True Confession: I love spy movies. I like them when they follow the typical formula, and I like them when they subvert their formula. And James Bond is “the” spy – it’s easy to look at almost any spy story or character of the past 50 years and connect their dots easily back to Bond.
True Confession 2: Spy movies are, at their cores, ridiculous. No real spy is so gorgeous that every woman he sees will rip her clothes off to be with him. Spies have to be dull and blend in, be the people you don’t even realize you see. They also can’t be blowing up cities and monuments and such in their regular day-to-day jobs. However, barring a few exceptions, watching dull people do not much isn’t exciting. And therefore, we go into spy movies with our disbelief fully suspended. As long as the spy movie entertains, we’re willing to believe that the best spy in the world shares his real name 24/7 with good guys and bad buys alike.
The Bond franchise is one of the most recognized worldwide movie brands. As a character he’s been around a long time and been played by a variety of actors. Bond is all that kept MGM afloat for a long time. Bond got long in the tooth often and then was replaced with a younger man who still had gone through all that his predecessors had (with a startling ability to forget just who and what the Big Bad was). Bond was sexist, and then he was funny, and then he was soulful, and then he was smooth. And then – he was all brutal cool.
Starting with Casino Royale, the franchise was rebooted in a way it hadn’t been before. We started with Bond in the beginning, as if all the Bonds before were in an alternate universe, not just the same characters in different skin. And it worked. Well. In SPECTRE, Daniel Craig’s fourth outing as Bond and the fourth film of the “new” Bond, we’re seeing what appears to be a final act story arc for the character.
SPECTRE takes place shortly after the events of Skyfall, with MI6 in shambles, a new money cruncher type, Max aka C (Andrew Scott), taking over and looking to get rid of the 00’s, and Bond off doing Bond things – breaking the rules to save the day.
We don’t find out why Bond is breaking these particular rules until the movie is well underway and after he’s romanced Lucia (Monica Bellucci, severely deglamorized and portraying the first age-appropriate pairing for Bond in, possibly, ever – but sadly, she’s not in the movie long), whose husband he killed for “reasons”. Bond is grounded but of course he still gets Q (Ben Whishaw) and Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) to help him out, and even M (Ralph Fiennes) comes around after a while. Because Bond, as we’ve learned, is never wrong. Along the way to discovering just what SPECTRE is (sort of) and identifying the Big Bad (Christoph Waltz), Bond also finds yet another woman to fall in love with and have to save and protect, Madeleine Swann (Lea Seydoux).
The acting is all good, and I must say that I’m becoming a huge Dave Bautista fangirl, because he’s great in this movie, just like he’s been in all his movies. The stunts are, as always, amazing. I particularly liked the opening scene in Mexico City during the Day of the Dead festival. There are a lot less gadgets for Bond in this one, though there are some humorous nods to former stunts from the Bonds Who Came Before.
Don’t expect to see any skin (crushing for those of us looking forward to Daniel Craig being naked or close to again) or really any sex. We see the start of the sexy times and then we zoom ahead to the hour or the morning after. The only skin in this movie is during the opening credits. This is an extremely chaste Bond movie, reminiscent of the two Timothy Dalton outings.
There are issues with this movie, though. First off, the sound was a problem. Too many background noises were too loud and drowned out dialog, making a twisty plot hard to follow. I still have no idea why Bond went to certain locations, though I assume it was discussed and just drowned out by background noise.
A bigger issue, though, is that the giant twist in this movie – who our bad guy really is and really is to Bond – is ridiculous. I’m sure it was something the writers and producers or whoever greenlit this plot point thought was genius. And it would have been genius – IF we’d ever had an inkling that the events in Bond’s childhood that are crucial to SPECTRE’s entire reason for being had ever happened. But there were no indications of this in any of the prior movies (any of them, not just the Craig movies), and without this at least being referred to or discussed in Skyfall, it comes out of the blue and isn’t believable.
Since this relationship is the entire reason for the movie and, if you believe our Big Bad, the entire reason for the three movies prior, too, you’d expect to have had an inkling that this relationship existed in Bond’s mind and experience before this movie takes place. But you don’t. And that means that the basic premise of the film, the vital twist, falls flat.
My third issue, though, is that this movie was all formula, twist included. In fact, it was a formula I’ve seen in at least four other movies this year – Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (the best of these, and yes, M:I5 is better than SPECTRE), The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Hitman: Agent 47, and Spy (which is still the funniest movie I’ve seen all year). Basically, I spent time during the movie saying to myself, “Oh, that’s just like M:I5. That’s just like Hitman. This is just like that scene in Spy, only not funny. Wow, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. did that, too.”
The problem with all these issues is that they allowed me to notice how ridiculous certain things were – the bad guys managing to survive beat downs and destruction almost as amazingly as Bond, Bond “shaking off” a drill going into his skull, elaborate and baroque villain set ups that would have taken weeks to do versus hours, a silly and rather pointless Villain Lair, how Bond and Madeleine can be on the run and yet have tons of luggage and evening clothes, and more. Every issue allowed my disbelief to come back. And that’s not what you want in a James Bond film.
That said, the movie is still a typical Bond movie. Lots of action, amazing stunts, cackling bad guys, beautiful women, and Bond doing Bond things for Queen, Country, and MI6. If you like spy movies, then you probably like James Bond, and that means, issues or not, you’ll probably enjoy this movie. Issues and all, I did.
A cryptic message from the past sends James Bond on a rogue mission to Mexico City and eventually Rome, where he meets Lucia Sciarra (Monica Bellucci), the beautiful and forbidden widow of an infamous criminal. Bond infiltrates a secret meeting and uncovers the existence of the sinister organization known as SPECTRE.
Meanwhile back in London, Max Denbigh (Andrew Scott), the new head of the Centre for National Security, questions Bond’s actions and challenges the relevance of MI6, led by M (Ralph Fiennes). Bond covertly enlists Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) and Q (Ben Whishaw) to help him seek out Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux), the daughter of his old nemesis Mr. White (Jesper Christensen), who may hold the clue to untangling the web of SPECTRE. As the daughter of an assassin, she understands Bond in a way most others cannot.
As Bond ventures towards the heart of SPECTRE, he learns of a chilling connection between himself and the enemy he seeks (Christoph Waltz).
This movie was all formula, twist included.The problem with that is they allowed me to notice how ridiculous certain things were. But it’s still a typical Bond movie: lots of action, amazing stunts, cackling bad guys, beautiful women, and Bond doing Bond things for Queen, Country, and MI6. If you like spy movies, then you probably like James Bond, and that means, issues or not, you’ll probably enjoy this movie. Issues and all, I did.