Review of Spectre

I don’t visit movie theaters often. In fact, I haven’t gone to one in years. However, this Christmas I received a gift card for a free movie and felt it was better used on Spectre than on the new Star Wars film. If one is going to go, see a movie in theaters than I recommend seeing it a month or so after its coming out as one is guaranteed to watch their desired film at whichever showing they prefer and can get the best possible seat. I should mention now before I go on there will be spoilers in this post.

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Richard Spencer is also a huge Bond fan and has produced several podcasts on the topic of Bond including Spectre and the Craig era in particular. He and Paul Chandler are clearly bigger fans than me because they have actually read Fleming’s books. I generally agree with Spencer’s analysis. The Craig years have been quite dour, brooding and emotional. Bond has been portrayed by Craig as being both vulnerable and cold at the same time.

Spencer states that the Craig years have seen the feminization of Bond. On the other hand, Greg Johnson’s analysis of the Craig Bonds is that he is, “the best actor to ever to have played Bond. Craig is not a handsome man, but he is highly charismatic. He is pure masculinity untainted with prettiness.” Physically speaking Craig is indeed very masculine and for the most part he has played an outwardly very cool and collected Bond. For the most part this Bond is a man that does his duty. In the opening sequence he puts his duty before women  and later looks after Léa Seydoux’s[1] character Madeleine Swann. He takes charge of her and fulfills that ancient manly role of protector.  Having said that there is a pivotal scene towards the end where Bond finally has the villain, Ernst Stavro Blofeld, lying wounded at his feet and is about to shoot him to death. But then he turns to Madeleine and in an obvious reference to an earlier part of the film, where she unloads a handgun, Bond does the same thing before looking over to her. I half-expected him to say her line: “I don’t like guns.” He doesn’t but he does throw the gun away.

If ever there was evidence of an emotive and even feminine Bond than its the theme music. The theme song is musically fine but I really dislike Sam Smith and especially his falsetto which is just too feminine. Smith claims that he almost exclusively listens to women and thus he tries to emulate his heroines. Smith has also stated how he wanted to make an emotional song from Bond’s perspective to try and show him in a more vulnerable light. Smith I should note is homosexual and a feminist. Radiohead made a song as well and again musically it is fine and in fact it may be a more interesting and innovative song. Personally I preferred it to the Smith song and felt it works a lot better with the opening credit sequence, but again Thom Yorke’s voice is unsuited; too high.[2]

The opening credits look great but I hate how there is no reference to Quantum of Solace (QOS). I believe QOS wasn’t all that bad, one just needs to realise that it was meant to be a link between Casino Royale and what came after but instead we had the standalone Skyfall which had a plot that was just totally silly and unnecessary.[3] The problem was that QOS was too much action and while the plot made more sense than that of Skyfall where Silva has somehow been able to create a series of events which happen perfectly despite him having planned them years earlier, it got lost in all the violence and chase scenes. Moreover, Bond became too serious and dour. They at the very least should have referenced QOS because they did with the other two Craig films. Later in the film we see a glimpse of Greene and his name when Q is tracing the DNA on the Spectre ring Bond finds but we don’t see him in the little labyrinth at the end of the film and again there is no reference in the opening credits.

In terms of the basic plot of the film it wasn’t bad overall. It turns out that the main villainous organization in the first two Craig films, Quantum, was a subsidiary of Spectre though whether it began independently and was taken over later on is never explained. However, I should note that Quantum was always meant to be Spectre but due to a row with Kevin McClory they were unable to. Silva was also in Spectre’s employ and Blofeld has been using Quantum, Silva and presumably others, to further his goal of gaining money and power. In Spectre we are witness to a meeting where the organization discuss cornering the medical market of treatments for HIV and their sex trafficking. Later we learn that Blofeld has also set up a deal with British intelligence official C whereby C will get Britain and other major powers to set up an intelligence sharing agency which will be run by Spectre.

With the exception of this last point Spectre’s goals seem rather mundane. So too did those of Quantum with the exception of their plan to take-over Bolivia’s water supply. In the past it was common for Bond villains to be over the top characters with crazy demands and while that sometimes went too far[4] it seems far more Bondian than the demands of Craig villains. Perhaps the failure of the last Brosnan 007, Die Another Day, played a role or perhaps it was simply that Eon wanted to emulate the success of the Bourne series which was not as over the top. Speaking of taking cues from other movies, it turns out Blofeld is Bond’s step-brother which seems quite hackneyed and tiresome given how Star Wars and other films have used that whole family connection between villain and hero before. Moreover, it does not add any new dimension to the plot and seems a rather silly back story for a villain. Essentially he becomes criminal because of daddy issues; he hates seeing his father with Bond so he kills his father and fakes his own death. It is a continuation of Skyfall where we begin learning about Bond’s origins. Something I felt was out of place for a Bond movie as – in Richard Spencer and Paul Chandler words – he is a “blunt instrument.” Then again given how Craig is more suited for the role of a blunt instrument, perhaps it was felt some further backstory would make Craig seem like someone with some actual depth. Though in Spectre we learn more about Bond’s origins it is not actually as dark or as brooding as the other three and nor is it as emotional. Well other than the title music.

As with Vesper Lynn the Bond girl in Spectre, Madeleine Swann, is more than just some lay. Spencer states he feels the next Bond will be more or less a remake of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (OHMSS)[5] which it will have to be, at least in the sense of killing off Madeleine as no Bond girl has ever been in more than one. At this point it is pure speculation about Seydoux returning, but I think an argument for Seydoux coming back is that at the beginning of Spectre Bond leaves a woman to complete a mission. He chooses his job over sex. However, with Swann we see Bond going out of his way to save her regardless of whether it is necessary or not. He also doesn’t try to sleep with her right away or otherwise treat her as a simple fling.  They have also killed off the main love interest before with Craig in Casino Royale so they can copy and paste a lot, meaning it would be easy to keep Swann on for another film.

However, if this next Bond is the last with Craig then it will also be like the opening of For Your Eyes Only in that we will see Blofeld die, but it will be drawn out and more dramatic because unlike in that film, where Blofeld was being purposely done away with quickly as a big fuck you to Kevin McClory, Blofeld will be the main adversary. Or perhaps they won’t have Blofeld die but will recreate a villain from the Connery era to be the main villain for that film. Bond will take them out but Blofeld will live to fight another day.

Hollywood seems rather bland and unimaginative nowadays with its constant re-makes and re-boots of series some of which come in very close succession to each other, ex: how a trilogy of Spiderman movies were made between 2003 and 2007 and then the whole series was re-booted again in 2012. The Bond series has been running since the 1960s so in some ways it is unfair to include them in this trend, but with the Craig era it is fair in that Casino Royale was meant to be a re-boot. QOS had a few references to earlier films[6] but then in Skyfall we once again saw re-booting take place with Q and Moneypenny[7] being introduced for the first time since the Brosnan years.

Spectre sees the re-introduction of Ernest Stavro Blofeld as a Bond villain since For Your Eyes Only (1981) and the first time he has been an arch nemesis since Diamonds Are Forever (1971). There are also nods to earlier Bond films such as the fight between Bond and Mr. Hinx in a Moroccan train which is a more violent update of the train scene in From Russia With Love and the mountain chase scene is similar to ski chase scenes in several Moore films and the bobsled chase in OHMSS; albeit with cars and a plane. The torture scene at Blofeld’s desert lair is similar to the attempted torture of Bond in Goldfinger (in that he is strapped down in a seemingly impossible to escape situation with a death machine pointed at him) and the torture scene from Craig’s first outing as Bond (in that the torture is simple but brutal). The desert lair itself is reference to how many Bond villains from past films – including the original Blofeld – had secret lairs. Mr. Hinx is a reference to Jaws in that he is a physically imposing brute of a man who only has one line.

Strange how the Craig years have been re-imaginings and re-boots of old characters and movies, why couldn’t they have done a Bond movie without feeling the need to reference the past? I don’t dislike these references but it is interesting how the writers felt that this is what should be done. This wasn’t the way with Brosnan or Dalton or other post-Connery Bonds. When Craig ends will they have another re-boot?

Spencer brings up the fact that a major theme of the older Bonds was Britain dealing with its role as a third wheel in the Cold War. With the Brosnan films it seemed as if we had Cool Britannia, this faux portrayal that everything was just fine with Britain and it was maybe re-gaining some ground. In QOS we get the feel that Britain is in decline because they are forced to do dealings with a shadowy organization like Quantum (they cannot compete with the Russians, Americans or Chinese). We don’t get this with the other Craig films including this one where Britain is playing the major role with Nine Eyes; but then again C is a Spectre plant so perhaps it is showing Britain in a less positive light after all? One aspect of post-war Britain we will never see is the negative aspect of mass immigration, particularly how it is leading to the complete replacement of the indigenous population or how the government is promoting this.

In terms of how pozzed this movie is I would say that in the grand scheme of things it is relatively free of any leftist narrative.  The most obvious leftist influence was having South Africa part of the Nine Eyes surveillance program Spectre creates and having South Africa be the only one which refuses to consent to the program’s creation. Obviously negrophilia was too much to resist because in reality the corrupt ANC dominated South Africa would not think twice about supporting such a treaty. The opening scene (was fantastic by the way – it was shot in as if it were one single take, had great pacing, action and music) takes place in Mexico City and one has to wonder why it was that Mexico was chosen? Perhaps I am being too conspiratorial here but could it have been due to the current immigration in the US? An attempt to assuage any apprehensions Americans might have of their country be Mexicanised?

With the exception of the Blofeld-Bond family connection the biggest problems for me with Spectre were the depiction of Mr. White and the pacing. In some ways Mr. White is the most successful Bond villain since the original Blofeld in that he manages to survive for so long. He was the shadowy leader of Quantum in the first two Craig films and appears in Spectre as a haggard and wizened man living in isolation. It turns out he has repented his evil ways after Spectre became involved in sex trafficking and as a result has been poisoned with Thallium by Blofeld.[8] Mr. White is Madeleine’s father and Bond agrees to protect her if Mr. White gives him information relating to Spectre. Mr. White had previously been depicted as a ruthless man who was willing to deal with anyone if it meant increased wealth and power. This included the Lord’s Resistance Army which is known to engage in sex trafficking and otherwise rape and abuse women. The change of heart over such an issue did not seem true to form. I like that Mr. White was included in Spectre, but it would have been better if there had been a power struggle between Mr. White and Blofeld, one which would have led to Mr. White’s death.

The pacing of this film was not great. It seemed as if they were trying to cram as much as possible into the movie and this resulted in the last several scenes being sped up and too close together. Spencer noted how in his favorite Bond movie (OHMSS) there was essentially just one setting. In most other Bond films there has been more mobility with Bond traveling to various places around the globe but in the end there is still one setting which predominates. This does not happen with Spectre. We are instead treated to quick snapshots of many locales. I suppose one could say London is the main setting but even then we are not allowed to explore the setting and really get a feel for it. With the exception of the houses of Parliament and big ben there is nothing in the London setting that really tells you that it is London and this is what it is like to be there. It simply seems like any city.

Another point of issue – though perhaps a minor one – I had with this movie was how Bond is able to shoot down a helicopter with a handgun.

Like most Bond films Spectre was good but not great. And yet it could have been. In many ways the 007 series is a major letdown as in most cases there is so much wasted potential. I suppose my main fascination with Bond is due to having been so riveted by the series as a child. Nostalgia plays a key role. I have generally enjoyed the Craig era and no doubt will have a particular nostalgia for it as I grow older because the first two came out as I was transitioning to manhood. At such a time I preferred the darker, more serious and violent Bond to previous instalments, especially the Moore and Brosnan eras. Moreover, Casino Royale proved to be a rectification of the horrid mistake that was Die Another Day.

So long as the next Bond films do not have non-Whites portraying Bond or have him turned into some gender-bending “social justice” activist type I will probably continue to go watch them. They are, if nothing else, most entertaining.

 

 

 

[1]She has somewhat of a strange face but it is also quite enchanting. Plus, she has a great body and is a blue eyed blonde; doesn’t get much better than that

[2]I should note that none of the songs used for 007 movies have been that great; especially true of the Craig years.

[3]I also find it interesting how this movie was not a bigger hit because Olga Kurylenko’s character  is feminine but also strong and independent and one would think that alone would be enough to make this Bond the one the zeitgeist lauds over.

[4]Best example being Hugo Drax in Moonraker.

[5]I liked that film but wouldn’t call it the best Bond – I think From Russia With Love or Thunderball should take that honor – largely because of the casting of Tracy Bond which I thought was wrong but I think Lazenby’s depiction was fine and criticisms of it are unfair.

[6]The very best example of this is the death of Strawberry Fields. She is stripped naked and drowned in a vat of oil and left on her hotel bed much like how in Goldfinger Jill Masterson is stripped naked and encased in gold. Again she is found on a hotel bed.

[7]Now played by a black woman as evidently Bond was not diverse enough and blacks are the go-to minority, especially when it comes to formerly White characters.

[8]Perhaps this is a reference to Alexander Litvinenko, who died of radiation poisoning supposedly on Putin’s orders? We all know how much of a villain Putin is perceived to be in the West right now.

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About Thomas Jones

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One Response to Review of Spectre

  1. Pingback: Silence | Instaurator

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