM:  Yeah I find them all to be silly. I wouldn't change a thing, of course. If anything, I’d probably make them sillier  Craig-era ones have been a bit more Saul-and-Lee-Bass-y than, say Octopussy or what not. This one, I don’t know. All the tentacles were cool.

BB:  Fascinating!  I'm not sure I've ever heard that from a Bond fan, so you, sir, may be one of a kind.  I can see it, though.  Like anything that stylized, they run the risk of being campy.  I sort of imagine that if you sat an alien down and showed them some of the older ones, with naked women doing gymnastics on giant-sized pistols and whatnot, he'd decide to put an end to us all.  

MM:  I love the idea of these sequences immediately moving an alien civilization to violence.

BB:  I liked these credits a lot.  So weird.  All those tentacles!  Maybe this is my recent foray into Lovecraft talking, but I dug it.

I guess that in 2015, you kind of can't do the naked-gymnast-exploitation thing.  But that's a shame, isn't it?  And doesn't that sort of feel like what the Bond movies SHOULD be doing?

I still -- and I feel obliged to issue a "no homo, bro" declaration here -- kind of wish somebody would make a gay-spy parody movie, complete with naked dudes doing gymnastics in the opening titles.  And I mean, there need to be actual swinging dongs.  Silhouetted, of course.  I swear to God, you make that movie in 2015, you gross $400 worldwide at minimum.

MM:  That gay-spy-parody / swinging-dongs-in-silhouette movie needs to happen.

The song ["Writing's on the Wall"] was pretty good, but the dude sang almost all of it in falsetto. Who does that? Even Prince doesn't do that. (The ones he does do that on aren't really good songs.)

BB:  The defense cites "Kiss" and "Scandalous," your honor.  Also, we vote YES to Prince doing a Bond song eventually.  It'd probably be terrible, but we'd love to find out for sure.

MM:  Ah yes.  Well, objection happily sustained.  For some reason neither of those songs registered in my quick polling of Prince tunes in my head.  But I am entirely incorrect.  I'll see myself out. But yes on Prince doing a Bond song.

[Bryant's note:  These thoughts were written months before Prince's untimely death, so we will never hear what a Prince song for a 007 movie would sound like.  Rest in peace, His Purple Majesty!) (McMolo’s: the Bowie/Prince/Lemmy theme to the only-screened-in-heaven Bond film directed by Guy Hamilton is probably the best one never made.)

BB:  I was super pleased with myself for not listening to "Writing's on the Wall" before I saw the movie.  When I watched it, the song didn't make much on an impression (positive or negative) on me.  I'd bought it on CD and had made a playlist of all the theme songs to listen to while driving, though, and got to that song the next day on my way to work.  Listening to it that way, it hooked me; and it's been stuck in my head ever since.  I wouldn't rank it as highly as Adele's song, but I do believe it's a bit of a classic in the making.

I'll give you my take on it, especially the falsetto.  One thing that's getting a lot of criticism from people who don't like it is that it never builds, never really goes anywhere.  I think it's designed that way on purpose.  The song has no percussion, so one thing you can do is imagine that it DOES have drums, and maybe even a hard-rock orchestration.  Mentally replay the song that way, and then imagine the chorus/falsetto in that guise -- clearly, rather than going to a falsetto, the singer would intensify the performance, which is what most choruses do.  (I'd love to hear somebody do the song that way, actually.)  Sam Smith doesn't do that; instead, he dials everything back, and turns the song into something more tentative and tender.  I think a lot of people are assuming this is because he doesn't know what he's doing; I think it's because he does.  The lyrics seem to be playing with the idea of someone who is so in love with someone else that he is deciding whether to make a major life change.  "Is this where I give it all up: for you?" he asks.  He sounds haunted, unsure and certain at the same time.

MM:  I just don't like the falsetto approach, though admittedly Sam's got a better-than-most falsetto. At least it wasn't autotune, I guess. I like the song. It’s grown on me.

BB:  I read that Smith was brought into the process fairly early, and that he wrote the song based on having read the screenplay.  With that in mind, I think he's clearly written a song about Bond's decision to leave the Secret Service to be with Madeleine, an idea that is strongly hinted at in the movie, but never quite developed explicitly.  The romance between Bond and Madeleine -- more on which in a bit -- fails to ignite many sparks in the movie, but I think that's clearly what motivated Smith.
  
In other words, I think he did a better job of selling some of the movie's themes than the director and actors did!  They failed to craft a movie that lived up to the song he wrote, in my opinion.  If the movie more effectively developed some of the song's themes, I think people might be more on-board with it.

Alternatively, this might be one of those things where I've disappeared up my own ass and am making things up so as to reaffirm whatever opinion I've developed.  I like to think I don't do that, but statistically speaking, I'm sure I do.

MM:  Okay, complaint number one: making Blofeld Oberhauser's son and piggybacking him on half of the Oberhauser origin from Octopussy was dumb. 
  
  


BB:  This is what killed the movie for me.  It's by no means my only complaint, but it's the big one. 

MM:  I did like the other short story shout-out, though, with "Hildebrand" being the name of the safe house.

BB:  I enjoyed that, too, but later got grumpy about it.  Because really, it has nothing to do with the short story whatsoever.  It's purely a namecheck.  Hey, you guys have read James Bond, right???  "Hildebrand," amirite???  We read James Bond, too!!!  We just proved it, because how else would we know to say "Hildebrand"???  Far better to have Bond see a photo of a weird-looking fish at some point, preferably in M's presence, and correctly name it as "the Hildebrand rarity."  M can look at him in combined respect and disgust, make a snarky comment, and get on with giving 007 his mission.  

MM:  Very true on all counts.  It is a dumb namecheck, void of context/ meaning.  I don't know why it doesn't bother me, to be honest.

BB:  Probably because you are a more levelheaded and rational individual than I.  

MM: Probably just lazier.

BB: What did you think about Blofeld being Bond's foster brother?

MM:  Giving him and Bond that personal connection and making his motivation orchestrated improbable-serial-killer vengeance (especially with the pictures of the principals from the previous films) was ridiculous.  Totally unnecessary. 

BB:  Initially, I walked away thinking that the point the movie was making was that SPECTRE had been created purely to gain revenge upon James Bond.  This, of course, is a massive misreading of the movie.  But I'm not the only person who's misread it in that fashion, and it's illustrative of the movie's focus that some folks are responding that way.  Clearly, SPECTRE has other things going, and has had for quite some time.  But does the movie focus on that, or does it focus on the fact that Oberhauser is still butthurt about his dad liking James?  
  
  



I wasn't aware of this, but apparently the third Austin Powers movie -- which I've never seen -- involves Dr. Evil being revealed to be Austin's brother.  How in GOD'S NAME can the Bond producers not be aware of that?  Being aware of it, how can they possibly have decided that doing something similar would be anything but disastrous?  Not to mention how incredibly inaccurate to both Fleming and to the original movies it is.  At least Into Darkness didn't make Khan a long-lost great-uncle of Kirk's; that's why Spectre rankles me so much more, I think.

MM:  I'd forgotten that about Goldmember, but yeah - I can only imagine they felt they were "reclaiming" Blofeld from Austin Powers?  Or something?  It's weak, I grant you. More importantly, it’s dumber than a box of morons. This subplot should have been jettisoned altogether.  And it's not like it's even a subplot; it's pretty much the main plot.  I mean – unforgivable.  

It totally feels/ felt like they had this other script/ movie in place than brought in some "fixer" (ahem, John Logan - I have no way of knowing if this is true, mind you) to graft tried-and-true-blockbuster-twist-dynamics on it.  Sigh.

Also, re: John Logan.  Maybe I just hate Nemesis, but... aren't a lot of these problems with SPECTRE the same bs-problems with Nemesis, another franchise seemingly kicked around to satisfy some secret/not-so-secret formula for making all blockbusters have exactly the same "dynamics"?  I want to make John Logan the bad guy.  Probably unfairly.  But fuck you, Nemesis!

BB:  You make a good point here.  We're going to kill Data because the actor will soon be too old to convincingly play an unaging android, but so as to take the sting out of it, we're going to transplant his consciousness into another android...

...played by the same actor.

I always forget about this element of Nemesis, which is probably a blessing.  Oh, how ruthlessly Paramount squandered the TNG-era movies...!  In a better world, they'd still be making them, and DS9 and Voyager movies, too.  And by now, they'd have gotten around to the full-fledged teamup movies, too.  They had an MCU before the MCU was a twinkle in Hollywood's eye, and they just couldn't be bothered to make it happen.

Ugh.

Yeah, I'm with you.  Fuck John Logan with a buzzsaw.

MM:  Watch them hire John Logan to "punch up" Simon Pegg's script for the next one.

BB:  Or they'll hire him to be the showrunner of the new series...

I’m perfectly zen with blaming John Logan for all of my problems with Spectre.  He ruined Blofeld!

MM:  It undermined my appreciation of Waltz as Blofeld for sure.  But I'm hoping he'll redeem himself in pt. 2.  If we get it.

BB:  That's my hope.  And really, there'd be no way for Blofeld NOT to be in #25.  They've painted themselves into a corner: if they ignore this movie, people are going to wonder why and be annoyed by it.  But if the reception the movie and the characters (specifically Blofeld and Madeleine) get is anything other than rapturous -- and the jury is very much still out on that -- then all of a sudden, they're stuck making a sequel nobody particularly wants.  Potentially, that's disastrous.  And that's part of the reason why giving Bond and Blofeld that personal connection is such a terrible decision: there's no way to get away from it now, except another hard reboot of the entire series.  Even if you don't bring Blofeld back, you've trained modern fans to think that he's orchestrating whatever plot and villain you concoct.  Worse: you've trained them to think that whatever plot arises, it's a part of Bond's personal story.  He's no longer an agent who gets sent on missions; he's an agent who goes rogue EVERY FUCKING TIME so as to clean up messes he unwittingly helped cause as a teenager.

MM:  Yes... this is unfortunately true.  And potentially very problematic.  I'd like to think they can still course-correct, here. The Bond movies have been in this situation before and have bounced back with a new classic. I hope they do the same here. But yeah, a potential nuclear meltdown that might erode the whole reboot/ arc/ franchise is definitely possible. I doubt it will, but it could.  Amazing that these discussions didn't seem to happen during production!

BB:  I'm overstating all of that for effect, obviously.  But then again, am I?  Isn't it actually kind of the truth about where this series has gone in one fell swoop?  For God’s sake, I didn’t even much like Daniel Craig in this movie!

MM:  I didn't expect to, but I liked Craig's performance, the odd juxtaposition of Moore-era throwbacks (which as someone commented on my Facebook earlier, would have been even better if Daniel Bautista kept coming back, Jaws-style) with the crankier violence of Craig. 

BB:  I'm with you on that.  The best part of it is that they didn't ask Craig to step outside of his comfort zone; they simply repositioned the humor to fit within it.  Therefore, the humor mostly revolves around Bond being stymied and getting grumpy about it, or having improbably things happen and looking befuddled by it.  That all worked for me quite well.

MM:  That said, SPECTRE seemed pretty bad-ass - except when it comes to hiring their security staff, I guess. 

BB:  Yes, HR is going to have to answer for some of their shoddy hiring.  But yeah, agreed -- SPECTRE itself is great here.  I can't say enough about how much I loved that boardroom scene.  Perfect.  And, perversely, it makes me more frustrated with the rest of the movie.  Because, like, how can they have gotten that so right but everything else about Blofeld so wrong?  That massive table, Blofeld's semi-disembodied voice, the fearful deference everyone pays him; all that speaks to the filmmakers 100% understanding the appeal of the Blofeld who is in From Russia With Love and Thunderball.  But then, having him be somebody Bond knew as a kid speaks to them 100% not understanding it.  I can't reconcile those two things, which is why I've been tearing myself into shreds mentally (I exaggerate, but only a bit) and assuming that it's a problem with me and not the movie.

MM:  I can hang with both the above as just genre-things (the bad guys don't shoot straight, the ubervillain is the hero's twisted evil brother, etc.) that I think are silly, in an overall-Bond context.  Not, perhaps, the Craig Era Bond context, and yet: I do appreciate the four-part arc so far.  I really hope there are two more movies, following an Empire and Jedi sort of trajectory.  Maybe, maybe not - I'm just riffing.

BB:  You make a very valid point here, and I've also been struggling trying to figure out why Spectre pisses me off whereas Diamonds Are Forever (which ignores OHMSS and, worse, puts Blofeld in drag) doesn't.  Then I remember that Diamonds Are Forever kind of DOES piss me off, and doesn't to a greater degree only because I grew up with it, and am therefore immunized to it to some degree.

I have yet to figure out where I stand personally, though, as regards the four-movie arc.  I think it will depend on whether they do something good with it over the course of the next however-many movies.  If they do, then I'll be able to at least accept this movie's (as-perceived-by-me) problems; if they don't, my complaints will only become more set in stone.

MM:  I wonder how much of my reaction to the film is a reaction to things I don't like in the Gardner books.  SPECTRE might have come across more favorably to me solely because of this.  It's infinitely better and more Bond-exciting to me than the last half-dozen of the Gardners.

BB:  I remember being unimpressed with his final few books, too.  Although I do recall enjoying the one where it's "James Bond stars in Die Hard At EuroDisney."  Or did I dream that that happened?

MM: I wonder now, too, that Blofeld has been re-established as a character who will be coming back again, if we're building up to some kind of reboot of OHMSS.  I doubt it. 

BB:  Oh, how can they not?  It's almost got to be that in the next movie, Bond has left the Secret Service to be with Madeleine (or is considering doing so), only for Blofeld to be broken out of prison by Irma Bunt.  The two of them then attack Bond and kill Tracy, oops, sorry, Madeleine (daughter of a notorious gangster who helped Bond find Blofeld).  Then, Bond has to talk Q, Moneypenny, and M into helping him go on a mission of personal vengeance.  He kills Blofeld and dismantles SPECTRE and then rejoins the Secret Service.  Then, the next movie brings in a new actor and the series resets to some degree.  I don't know if I see how the 25th film can be anything other than some variation of that theme.  It could be great, I guess; but I'm not sure Madeleine is a strong enough character to make it work, and I'm not sure there's enough variance between that idea and, say, Quantum of Solace (also a revenge film) to make it stand out among the Craig-era films.  It seems doomed to be a been-there/done-that sort of situation.  And I'm mystified as to how the producers could fail to see this was going to be an issue.  Or maybe I'm making shit up again.  We'll see.  I'd certainly love to be wrong.

MM:  Now that you point it out, it seems so obvious – yeah, duh, this is the set-up for the OHMSS reboot. Myself, I'd prefer they do Moonraker.  Maybe based on the book, just updated here and there.  In my heart of hearts, I'd love to see Craig take Bond into space and just listen to the gnashing of the teeth with a smile on my face, but I can happily step back from the ledge, there. 

BB:  As you know, I'm a fellow Moonraker junkie (though I wasn't during my twenties and most of my thirties).  As silly as it is, it's silly in a very pure and honest way; it's got few, if any, internal contradictions.  And I'm beginning to feel the same way about Die Another Day (though I don't like it anywhere near as much, and never will).  Spectre, I think, has many problems of tonal consistency, especially when viewed in light of the previous Craig-era films.  The Craig-era version of Moonraker-type silliness I'd like to see is this: Q, suddenly interested in making gadgets again, invents a time machine.  Bond goes back in time and tries to prevent his parents from being killed.  He's unsuccessful, but he talks his younger self out of going to spend time with Oberhauser.  But he does have a hot affair with a younger version of Judi Dench's M, and the two of them bring about the fall of the Berlin Wall, with young James Bond in tow so that he can go on to star in his own spinoff trilogy.  Old James comes back forward in time, forgets about the Bloferhauser timeline as a result of tampering with the timeline, and Blofeld can just be Blofeld again.  But the key is, none of it is played for laughs: it's all as serious as Schindler's List.  MAKE THAT MOVIE, because at this point, why not?

MM:  Holy moley do I want to watch that movie. Damn! This and the gay-spy-movie. Combine them and now we’re talking.

Regarding Dave Bautista...does it all make sense that he would be trying to kill Bond on the very train taking them to Blofeld, who has, apparently, been waiting his whole life for Bond to arrive, presumably not dead?

BB:  It makes zero sense.

MM:  As a kid, I'd have rationalized it one of two ways (probably): 1) Mr. Hinx didn't really mean to kill him, just immobilize him.  He just got carried away.   Or 2) Blofeld is crazy and can improvise the way he did because it was a last-minute change of plans.

BB:  Absolutely.  Hell, that's how I'd rationalize it as an adult!  That's the sort of thing I have no problem doing.  It's worth trying to figure out why I can deal with plot holes (or plot illogic, perhaps) like that, but not other sorts.  Hence half of the reason why I became a blogger.  But could it be one of those explanations?  Sure, I guess.

MM:  Neither are satisfactory, and the second is downright stupid, if that actually was the explanation.  There are other explanations, too, such as Blofeld wanted Bond to kill Mr. Hinx for his own reasons, or something, but okay, let's accept that it's all on the up and up.  What is this train?  Is it SPECTRE's personal train?  They have a chauffeur to take them from the dilapidated station - is the whole line theirs?  It'd have to be, for the amount of damage caused by Bond and Hinx's fight!

Now, there are plenty of places in Bond films one could levy any/all of these charges, so I roll with the punch on this, but it's a little funny.

BB:  Also, why did Hinx wait until then to attack them?  Also, is nobody else on the entire train?  Also, where did their evening-wear come from?  Zero sense.  But I don't mind most of that.  They are plot holes, but they are of the sort that I can deal with.  Also, I absolutely loved Hinx/Bautista.  Not sure why they redubbed him saying "shit" to "shoot," which put a weird cap of failure on the whole thing.  But otherwise, great.  And it leads to my favorite bit of the entire movie, which is that incredibly hot moment when Bond and Madeleine decide that they have to respond to that situation by FUCKING EACH OTHER HALF TO DEATH.  That's the only time in the movie where I bought their relationship at all, and even then, I don't believe it leads to romance, necessarily.  (But that's grown-up me talking; the me who thought Octopussy was a profound love story would have felt otherwise, and I'd be well-advised to remember that.)
  
  


For me, there is a fundamental difference of intent behind, say, Live and Let Die and Skyfall.  In both cases, I think the filmmakers hit the nails on the head; they did exactly what they intended to do.  I'm not sure Spectre did.  It feels as if it's intended to put some sort of a gritty cap on a gritty four-film sequence, but instead, it twists itself into knots trying to make that happen.  Whereas it could have just . . . not.  Skyfall had already accomplished the goal!  This new movie could simply have reintroduced SPECTRE as a major world-domination force that MI6 needed to combat, with Bond as their primary man in the field doing so.  The personal connections are 100% irrelevant to that; they actually damage it and make it damn near impossible to carry off.  So for me, Spectre fails at some of its internal goals, whereas something like A View to a Kill does not.  

MM:   I think you're spot-on with the "immunization" we both have to the same elements of SPECTRE that are in older Bonds.  That's a tricky one.  I usually shrug it off, but it might have led to a dulling of my critical instincts.  (Such as they are.)

BB:  That's the sort of thing that most people don't care about, of course; I'm aware that I'm by no means a sample audience member in this regard.

MM:  Is it said anywhere why it's named SPECTRE?  Is it still an acronym, I wonder?

BB:  They sidestep that, presumably because they don't want to have to explain something silly like what each word stands for.  But they were, by the same token, content to borrow a plot device from Goldmember.  Uh...okay.

I didn't like James Bond in this movie.  Note that that is distinct from disliking Craig; he was fine (though it's by far his least engaged performance).  But Bond himself was a royal prick.  He endangers all those people in Mexico City for no reason.  Would any other Bond have blown up a building like that?  Can you imagine Moore or Dalton or Brosnan or Connery not deciding a better approach would be to attack the bombers directly and take the bomb away from them?  Maybe they would; I'd be willing to sit down and rewatch the entire series with ideas like that in mind, and may actually feel it is incumbent upon me to do so before writing my review for the blog.

Similarly, he risks everyone beneath him in the helicopter sequence.  I'm not sure I understand why he attacked the pilot, except that that was the action sequence they came up with and couldn't figure out how else to make it happen.

Later, while ostensibly trying to save Madeleine after she is kidnapped, he does things that could have gotten her killed about half a dozen times.  It works, but only because the director made shit up and filmed it that way.

MM:  I kinda liked Craig-Bond's callous disregard for life in the new one.  It doesn't make much sense, no, but it entertained me. It continues, perhaps, the Jack Bauer-ification of the character But looking back on it, yeah, it’s too much.

BB:  I wonder if my complaining about things like this is analogous to Fleming hardliners complaining about the way Roger Moore was a comedian in the role.  In other words, will we/I someday look back on this era and say, "Oh, well, that's just what those movies WERE, so no sense in judging them otherwise"?  Seems possible.

MM: Speaking of, did Bond fire a grenade into the hotel room, or did his bullet ignite something within?

BB:  Took me two viewings to figure this out, but the idea seems to be that Bond shoots the case that ostensibly holds the bomb.  So he's detonating the bomb on purpose.  I mean...how does he know it isn't a nuke or something?  Irresponsible.

MM: Oh yeah, that is dumb. What were they thinking? They were right to leave it somewhat unclear, but they should have rethought it altogether.

BB:  Some of this is probably my reaction to Craig's "I'd rather kill myself than do another one" interviews, but it seemed as if he didn't much want to be there.  I can think of a dozen scenes in his first three films where he brings a unique spark to scenes unlike anything ever seen in a Bond film before.  In this one, he does a lot of vacant staring.  He's not bad, by any means; but I didn't feel any inspiration coming off of him, and to me, that tells me the material failed to engage him.  Which tells me that he wants out.  Which tells me that he and Mendes engineered the plot so that that narrative played out within the movie.  If so -- and I'm aware that this is the Bond-fandom equivalent of false-flag conspiracy theories about Sandy Hook or whatever -- then what it means is that the producers have allowed their star and director to, as a response to an all-time-high box-office hit, steer the series in a direction that does possibly irreparable damage for no better reason that fatigue and vanity.  Once again, it's possible that this is me making shit up.  But it's how the movie makes me feel, and I think that's why I've had so visceral a reaction to it: it feels like somebody working out their personal bullshit on the screen, in a way that is inappropriate to the movies at hand.  I can't give it a pass; I wish I could, and I might yet find a way to, but for now I just can't.

MM:  I still kind of liked Craig's performance, but it’s an intriguing rabbit hole to think he was sandbagging things. But I kind of like Connery in YOLT, too, and he slept-walk through that one.  So what do I know.

BB:  Plenty!  It's a good comparison, though.  They are similar in both cases because I certainly can't claim it's bad acting on either Bond's part.  It just feels unengaged compared with their best performances.
  
  


One of my fears about the new movies was that when actors like Ralph Fiennes and Naomie Harris and Ben Whishaw were cast, they were not going to be used as mere sideline players the way all the previous Bond films were.  And that's a problem, because unless Bond is turned into a TV show, the series can't accommodate giving them meaty roles every time without straining credulity or weakening Bond's plot.  Well, guess what...?  All the crap with Denbigh in this movie did just that, and was there mostly to give Fiennes something to do.  Part of me is fine with that; I actually found myself wishing at one point that I could keep watching this perfectly good M movie instead of the mediocre Bond movie that was happening.  A better solution to the plot would be for the first part of the movie to involve Bond taking down Denbigh, and for this to have led to him discovering that it was a SPECTRE/Blofeld plot.  That way, the movie's climax could take place in Morocco at that wonderful crater.  The movie builds up to that location, and then deflates it and goes back to London.  Weak, weak, weak!  And it's at least partially to service Fiennes.

MM:  Given all of this, I can't quite explain why the movie failed to provoke a negative reaction for me.  Because you're entirely correct with all of these points.

And again, it reminds me of the Gardners - I really think my reaction to SPECTRE is all tangled up with my reading the Gardners - where Bond never does anything solo.  He's always part of a team (who are inevitably double/ triple agents) and M and Tanner are always flying in.  Partly he had to do this because he couldn't use Q Branch (though he has Q'ute, who can fly anywhere and meet with Bond anytime, so it's not really an excuse.)  Anyway, yeah, it speaks to this sort of thing: you fundamentally alter the main point of the man by adding too many team players.

BB:  To be honest, I don't mind this.  In theory.  It's just got to work, which it only kind of does in this movie.

Typing that puts me in mind of something else: does Madeleine serve as actual purpose to the plot of the movie?  She's there to lead Bond to L'Americain -- but Mr. White could just as easily have done that.  She's really only there for Bond to have sex with.  No problem there -- that's what Bond movies are.  But this particular one seems to feel guilty about it, and keeps her hanging on afterward.  She's only useful for taking Bond's watch off his wrist (weakening Bond's escape to some degree, since this is the sort of thing he typically accomplishes on his own) and getting re-kidnapped.

My point being, if they wanted to make this a movie that really got the MI6 team involved, it would have been better to cut Madeleine out of the movie altogether and then have the whole team go on the road together.  Now THAT would be something you've never seen in a Bond movie before!  Bond and Moneypenny could have spent the whole time pointlessly flirting with each other and making M and Q and Tanner want to gag.  Great!

MM:  It's like John Cusack's line to Dan Ackroyd in Grosse Pointe Blank as to why he doesn't want to join Ackroyd's proposed assassin's guild - "Loner, lone gunman, get it?"

BB:  I should watch that movie again.  I liked it, but only saw it the once.

MM:  Oh yeah, Grosse Point Blank is fantastic.  Definitely one of my favorites of that era.

I'm with you on team-movies (and the team here being M as Giles, Moneypenny as Willow, and Q as Zander) being absolutely fine, so long as they work.  And it would have been kind of fun to see that here, sans Madeleine . (Or maybe Madeleine could have been Faith, or Cordelia.)

BB:  Where in the seven hells is my Buffy movie?

MM [returning to Spectre]:  I was just thinking about that L'Americain thing.  I suppose it's a problem with so many spy films, thrillers, and mysteries.  A lot of times the way the mystery is teased out doesn't make logical sense.  So here we have Madeleine's father setting things up so Bond will protect his daughter, I guess?  Is that the covering fire?

BB:  I guess.  This movie is riddled with people who are making a lot of assumptions about things that may or may not happen after they die.  I don't need that uncertainty, personally; I'm going to give you very explicit instructions on what to do once I'm dead, assuming I want to have you do something for me.
  
  


Speaking of things I don't need: I did not need to see how Blofeld got his eye scar.  I groaned audibly when that happened, especially since it looked like CGI "makeup" to my eye.

On a different topic, I liked Thomas Newman's score for Skyfall, but this one bored me to tears.  The only good moments I remember were quotations of either the bond thing or the Sam Smith melody.  I dearly hope they bring David Arnold back for the next one.

MM:  You really didn't like the score?  I thought it was pretty great, myself.

BB:  I didn't hate it; it's just not very Bond-y to my ears.  Whereas Skyfall was.  I like Newman, and occasionally (Finding Nemo being a prime example, Shawshank being another) love him; but here, it felt like he was struggling to engage with the material. 

[Bryant’s note:  As the post proper makes fairly clear, I changed my mind about Newman’s score later on.  Mostly.]

BB:  In the scene where Q makes the pun about "bring it back in one piece" / "bring back one piece," he gives a little self-amused snort of laughter that is almost precisely like what the character IQ character does all the time in James Bond Jr.  Might be a coincidence; then again, Whishaw is the right age to have watched that cartoon, so maybe not.
  
  


MM:  I dearly hope Winshaw was channeling James Bond, Jr.

BB:  Another complaint: Moneypenny is not Moneypenny in this movie.  I like her because Naomie Harris both (A) a good actor and (B) brutally hot.  But Bond doesn't flirt with her; and she doesn't flirt with him.  Why?  Why introduce her into the series again and then refuse to use her most traditional attributes?  Because you could do all that AND all the new stuff, too!  So why not do it?  If you don't want to, then simply don't call her Moneypenny!  There'd be nothing wrong with simply having an equivalent character named Eve.  I think it stems from a desire to carry on the series' traditions, but a lack of desire to actually do the thing implied by doing so.  It's a tradition-in-name-only thing.  It's calling Christmas "Xmas."  Why?
  
  


MM:   I like the new Moneypenny, but she could easily be named something else, yeah.  This is a problem with almost all reboots. "We've got to keep the name, even if we're changing everything else about her."  Witness the Mission: Impossible franchise, which killed off everyone/thing from the original series and even turned the hero of the show into Benedict Arnold.

BB:  Not being familiar with M:I apart from the movies, that didn't bother me; but it still shocks me that they did it.  Speaking of M:I, by the way, the new movie [Rogue Nation] is in every respect a better movie than Spectre, for my tastes.  And Rebecca Ferguson's character, transplanted into this movie and given a hot love affair with Daniel Craig, would have become THE best Bond girl ever.  Instead, Spectre gives us a damsel in distress who turns out not to actually be all that helpless, until the point at which the plot needs her to be.  Frustrating.

MM:   Objectively, the movie doesn't overall work for all these various reasons.  Or at least is too compromised by all of these things. Like Into Darkness (or even Undiscovered Country) a cut here and a cut there and pretty soon you've bled to death despite none of the individual cuts being fatal.

I blame my shrugging off so much of the suckiness on the fact that Dawn and I have caught just about one film a year since the kids were born, and this was our 2015 matinee treat. Took the afternoon off and made a date of it. We were going to like it, no matter what! Perhaps this is the rubicon I have crossed into Dad-land and will soon be shrugging at things like Undiscovered Country next. “Oh why make a fuss? It was a nice afternoon.”

BB:  Let’s talk about Monica Bellucci.  I don't even know what to say about Monica Bellucci.  You hire Monica Bellucci and have her do so little?  You make a big public deal out of hiring a Bond girl who is older than Bond, and then you make her be a fucked-up grieving/not-grieving widow who is so weak that she practically submits to rape?  I think they wanted us to think the scene was hot.  I didn't.  Everyone in the scene is hot, but the scene itself felt like a violation. 

Also, Bond has a meeting to get to.  This Bond previously walked out on the incredibly hot Caterina Murino (in Casino Royale) and the incredibly hot Stephanie Sigman (in the Day of the Dead scene) because he had a job to do and couldn't make time to give them the thorough plowing that they deserved.  And they wanted to fuck him! 

So now, you expect me to believe that he'd take time out to fuck Monica Bellucci, who appears as if she'd much prefer that he left and went somewhere else?  This is not my James Bond.  It just isn't.  The movies are sending very mixed signals, and I don't like them.  Maybe this is only because I wish I could go to the Day of the Dead festival and have a gorgeous woman take me back to her hotel room with that look on her face.  I won't discount that possibility.  And in the past, I've had people like Roger Moore and Pierce Brosnan serve as my proxy in that capacity; they are there to do the things I can’t do.  Perhaps I resent Daniel Craig's unwillingness to be my proxy.  I dunno, it's a concern, I guess.

MM:  I think the Monica Belluci scene was ruthless, definitely. I wasn’t sure when it was going on if we were seeing a switch into old-school ruthless Bond, but, if so, it didn’t really make much sense. I’m not sure it would have, given the other things we’ve seen in the Craig movies, for him to turn this corner. She was more or less a high profile cameo/ excuse to put her in lingerie for the poster, etc. To my discredit, perhaps, I did not mind this.  

did want Bond to land the helicopter back on the hotel and head back into the room with Stephanie Sigman, though.  Roger Moore would have taken care of that, and it would have been the right move. (Cue “All Time High”)

BB:  RIGHT?!?  And if that's how it ended, that pre-credits sequence might be among my new favorites.  As is, it starts incredibly strong and then sort of dies a bit.

MM:  What if that - and the disregard for civilian life - was explained by Bond being actively prejudiced against Mexicans?  Man! I don't want to see that, but the idea is awful/funny enough to make me laugh. There’s some slight justification in the books if anyone needs it. Maybe Bond would vote for Trump.  (I kid, I kid.)

BB:  I don't know why, but this makes me laugh.  "Writing's on the Wall," indeed...!

This version of 007 is such a prick that I can't automatically rule racism and other prejudices out.  Sad, but true.

MM: It’s sad indeed when you need to turn James Bond into a Mexican-hater to patch a hole in the script.

BB:  In thinking about all of this, I find that my disdain for some of the decisions made in Spectre is also having the ill effect of causing my love for Skyfall to plummet.  There were a lot of plot holes in that movie, but I've let them slide because I was involved in Silva's story.  I found him to be compelling, and I found the personal connections he had with M to be an interesting reflection of Bond's own past as an orphan.  But now, I've been asked to stomach the idea that Silva was somehow working as an agent of SPECTRE the whole time.  Suddenly, his story seems a lot less interesting.  And the plot holes seem less acceptable.  I'm not sure any of this is fair, but I tend to think it is.  The filmmakers have asked me to view Skyfall through the prism of Spectre, and so do I have a choice in the matter?  If not, can I be faulted for being negative about it?  That's the risk you run with retcons.

MM:  This is very damn true.  It's funny, tho – without getting into all of them, there were a few things about Silva’s operation that made little sense to me in Skyfall. I can’t say I really minded all that much, but as I was watching SPECTRE, I thought in more than a few places, “Oh, okay, if Silva was SPECTRE’s proxy, then okay – some of those objections are resolved.” And yet, if we must view Skyfall through SPECTRE’s lens, as you say, it definitely blunts other aspects of the movie, like you say. Ill-considered.

BB:  I hadn't considered the possibility that SPECTRE's aid might actually make certain aspects of Silva's plot more plausible.  That's a good point.  For me, though, I think it still weakens things overall because it makes his degree of personal involvement -- that lunacy that motivates him -- a bit less.

Conversely, Spectre is causing me to appreciate both Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace all the more.  Those movies were clearly made with no notion of SPECTRE or Blofeld in mind (whereas I'm less sure of that with Skyfall); therefore, they remain pure in my mind's eye.  And in the case of Quantum, I appreciate the extent to which it was world-building and creating a group that was equivalent to SPECTRE minus the baggage of the earlier films.  In retrospect, that seems like a hugely preferable option, and it's a shame they didn't follow through on it better.  They had an opportunity to do so with Spectre, and failed.

MM:  I think the end of Casino Royale contains a few references to an organization that (at the time and since) I've always assumed was SPECTRE.  This confused me, actually, when they got to Quantum - did they just give up on the idea and then return to it with SPECTRE?  (shrugs)  Not sure.

BB:  This is another aspect I never considered, mainly because I never assumed that EON would gets the rights to SPECTRE/Blofeld back.  Therefore, I assumed that they were going to replace them with a ripoff version, which is exactly what Quantum seemed to be in the sequel.  And one of the sins Spectre commits, in my opinion, is that it completely fails to address who/what Quantum is in relation to SPECTRE.  Is Quantum one of the arms of the proverbial octopus?  Does that mean SPECTRE is composed of several smaller syndicates, with their heads serving as #2, #3, etc.?  All the movie needed to clear this up is a single line of dialogue, but it's as if everyone involved with the series is embarrassed by Quantum of Solace and wants to do as much as possible to pretend it never happened.  Why?  It's not that bad a movie, guys!

MM:  Why do people turn on that one so much?  I thought it was fine.  I still think it's fine, actually.  It serves the Craig era well.  I might even like it more than Skyfall, which is the sort of ridiculous statement I might not even believe myself, but it "feels" right to me.  One of these days (I think I may have to schedule some dental surgery in 2016 and will be knocked on my ass for a few days - maybe then!  I'm sure the pain meds will help lucid, scholarly work) I really want to line up the Craigs (and maybe even the Brosnans) and watch them all on top of the other.  I've never done that.

BB:   It’ll be well worth doing.
  
  


Shifting gears, I’ve got a question/complaint.  So, let me get this straight: the plot of Spectre is kicked off by Judi Dench leaving Bond a video message instructing him to target Marco Sciarra and go to his funeral...?  That's absurd.  I'll take an invisible car over that any day of the week.  I understand why stories sometimes need to have one character be extremely vague when delivering exposition to another character, but in no instance does that fail to be clunky screenwriting.  This time it's especially heinous.  WHY oh why would M-the-former not simply have said to Bond, "I've been investigating a large criminal organization that is run by a man named Ernst Stavro Blofeld, who is actually your former associate Franz Oberhauser.  Do us all a favor and go kill him and everyone in his organization.  Nice knowing you, sorry about the whole being-an-orphan thing!"  It's just awful storytelling, that's all there is to it.  When you get to that point, you may as well be taking a space shuttle to have a laser fight with Hugo Drax, because if anything, that's MORE believable than this.

MM:  I didn't consider the absurdity of M's video message - and again this is precisely due to the Gardner's, because M is always doing that to Bond in the books and it pisses me off.  It just bounced right off me, but yes, of course, that is dumb.  I wonder if it was some kind of wink-wink to the Gardner books, actually. (Wouldn’t it be cool – even in service of dreck – if there were winks to both Gardner and James Bond, Jr.?) True, there's some of that in Fleming's books, too, where M withholds info, but it's to a greater purpose/ makes more sense than what we see with Judi_Dench-M.

BB:  Finally, I ought to mention that as much ire as I'm expressing here, there is nevertheless a lot about the movie that I love.  The Mexico City stuff, the costumes, the title song, Dave Bautista, Ralph Fiennes, the scene with the meteorite, the boardroom scene, the white cat, the ejector-seat gag, Madeleine drunkenly shooting Bond with her finger-pistol, Bond talking to Mr. Jingles, the shot where Lucia is walking into her villa and the two assassins are revealed, the fact that the gunbarrel is back at the beginning (YES!!!!!), and so forth.  There is a LOT to love.  I suspect that I'm never going to be able to forgive the movie the things about it that I dislike, but I hope that over time I'll be able to enjoy it for the things I like.  After all, I think that some of the other movies are weak, too, but there are still enough elements about them to love that I end up enjoying them.  And the good thing about Bond movie is, there's always another one in the works.
  
  



Boy...I've really to get a life, don't I?

MM: Do what you must – just keep the blogs coming, sir! Speaking of which, thanks for inviting me over. To wrap up my side of things, I think SPECTRE was a perfectly fine accompaniment for a nice afternoon out with the missus, but the franchise was ill-served altogether.
  
*****
  
Thanks to B McMolo for his participation!  You should all be reading his blog regularly, and you should definitely check out his series of posts on James Bond.  A convenient table of contents can be found here.

34 comments:

  1. Still need to read the entirety of your conversation with MM, but overall, nothing here surprises me.

    I recently watched all four Craig films with my parents over the course of two weeks leading up to Spectre coming out on home video. I still adore Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace grows on me every time I watch it, and Skyfall is still my second-favorite Bond movie.

    I disliked Spectre even more one a second viewing, and yes, watching it so closely on the heels of the other three did create an unfortunate association which left a sour taste in my mouth.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I bet.

      I considered rewatching all four for this post, with the idea in mind that I wanted to see how viewing the first three Craig movies through the prism of the fourth influenced me. Part of me thinks I might need to drop some of the grades a bit, because the fact is that this movie turned me against Daniel Craig a bit.

      In the end, I decided it wouldn't be fair. And anyways, whenever I go back and look at all -- "all" as in from 1962 onward -- of the movies, it'll be from a viewpoint of having seen "Spectre." So if grades are to be lowered, they'll be lowered at that time.

      Delete
  2. Okay, I haven't watched this since the movie's opening night in the theatre so I'm going by memory here. Bear with me.

    Rory Kinear continues to impress. He never gets much screen time, and that's nothing new as far as MI6 operatives go, but I think I could watch an entire movie with him as the central character. I think he could pull it off. He's absolutely sublime as Frankenstein's Monster on the Showtime series "Penny Dreadful." (If you're not watching it, you should. It stars Timothy Dalton and Eva Green, too.)

    The ruins of MI6 are pretty creepy. Props to the set dressers for a really nice job. On a sidenote: Yes, Silva blew it up, but I can't believe he did that much damage. This is a multi-billion dollar facility in the heart of London. I can't believe the response to that is to just knock the whole thing down without trying to rebuild the damaged sections.

    I remember when Monica Bellucci was announced as a Bond girl. It was seen as a pretty big deal. She was 50 (maybe a year or two beyond) and much was made of this fact. She was in, what, 2 scenes? She seemed to be there for the sole reason of banging Bond. Leave that to a lesser actress. This is Monica Bellucci, and she deserved better.

    I was not a fan of Oberhauser being Blofeld. It wasn't a particularly well-kept secret. Everyone knew it months before the movie opened. Still, it felt too much like John-Harrison-is-Khan, another not-so-secret secret. The movie could have done just fine without that revelation.

    I also wasn't a fan of Blofeld and Bond sharing a common childhood. That was a garbage idea. Besides, the previous movie had already explored the idea of Bond's "brother" as his enemy. I always saw Bond's relationship with Silva as siblings, with M as their mother. It was handled well in that movie. In this one, not so much.

    Blofeld being behind everything that's happened in all the Craig movies is just dumb. I suppose I could be okay with him pulling Le Chifre's strings, and Dominic Green was never anything more than a middle man so I'd be okay with that, too. But not Silva. He was much too strong a character to be subordinate to Blofeld. I choose to ignore that plot point.

    I'm glad you mentioned the Spectre henchmen are dressed alike. That had to be a callback to the glory days of identically dressed henchemen like Goldfinger's goons and those douchebags on the oil rig in DAF. Except in this movie they look kinda cool.

    I got the impression Dave Bautista was going to be an Odd Job-style main henchman. He needed more screen time to accomplish that. He just comes across as another nameless bad guy to be dispatched by Bond when the mood suits him. What a waste.

    Ralph Fiennes and Christoph Waltz are wasted. I don't mean they were drunk. I mean Fiennes didn't have nearly enough to do and Waltz was given bad material. These guys are masters of their profession. They can handle more. You don't ask Einstein for help with your Science 101 term paper.

    Sam Smith killed it on the main theme song. Killed it! Not as good as Adele on the last movie (what could be?) but awesome nonetheless.

    I don't think Craig is going anywhere yet, but if he does, bring on Tom Hiddleston, Tom Hardy or Michael Fassbender. I think Idris Elba and Clive Owen have probably aged out of the role by now.


    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You make a good point about Bond/M/Silva being a sort of family unit. It hadn't occurred to me that "Spectre" was not merely dumb in its family themes, but also redudnant.

      I continue to want to see "Penny Dreadful," but continue to not actually see it. Too many shows, too little time.

      "You don't ask Einstein for help with your Science 101 term paper." -- You do if you're exceptionally dumb and don't have the sense to ask for anything better. But yeah, good point, and true.

      I'd intended to comment on how MI6 looked WAY too torn up. The explosion only took out M's office in "Skyfall." There was patently no need for the entire building to look like a transplant from Syria. This is especially true considering that I don't think a huge amount of time is meant to have elapsed between the two movies.

      You also make a good point about Silva being too strong to be a pawn of Oberhauser. I'd intended to write more about how I feel "Spectre" retroactively weakens "Skyfall," and that would have been one of my major point of evidence. I love "Skyfall," though, and I suspect it will mostly survive my hatred of "Spectre." Because whatever changes to "Skyfall" are made by "Spectre" are likely to seem like false changes, and therefore won't be able to stick.

      Thank you for mentioning to goons in "Diamonds Are Forever." They're so adorable, with their orange hardhats. I do approve of "Spectre" trying to at least hint in that sort of direction.

      Delete
    2. For me, Silva's antics in "Skyfall" are unrealistic, even for Bond villains. I just have immense difficulty believing he is capable of doing and organizing the various feats he does in that movie. It'd be one thing if the tone of "Skyfall" was more "Moonraker"-y, which seems to be my point of comparison for everything. But it's not - its tone is more "For Your Eyes Only"-y, so the super-villain antics are a bad fit.

      "Spectre," for all its faults, at least redeems this aspect of "Skyfall" for me, making it seem more feasible for him to have pulled off that stuff, even if it eviscerates the character's motivation by making him a proxy of SPECTRE. (If indeed proxy he was. I think the script of "Spectre" is enough of a mess to make it all very confused.)

      I just want to reiterate the idea of placing graffiti and pictures of all previous Craig-Bond-movies in the blowing-up-MI6 (and I don't believe they would schedule this demolition for the middle of the night, but what do I know; that's a stretch I can at least shrug off, unlike so many others) sequence was very stupid.

      Delete
    3. I really can't argue with the fact that Silva's plot in "Skyfall" is silly and full of holes. I mean, that's just the truth.

      So what I have to ask myself is, why doesn't that bother me whereas so much of "Spectre" does? The answer, I think, is that most of the rest of "Skyfall" holds together fairly well. So the movie is kind of only asking me for this one major buy-in when it comes to investing in silliness. "Spectre" is -- though frequently well-made and engaging -- silly and unbelievable from the jump; and not just in terms of realism, but in terms of the internal consistency of the movie and the overall series. Too many buy-ins; I ain't got the chips, mentally.

      But I can understand how "Spectre" would, if nothing else, help make Silva's ability to pull off his plot a bit more credible. That makes sense to me, as a reaction.

      As for the demolition of MI6, I have so many questions about that that I declined to even begin listing them in my post. But I guess you can theoretically shrug most of those off my rationalizing that Denbigh, as the newly-minted head of British security or whatever he is, arranged for the building to be empty, for Oberhauser to have the controls, etc.

      What bothered me more, actually, was how incredibly empty the CNS building was. The recently-sacked (I guess?) M was able to just stroll right in in the middle of the night, and there's literally not another soul in sight except for Denbigh? That place'd be CRAWLING with security, even if it hadn't opened yet.

      Clearly, the only reason that building is that empty is because the screenplay needed it to be. And there is a LOT of stuff in that movie to which the answer is "because of the screenplay."

      The photos of previous Bond associates was indeed very stupid. they looked like -- and probably were -- blown-up and printed-out production stills.

      Delete
  3. Worth the wait.

    Your thorough (and fair) analysis not only brought up some of my exact feelings about Spectre, it gave me more things to think about and (sadly) more reasons to dislike it.

    In response to your opening query and McMolo's comments in your discussion, I'd say it's meant to be just "Spectre" in this film - no acronyms, please. Apparently it was deemed too cheesy to have the name of the evil organization stand for "Special Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion." As if they couldn't just add a henchman who apologetically confides, "We're trying to change it!"

    Naming this film "Spectre" was a bold move: even though they're rebooting the storyline, using that name declares importance and relevance to a huge part of the series' history. The criminal organization dogged Bond during the Golden Age of the series, their exploits chronicled in at least three of the best-loved Bond movies. Blofeld, as envisioned in those films, is an iconic villain and his shadowy organization working outside of countries and governments is every reason for clandestine agencies like MI6 to exist. SPECTRE's beautifully-designed promo poster evokes the incredibly powerful ending of ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE, wanting us to remember how deadly the organization can be, and how much Bond stands to lose when he goes up against it.

    The Spectre of the new film has to appropriate its toll on the unbreakable Bond from other movies. Remember that girl who killed herself, and you spent an entire film getting over it? That was us! And the rogue terrorist who killed your boss? Yep, one of ours! None of this makes any sense - if Spectre was bankrolling La Chiffre, why'd he have to go to Casino Royale? How did Silva convince them to go along with his nutty plan to get captured, infiltrate MI6 and then escape into the underground so he could get a shot at M? Can you imagine how the pitch for that plan must have sounded? Spectre had presumably already infiltrated MI5 and was getting ready to launch their Nine Eyes campaign to get all the world's secret agencies to fall under their control, wouldn't Silva's personal vendetta have been a distraction? (Remember, Bond is shot and presumed dead when that all kicks off, so Blofeld couldn't have possibly set Silva up just to get under the skin of his childhood rival, unless he somehow knew Bond had survived and was sipping Heinekens on Paradise Beach.)

    The fact is, this Spectre is only intimidating in theory, boasting about being involved in schemes with as much legitimacy as Bob Kane claiming to be the sole creator of Batman. In the original films, SPECTRE was heard before they were seen, in ominous dialogue between Bond and his very first nemesis Dr. No. In his first two appearances, Blofeld was a faceless operator stroking a cat whose name is never even mentioned. His organization is felt even when it's not handing Bond their business card. More recently, the makers of the last Captain America movie didn't feel the need to show a luncheon with various members of Hydra, but I still got a chill when senator Garry Shandling leaned into the ear of a colleague and whispered, "Hail Hydra."

    Instead of showing us why his Spectre is so evil, Sam Mendes elects instead to tell us. In a $250 million version of "See: Previous Movies."

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. But SPECTRE scraps QUANTUM for other reasons: to steal from it. Mr. White basically fills the shell-of-former-self ally who dies intimately in Bond's presence role that Mathis played in QUANTUM. Bond intruding on a secret meeting of international baddies already happened in that film, as did his decision to disobey orders and go rogue once he's no longer supported by MI6. So did his decision to spare the villain's life, just like with Yusef in QUANTUM's final scene.

      Mendes wants his Spectre to trump the Craig films' attempts to actually do something original. Personally I liked Quantum being the enemy of the Craig era, even if they were just an updated SPECTRE. Say what you will about the name "Quantum", they at least seemed like a genuine threat lurking in the shadows. Meeting via earpiece during a live staging of Tosca, those pulling the strings of Quantum were revealed as affluent members of society, backing up Mr. White's insistence that the syndicate has "people everywhere." To quote Roddy Piper in THEY LIVE, "It figures it would be something like this!"

      What's more, it was impressive that 007 figured out their clever way of getting together, whereas Specte meets in a giant ballroom with dozens of random folks just hanging out in the wings like extras from EYES WIDE SHUT (the only difference being that none of them are CG creations). A janitor working late could just as easily have stumbled upon Spectre. And yet this is the group that Quantum is supposed to be a mere subsidiary of? When we see the MI6 group's reactions to the powerful members of society were at that operahouse meeting, we understand just how high-up it goes even if the characters are fictional and the names mean nothing to us. We know who Blofeld is, but finding out he's involved with Spectre isn't shocking in the slightest.

      Christoph Waltz's Blofeld, like Benedict Cumberbatch version of Khan in INTO DARKNESS, is an evil mastermind more in theory than in practice. He gets talked up a little bit: apparently, he's kissing your lover, having breakfast with your parents, playing badminton with Bono, in the shower with Patrick Duffy and in the kitchen with Dina all at the same time. Quantum was already described this way, and immediately followed up on Mr. White's boast of having "people everywhere" when an agent in the room turns out to be an operative!

      Waltz's Blofeld never shows up at Bond's hotel room, cheerfully exiting the bathroom with a towel wrapped around him humming "Hungry Like the Wolf," or turns out to be the taxi driver wearing a fake mustache. Bond has to go to him, in a drawn-out passage of the film that makes it seem like the tentacles of Spectre are much more limited than they'd have you think.

      Once Bond finally arrives at his desert base, "Oberhauser" does everything he can to fit the mold of a classic Bond villain. He talks nonstop. He leches over the girl. He makes people stand up at the same time for some reason. He places Bond in a ridiculous torture device that will slowly kill him, in a scene that reminds me of Mel Brooks' cameo in THE MUPPET MOVIE. None of this resembles anything beyond an attempt to shoehorn this new take on the character into the Bond canon. As you mentioned, the film feels the need to provide an origin for the scar that distinguished Donald Pleasence's cat-stroking evil genius from the versions played by Charles Gray and Telly Savalas, even though the first time we see the face of Pleasence's Blofeld he's introducing himself to Bond. That doesn't matter, you might say, because the Craig movies are one big reboot and that never happened. Ok, so why provide an origin for the scar??

      Delete
    2. Waltz's revealing of his real name and his role in Bond's youth is as subtle and meaningless as Dark Helmet telling Lone Star, "I am your father's brother's nephew's cousin's former roommate!" I agree, the whole idea feels at best like a rip-off of AUSTIN POWERS 3.

      The Austin Powers comparison isn't far off, considering how absurdly exaggerated Craig's Bond is made in SPECTRE. In a moment that should instantly erase any impression upon seeing the "uncut" shot in Mexico City, a building explodes beneath Bond's feet and HE FALLS GRACEFULLY ONTO A CONVENIENTLY-PLACED COUCH.

      And I'm not necessarily one of those MAN OF STEEL haters who decry the number of fictional civilians theoretically killed as part of the hero's collateral damage, but you are absolutely right: in preventing a terrorist attack, Bond kind of created his own by nuking an entire building. Hell, Spectre should just take credit for that and be happy.

      I also agree with Mendelson's Forbes piece that Bond's effortless escape from Blofeld's secret base feels like a dream sequence, or the snow shootout in INCEPTION. Despite Q's ridiculing of life-saving gadgets in SKYFALL, he here supplies Bond with a watch that sets up the worst deus ex machina ever, allowing him to escape being lobotomized by a goofy machine. Then, once again pilfering from the ret-conned QUANTUM, Bond shoots a gaspipe and basically the whole structure goes up in flames. I almost expected Bond to wake up, still strapped into the chair at Owl Creek.

      In terms of characterization, Mendes' Bond is a shallow superhero in a Tom Ford tux. His Bond is basically a Dirty Harry who goes on rogue missions and tells off the stupid chief. Like SKYFALL, SPECTRE flirts with the vaguely Freudian notion of the chosen son v.s. the wayward son, so that its psychological insight is on par with that of THOR.

      The climbing death of Bond's parents is brought up, although he says it when he's sort-of undercover so he may be lying (it is Ian Fleming's official explanation of their demise). I wouldn't be shocked if at least one of Bonds' stupid parents turned up in the next film (maybe they can finally woo Sean Connery back to the series?) if Mendes returned. Can't wait to see who he casts as the new super-villain (Mr. Risico?) who claims to have been the man behind all of Spectre's activities!

      Delete
    3. "Yep, one of ours! None of this makes any sense - if Spectre was bankrolling La Chiffre, why'd he have to go to Casino Royale?" -- My take on that would be that it was so Spectre/SPECTRE wouldn't know he'd been misusing company money.

      "Spectre had presumably already infiltrated MI5 and was getting ready to launch their Nine Eyes campaign to get all the world's secret agencies to fall under their control, wouldn't Silva's personal vendetta have been a distraction? (Remember, Bond is shot and presumed dead when that all kicks off, so Blofeld couldn't have possibly set Silva up just to get under the skin of his childhood rival, unless he somehow knew Bond had survived and was sipping Heinekens on Paradise Beach.)" -- A couple of very good points.

      "His organization is felt even when it's not handing Bond their business card. More recently, the makers of the last Captain America movie didn't feel the need to show a luncheon with various members of Hydra, but I still got a chill when senator Garry Shandling leaned into the ear of a colleague and whispered, "Hail Hydra." " -- Abso-fucking-lutely. It hadn't occurred to me that SPECTRE is this tootthless in this way, but yes indeed.

      "Say what you will about the name "Quantum", they at least seemed like a genuine threat lurking in the shadows." -- Agreed. I quite like Quantum as an organization. They would have sufficed just fine as a version of SPECTRE, there was no need to actually introduce SPECTRE. Or if they were going to, have the movie be about SPECTRE's hostile takeover of Quantum.

      "A janitor working late could just as easily have stumbled upon Spectre. And yet this is the group that Quantum is supposed to be a mere subsidiary of?" -- Hah! Yeah, good point.

      "Ok, so why provide an origin for the scar??" -- Right?!? Why steer into the Dr. Evil comparison, rather than avoid it?

      "Then, once again pilfering from the ret-conned QUANTUM, Bond shoots a gaspipe and basically the whole structure goes up in flames." -- God damn, you're right! That is just Quantum all over again. And yes, very stupid that that's what destroys the base. Way too easy.

      "I wouldn't be shocked if at least one of Bonds' stupid parents turned up in the next film (maybe they can finally woo Sean Connery back to the series?) if Mendes returned." -- Oh God, you're probably right about that. Oh, no....

      "Can't wait to see who he casts as the new super-villain (Mr. Risico?) who claims to have been the man behind all of Spectre's activities!" -- Pardon me while I go punch myself in the face a few times.

      Delete
    4. A hostile takeover of Quantum! That would have been acceptable. What better way to actually SHOW us how much of a threat the new Spectre is than to have the cold opening be Spectre operatives stealthily taking down their rival organization with corporate sabotage, digital malfeasance and, of course, assassinations, ending with a hit on White in Mexico City instead of an act of terrorism that Bond sets off himself. [And Bond was looking for White, eliminating the need for that stupid video left by M.] Damn - it could have been like the beginning of Dr. No with the 3 Blind Mice wiping out SPECTRE enemies, only for 2016! Now that would have been starting off on the right foot. Not only that, it could have served as Mendes' way of officially wiping the slate clean to do something on his own but within the narrative.

      Ah, what could have been...

      Delete
    5. "Dr. No" is a good shout, too, but I was thinking of something along the lines of "From Russia With Love" mixed with the climax of "The Godfather."

      Could have been GREAT.

      Delete
  4. Here are a few of my own bulletpoints. I should note that I've only seen the movie one time, back on opening day in the theater, so my memory of certain plot aspects may be hazy.

    - An expansion on your complaint re: the inciting incident of the movie. How did Bond know the Mexico City terrorist act was going to happen? Sure he got Sciarra's name from M's "Joe Morton-in-ASTRONAUT'S-WIFE-If you're watching this I'm already dead!" video, but how did he know the specific date of the terrorist act? Is it just a fortunate coincidence? And if he didn't know anything about Sciarra, how could Bond be sure he wasn't being enlisted to assassinate a guy who posted something mean about M on Facebook?

    - I'm really glad you brought up Bond's living quarters, which is so sparse Moneypenny incorrectly assumes he's just moved in. For one thing: it WOULD be a new apartment, wouldn't it? In the last movie, M revealed that they sold Bond's place when they thought he was dead, and SPECTRE couldn't take place too long after the events of that film since Bond's personal effects are still coming in from Skyfall. Surely he's been too busy, first with the whole Silva thing, then tracking down the guy in Mexico City, to have time to settle into a new pad? Is he just being a dick to Moneypenny?

    - Who is the mysterious bloke at Moneypenny's? Is he a Spectre mole, assigned to track Bond through her? Nah, that plot goes nowhere (unless they're possibly setting things up to adapt the "007 in New York" story for next movie?)

    - Why would the Spectre bigwigs show up at Sciarra's funeral? Sciarra was killed trying to set off a bomb - who would want to be linked to that in any way?

    - If Blofeld is so omnipotent and knows Bond is at the meeting, why warn him instead of have guards subdue him first? (And why does he need a lackey to push the microphone closer to him? Lazy asshole.)

    - I agree that Hinx was one of the better, if underutilized, parts of the movie (or maybe I should say, least offensive). But his entrance into the film really threw me off. So there's an open position at Spectre and the candidates are Hinx and some other dude. The other dude formally states his credentials into a microphone at the end of Spectre's giant meeting table. He then politely offers Hinx the microphone to let him argue why HE'D be best for the job. Hinx grabs the guy and gouges his eyes out. We've seen this a thousand times, both in past Bond "head villain kills disgraced lackey" scenarios and the one-crime-boss-murders-another-in-front-of-other-crime boss moment popular in the Batman movies, it's standard and we all know what's going to happen before it does. But...shouldn't Hinx have taken the microphone, then, instead of speaking into it, used it to bash the other guy's brains in? Doesn't that seem like the right way that should have gone down? There's a narrative disconnect here that bothered me; it might just be me, but it felt like the movie was trying to re-invent a cliche and did so incompetently.

    - How did Bond even recognize Oberhauser? He couldn't even see his face, and the last time they would have been together Oberhauser was much, much younger. Waltz does have a very distinctive voice, but it's probably changed a bit in 30 years so that even his old friend "Ch'ames" wouldn't immediately place it.

    - Why would the car bring up a screen that reads "Music selected for 009"? Not very stealthy to announce the secret agent owner of the vehicle to whoever may be driving!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. - Why would Spectre slowly poison Mr. White instead of simply eliminating him? They're all set to dispose of Lucia Sciarra right after her husband's funeral and she barely has any info, not to mention she seems like a high society dame whose murder so shortly after her husband's death would raise more than a few eyebrows. White's a recluse who no one, even his estranged daughter, would apparently miss. (The answer, of course, is that they need White alive to link Spectre to the other movies so that Blofeld can retrospectively become the "author" of all Bond's pain.)

      - Why do members of the super-secret club wear rings with its insignia on it? A ring which can be used to connect all its members which can apparently be easily accessed via laptop and give up years and probably billions of dollars worth of intricate planning across the globe? (I know, Largo had one in Thunderball, but it didn't seem ridiculous in that movie. It feels completely ridiculous in Spectre.)

      - Bond is following three cars filled with baddies, one of them holding Madeleine Swann, in a plane. After skillfully destroying one of the cars (luckily not the one carrying the innocent girl), he manages to lose both wings and is forced to steer the plane down a snowy hill after the remaining vehicles. He sets off a complicated series of events that he couldn't have possibly predicted which result in the two other cars being smashed, with Madeleine literally the only person left unhurt. Things literally fall the right way for him, even though there was no goddamn way things could have fallen so spectacularly right. This kind of happy accident goes Bond's way in almost every movie - so why does it feel so wrong here?

      - For me the most egregious moment in the entire movie is the scene in Morocco where Madeleine lies down for a little snooze, an act which grinds the film to a halt. Does the movie need a nap?? Should we, the audience, sit and wait until it's rested in order to continue our patient viewing of it? 148-minute movies should not have characters falling asleep right in the middle! Or has SPECTRE refined its offensive measures so that now they're content to simply make their opponents drowsy?

      - If White doesn't want his daughter involved, why not just tell Bond the location of the hidden desert base? Surely MI6 raiding Spectre HQ would be the fastest way to guarantee Madeleine's safety as opposed to, say, putting her right in the thick of danger sending Bond to find her. Why cryptically mention L'Americain and not even reveal it's a place not a person? Stick with me while I follow the progression of the plot: White tells Bond his daughter can tell him where to find L'Americain. Bond finds Madeleine and has to spectacularly save her life before she tells him L'Americain is a hotel her father frequented. Bond and Madeleine travel to the hotel and hang out, indulge in a little nappy, until Bond finds the hidden safehouse (in a bit of flat comedy with a mouse that plays like Mark Wahlberg having a conversation with a plastic fern in The Happening - holy shit, it WOULD have been so funny if he shot the mouse!) The hidden safehouse has maps that Bond uses to determine the location of Spectre's hidden base. Jesus, that's easily 40 minutes to an hour of wasted screentime - if White told Bond the name of the organization, the people in charge, what they're up to, where the base is and what he can expect to find there, all in exchange for his promise that the government would protect White's daughter, it's all over! MI5 traitors jailed, airstrike prepped within the hour. Instead, Bond's just going blindly to his death and bringing Madeleine along with him for no reason other than she bails him out after he's been captured. Fuck you, Mr. White - if that is your real name!

      Delete
    2. - More lazy screenwriting: the heroes find a secret room not once but twice. In the second instance Bond becomes aware of the secret room when a mouse enters a hole in the wall - yeeeees, that's where mice live, why is that suspicious?

      - A few points that came up in your conversation with McMolo: What's the ultimate goal here? Lure Bond to the secret base in the desert just to torture and kill him? If Blofeld wanted to gloat over Bond while torturing him, why send Mr. Hinx to try and kill him on the train? He was heading straight to them anyway. And if they had control of the train (which they must have, since all the crew seems to disappear once Hinx shows up) without Bond or Madeleine's knowledge, why not just poison the martinis?

      - After Bond reaches the secret base in the desert of Marrakesh, there's a scene where MI6 figure out where he is and they do - nothing! No rescue attempt, no reason to include the scene in this, the longest Bond film ever made. (As you pointed out, the "smart blood" gimmick does not pay off.)

      - The countdown to the evil go-live of Nine Eyes is pretty much pointless. I mean, they can always take the program down, surely? Whatever the consequences of Nine Eyes going live, I didn't quite catch it. Are they saying every government secret will instantly be accessible through this program? No, right? They're just saying this would be an easier way for Spectre to have power over government operations and intelligence. Since MI6 is hip to their plan, shutting it down immediately shouldn't even be an issue. Just shut it down before anyone can actually USE it. Therefore there should be no purpose in beating the countdown itself, other than to create urgency for the climax.

      - In the big climax, Blofeld leaves Rachel Dawes (whoops, sorry - Madeleine) tied up in the hollowed-out former SIS Building with a bomb ticking down, entangled in some weird spiderweb pattern. You assume that Bond messing with the intricate ropes will set off the explosives but nope, there's no reason for her to be trussed up in such a specific way!

      - Despite his reputation as a brute, Craig's Bond is sort of a softie, having only directly dispatched 1 of 4 top baddies himself. Roger Moore personally capped 6 out of 7, Dalton was 2-for-2, Brosnan 4-4. Danny's gonna have his licence revoked! (I guess you can count Dominic Greene, since Bond sent him into the desert to die, although the movie goes out of its way to mention that somebody else shot him.)

      Delete
    3. "How did Bond know the Mexico City terrorist act was going to happen?" -- I reckon the idea is that he's been trying to find Sciarra, and just coincidentally found him in the midst of a terrorist plot. It would have been so much more satisfying if Bond had simply tracked Sciarra and then assassinated him, personally. Everyone thinks the movies need a collection of enormous action sequences, but I don't think they do. Maybe two or three of them, and then beyond that, fill the movie in with smaller moments of badassery that take advantage of Bond's character. This could have been that, and just wasn't.

      "Surely he's been too busy, first with the whole Silva thing, then tracking down the guy in Mexico City, to have time to settle into a new pad? Is he just being a dick to Moneypenny?" -- You make a good point, and you're probably right. So I guess this is indeed just a case of this 007 being a prick.

      "Who is the mysterious bloke at Moneypenny's?" -- I was initially convinced it was Denbigh, and that a big subplot had been cut out. I don't think that's actually the case, but it's a pointless moment either way unless the idea was simply to show that Moneypenny isn't pining for James. So, again, she's not really Moneypenny.

      "Why would the Spectre bigwigs show up at Sciarra's funeral?" -- This is a great question, and the answer is: they wouldn't. I hadn't even thought about that! Great point.

      "If Blofeld is so omnipotent and knows Bond is at the meeting, why warn him instead of have guards subdue him first?" -- I can live with this, because it falls under the why-not-just-shoot-him-in-the-head category. But yes, it's a good point.

      "(And why does he need a lackey to push the microphone closer to him? Lazy asshole.)" -- I think the idea is he's just a fussy weirdo on a power trip. Which is fine by me.

      "Why would Spectre slowly poison Mr. White instead of simply eliminating him?" -- Well, Oberhauser knew that Bond would find Mr. White, so this actually enabled him to trap Bond later on. Makes sense, right...? Right...? Hello?

      "Why do members of the super-secret club wear rings with its insignia on it?" -- It doesn't bother me too much. But I absolutely agree that it works better in "Thunderball," in which SPECTRE seems like a much more effective and powerful organization. There, they seem like they wear the rings because they're just that far ahead of everyone else. Here, dunno.

      "This kind of happy accident goes Bond's way in almost every movie - so why does it feel so wrong here?" -- I think it's because the bad writing is subconsciously apparent by that point in the movie, and there's not enough fun to counterbalance it (as there would be in, say, "Octopussy").

      "In the second instance Bond becomes aware of the secret room when a mouse enters a hole in the wall - yeeeees, that's where mice live, why is that suspicious?" -- I couldn't figure out the mechanics of how Mr. White built the room. That's the sort of thing hotel management tends to notice, I suspect.

      "Whatever the consequences of Nine Eyes going live, I didn't quite catch it." -- Dang, You're totally right. I didn't think of that!

      "You assume that Bond messing with the intricate ropes will set off the explosives but nope, there's no reason for her to be trussed up in such a specific way!" -- It's like a spider's web, and spiders, like octopuses, have eight legs. Right? Right...? Hello?!? Is this mic on?

      Delete
  5. Anyway, great post. I don't think the Double-0 Rating System has been proved a failure: I think that you've set your personal feelings aside to give SPECTRE a fair assessment. Looking forward to your song listing (although you like "Writing on the Wall" a lot more than I did!)

    I've been wondering whether you'll bring "Bryant Has Issues" over to this blog to review the current Dynamite Comics Bond series VARGR by Warren Ellis and Jason Masters? I'm enjoying the hell out of it so far: great artwork, and Ellis has a very clear understanding of the character. There are also some past Bond comics that would be interesting to examine for this blog: the Marvel version of FOR YOUR EYES ONLY, the various Dark Horse mini-series, Charlie Higson's adaptations of his own books. There was even a James Bond, Jr. comic!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. There sure was! I own every issue. Haven't read any of them yet, though.

      Ah, the late, great(-to-me) "Bryant Has Issues." I do miss writing that column.

      I would LOVE to eventually cover all the Bond comics here. I have been reading the new series, and while I don't love it, it's certainly interesting. I need to read it all a second time, and blogging about it would be a great excuse to do so.

      I also hope to cover all the novels here eventually, and my intention after finishing the movies was to launch straight into that project. However, my consistency as a blogger has gotten to be so awful that I'm reluctant to start on something that I'd have zero chance of finishing (which is how it currently feels). Efforts are ongoing to regularize and even out my life sufficiently to really get me back on the blog-wagon again.

      Which sounds like I'm crazy or something, doesn't it? Just to explain, this is how it is: for a LONG time, I was lucky enough to have a job that didn't actually require me to exert a significant amount of mental energy. I was very good at that job, and so I kept getting promoted until I got to a new level where all of a sudden, a great deal more mental energy is needed. The consequence of that is that when I get home, I want to turn the brain off as much as possible. And for me, blogging is never an easy task. It's almost always fun, and rewarding; but my thoughts, even when they are simplistic, tend to come only through concerted effort on my part. So whereas I have roughly the same amount of free time I've always had, my brain simply doesn't want to spend as much leisure time working at blogging, because it sort of feels a bit like a second job.

      I'm trying to figure out a way to have that not be the case, but so far, I'm striking out.

      Anyways, if and when I do figure it out, there are still a lot of things I was to do here. The books, for sure; a return visit to the new movies with a new and improved rating system, for sure; the video games, if possible; the comics, for sure.

      No lack of ideas and material!

      Delete
    2. Allow me to apologize. Obviously I'm a big fan of YOBT, and being a writer and Bond fan myself I often live vicariously through it. You can tell by my lengthy comments that your posts inspire new ideas and observations in me, and from that inevitably comes "Ooh he should write about the Bond comics! And Colonel Sun! And this vaguely Bond-ish Sam Neill spy mini-series!" I need to accept that there is one Bryant and I should be happy with what one Bryant gives to the world.

      Plus I totally get where you're coming from. The sheer effort involved in mustering the time and energy to get the research, film viewing and writing done has slowed my own prolificity to a crawl. Right now, I have four stacks of dvd's on my shelf: Joe Dante movies (for an upcoming podcast), Tobe Hooper movies (for a possible live event), German films from the '70s (for a series on my own website) and just a general "I should really see these flicks so I sound like I'm keeping things relevant" pile of more recent stuff. Not to mention an additional pile of books for research into these and other subjects (since it's always good to steal ideas from smarter people). Yet whenever I have the house to myself, I'm more likely to binge on Jessica Jones on Netflix. Or read the new Joe Hill book. Or fill up the comment section on some poor bastard's blog. Or something - anything! - else that's ultimate completely anti-productive towards my own output. Or (god forbid) go to sleep!

      So anyway let me reiterate that what you've done with your various blogs in the amount of time you've done it is genuinely impressive, and us readers should be quite happy with that. Hell, waiting on your Spectre review I went through and thoroughly enjoyed your previous posts all over again. YOBT (and Truth Inside the Lie for that matter) offers perpetual entertainment and, always, inspires new thoughts and ideas. In short, thank you very much.

      (All that said, making the original Fleming books your next priority gets my personal seal of approval.)

      Delete
    3. I don't think I knew you were a podcaster! Favor us all with a link, please, I'd like to check that out.

      No worries on the subject of making requests and whatnot. Trust me when I tell you that I've got TONS of ideas for things I'd like to do. Remind me to tell you sometime about the plans I have for my sci-fi blog. Or my Alfred Hitchcock blog. Or my Alan Moore blog. Or my Disney blog. Or my Spielberg blog.

      So I'm always flattered when somebody makes a suggestion, and often it's either a suggestion for something I'm already planning/hoping to do, or for something that I hadn't thought of but immediately adopt as a theoretical plan.

      Thanks for all the kind words! I greatly appreciate them. And yes, I do want to at least get started on the Fleming novels before much longer. A series of worst-to-best posts -- songs, villains, Bond girls, scores, etc. -- is going to come first, but I don't think those will take a huge amount of effort. So I'll hereby commit to making the "Casino Royale" novel review appear before year's end.

      Ought to be doable!

      Delete
    4. I'm no podcaster; I've actually only appeared on 2 podcasts at this point, and quite honestly I don't think I contributed much to either of them. But I'm scheduled to guest on an episode of The Wrong Reel in July, and they are great. Not to mention Bond fans:

      http://wrongreel.com/james-bond-will-return-in/

      (You will certainly not agree with his pick for Best Bond Girl!)

      I just picked up a bunch of Fleming paperbacks, which I'll start making my way through in anticipation of your new series of reviews!

      Delete
    5. Oh yeah, Wrong Reel also did a Stephen King Movie episode. I haven't had the chance to listen to it yet, but should be of interest to you:

      http://wrongreel.com/podcast/wr135-the-king-of-horror/

      Delete
  6. (For some reason, this part was left off the beginning of my second comment!)

    "Give me John Glen any day of the week, great shots or no great shots." Amen!

    As I've mentioned in comments past, the two Mendes movies just seem to ignore the previous two films, and the mythology of the Craig era suffers for it. If SKYFALL seemed like it weirdly forgot CASINO ROYALE existed, SPECTRE just flat-out refuses to acknowledge the events of QUANTUM. Unless I'm mistaken, Mathieu Amalric's Dominic Greene is notably absent from Daniel Kleinman's title sequence, which features vestiges of the major players from both CASINO ROYALE and SKYFALL. Bond is apparently still obsessed with Vesper's death, even though he went a long way towards getting over it in QUANTUM. Jeffrey Wright's Felix Leiter, who is arguably the best thing about QUANTUM, is mentioned but doesn't appear. As you point out, not since DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER ignored the game-changing events of the underperforming OHMSS have major plot developments been so indifferently overlooked. It seems that, in his desire to have the other Craig movies come under his own giant octopus, Mendes rejects QUANTUM as too undignified to be referenced in his big important Bond movie. In this I strongly agree with Scott Mendelson's Forbes review on this subject: it diminishes previous entries to tie them all together.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Greene is indeed omitted from the opening credits, nor does he merit a place on Oberhauser's photo-wall at the end. You do see him when Q runs the ring's DNA, but that's all the attention he gets.

      I share your frustration with the continued absence of Felix Leiter. He'd better have a major role in the next one; you don't squander Jeffrey Wright like this.

      "In this I strongly agree with Scott Mendelson's Forbes review on this subject: it diminishes previous entries to tie them all together." -- That's true, and rather eloquent.

      Delete
  7. This post was worth waiting for, BB. Well done! I mean, I personally thought the film was deeply flawed, as you know, but your write-up really showed me how bad the film was. Without my knowing it! But thankfully, SPECTRE didn't spoile the previous three films for me. Because they made such a mess of it, I can treat it as a separate entity to the other Craig films.
    And if DC has well and truly hung up his PPK, then the next actor will hopefully help to distance us from SPECTRE.
    The biggest error with the film, in my view, was the lacklustre and ill-thought-out (and downright disrespectful to fans) revisionist take on Blofeld.
    I loved what Sam Mendes did with "Skyfall", but in trying to be a little too clever, knowing and, dare I say it, snobbish, with SPECTRE, ( he came across in some interviews as feeling that the Bond films were a little too beneath him) he ended up giving us a not-very-memorable Bond film.
    And Purvis & Wade should have been given their marching orders a long time ago. This film's greatest sin was the stupid story. The pre-credits sequence fooled us into thinking we were going to see a great Bond film.
    Alas...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I didn't read many of the interviews Mendes gave around the time of the movie's release, but it doesn't surprise me that he came off a bit above it all. Lord knows Craig came off that way; and since he drafted Mendes into the whole operation, the way it all felt to me was like Craig said after Qunatum, "Okay, I'll do another one, but only if you get a real director, so that this doesn't feel like such a waste of my time." So it stands to reason that the guy he drafted in that capacity would look down on the whole thing a bit.

      The more I think about it, the more it feels to me like "Spectre" really DIDN'T ruin the former three movies for me, after all. But I think that the movie really did sour me on Daniel Craig himself, and (to a lesser extent) on his portrayal of Bond. I hope he's done and we can turn the page to the next feller.

      Delete
    2. Craig did indeed play Bond as a thug, but without Connery's devil-may-care attitude or smart-ass quips. Although, I have to say that I still love what he did with the role, especially after Brosnan's tenure.
      And yes, Mendes did great with "Skyfall", but he overdid things with SPECTRE. No point trying to elevate Bond into something that it's not. But if you're gonna try, then please have a better story attached to it. I still can't forgive them for the way they brought Blofeld back into Bond's world.

      Delete
    3. Yes, I agree. That's really not Blofeld at all. I tried to use "Oberhauser" instead in the majority of this post, because I simply don't accept this character as Blofeld.

      Delete
    4. The damage is done, I'm afraid. Unless they go ahead one day with a complete redo of all the books. But even then...

      Re: Mendes, he said just before filming began; "you do these films, and you get pilloried by your friends for it."
      I have to say that I could rewatch "Skyfall" a dozen times, but the same can't be said for "American Beauty" or "The Road To Perdition". Mendes is a great director, one of the best of his generation, but, even though he did good work with Bond, he doesn't truly "get" what the character is all about.
      I'm begging that Christopher Nolan is given a shot at a Bond film soon.

      Delete
    5. Hear hear on Christopher Nolan.

      But Sam Mendes - one of the best directors of his generation? Show your work, sir. :-)

      Delete
    6. I'd be happy to see what Nolan would do. However, it feels to me like maybe the producers need to go back to hiring directors who aren't focused on being auteurs; I suspect that Mendes wanting to exert so much control over things might have been part of the reason for what happened with Blofeld in "Spectre." That's pure speculation on my part, granted.

      The current rumor is that the woman who directed "The Night Manager" is up for the job. Well, that clinches it: I'm watching "The Night Manager"!

      Delete
    7. Yes, I made a complete mess of my reply this morning when I should have been getting ready for work.
      Take two; I agree about Mendes being too auteur in his rewriting of Bond history/mythology. And calling him one of the best of his generation was a stretch. I was basing that view on "Revolutionary Road".
      I have to say that a female director would put a very interesting spin on a Bond film. THAT would be something to see.

      Delete
    8. Mendes has never quite lived up to the promise he showed in "American Beauty," for my money; but he's made several very good movies ("Revolutionary Road," "Road to Perdition," "Skyfall"), and I think he's got more great ones in him. Let's hope "Spectre" was just something of a speedbump for him.

      Delete