Well, almost life-long; I first watched a James Bond movie back when I was about 8 years old. With parents and two older siblings all fans of 007, it’s no surprise I started watching Bond that early. Bond movies were always my favourite – simple storyline, great gadgets, an unruffled hero, crazy evil mastermind, exotic locations…
I don’t write reviews usually but after having watched Bond’s latest outing, SPECTRE, I felt the need to, well, vent.
It hard to know where to start with this great action, but poor Bond movie…
Let’s start with what works. The plot. The evil mastermind hell-bent on world domination, Bond be damned! The whole world domination bit’s gotten old, no argument there. In SPECTRE we dip into the post-Snowden-revelation scenario, where governments want to spy on their citizens, and everyone else besides, in the name of national security. Ok, that’s a valid issue. The plot of the movie is that Blofeld’s inside man in the corridors of Whitehall is the architect of the merger of MI5 (the domestic security service) and MI6 (the foreign intelligence service) and he wants to get rid of all human assets, including MI6’s ’00’ section, so that the government will buy the super-snooper computerised intelligence-gathering system being pawned by Blofeld, as a legitimate enterprise of course. The plot thickens with SPECTRE coordinating terrorist attacks in countries around the world to convince their governments to sign up to the same system, effectively putting all the world’s data in the hands of SPECTRE – All good, as this is exactly what SPECTRE, the criminal enterprise, is about.
All Bond fans know and love 007’s arch-nemesis Ernst Stavro Blofeld, that crazy cat-stroking criminal mastermind, the creator of the world’s premier criminal organisation, SPECTRE.
Blofeld features quite prominently in Ian Fleming’s Bond novels and in past movies, more so than any other criminal in fact, so Bond fans will be able to reel off by heart what SPECTRE stands for.
Yep, that’s right folks, something you’ll never pick up watching the so-titled movie is that SPECTRE is an acronym for the pretty kick-ass name of Blofeld’s criminal organisation: the Special Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion. That is kick-ass. Read it again. That acronym encapsulates everything a global criminal enterprise should aspire to be. Yet, no mention of what it means! Thunderball, when we first hear of SPECTRE, Blofeld, the hierarchical numbering system of it’s members to maintain security of identities – all this serves up an idea of a very well managed criminal organisation, slick from A to Z. This movie barely presents the viewer with any such organisation.
So, that’s the first issue I had with this movie – not enough respect paid to Fleming for creating ‘SPECTRE’.
Next, let’s tackle that huge bombshell SPECTRE drops on us – Bond has a brother! And the name of the brother? Blofeld of course! (By the way, Bollywood fans will see have seen this coming a mile off, this being the premise of many, oh so many, Bollywood movies.)
Now, Fleming never wrote that Blofeld and Bond are related. No sir, this, quite lazy, plot-line was created especially for SPECTRE. Whether you’re a hardcore Bond fan or not this is heavy stuff – Bond was adopted by Blofeld’s parents (when he lost his parents in a car accident) and because the father spent all his time with Bond, Blofeld got all ratty and decided to off his father in a hiking ‘accident’ where he too was presumed dead. So he disappears and re-invents himself as Ernst Stavro Blofeld. Years later he becomes ‘the author of Bond’s pain’, killing off any woman Bond has had a relationship with whenever Bond gets too close to his criminal operations. Yawn.
Ok, all well and good – not the brightest of plots but serviceable. However, so little is made of this when Bond makes the connection; of course this could be down to Daniel Craig’s somewhat wooden performance this time around but this is big-deal stuff, especially for Bond fans. But no, very little is made of it. Another opportunity to impress lost.
So, my second issue with SPECTRE – Bond’s arch-nemesis is his brother through adoption and nobody makes a fuss. Even Bollywood handles this better.
Whenever a new Bond movie is announced I cannot wait to see what gadget-goodness Q Branch is going to put in Bond’s hands. True, the latest reboot of the franchise with Daniel Craig has resisted gadgetry, a decision I respect.
However, to hint at gadgetry and then not deliver is unforgivable! In SPECTRE, all Bond’s Omega does is explode. The latest Aston Martin DB10 has a couple of features, and some that are hinted at but we never see in action! The two features the DB10 sports are a rear flame thrower and a driver side ejector seat. Yep, cause you just know that rear flame thrower is so naff you’re going to have to get yourself out of trouble by ejecting away. So then, quite disappointing on the gadgetry front.
My gripe #3 – the lack of kick-ass gadgets. No laser watch, no car with front-mounted machine guns, side-emerging missiles, rear-bulletproof plate, rear oil-dispensers, or that turns into a submarine – nope, that’s been done so let’s not even try this time round. What does Q Branch do now?
Action. C’mon, do you remember the opening sequence of Casino Royale where Bond chases down a free-runner (parkour to you fancy types)? That was brilliant. Then the fight scene in the hotel stairway? The Aston Martin flip-over when Bond is chasing Le Chiffre? That was all in one movie. Let’s just say it, it’s all gone a bit soft since Casino Royale.
There’s barely a fraction of that action in SPECTRE. Sure the opening sequence in Mexico City is good but not edge-of-your-seat stuff. There are other franchises doing it so much better at the moment – practically any of the Mission:Impossible movies outmatch the post Casino Royale productions. The bridge attack scene in M:I3, for example, is spectacular.
The close-quarter fighting between Bond and the forgettable baddie henchman is basic at best. In an era where we have Jason Bourne doing some seriously breathtaking close-quarters-combat, Bond needs to up his game. In the books, Ian Fleming writes Bond as being an expert at the martial art Jiu Jitsu but there’s no ‘Eastern’ ass-kicking in SPECTRE (I seem to recall some martial arts in earlier Craig-as-Bond movies but not much). Could Bond take on Jason Bourne or Ethan Hunt if they met in a dark alley/casino/ski slope?
Rant number 4 – Is Bond an action-man? Not any more it seems.
The loss of Judi Dench as ‘M’. I think this has had quite a negative effect on the overall tone of the movie. Not that Ralph Fiennes as the new ‘M’ isn’t good, he just hasn’t been given anything to work with really. He made much more of an impact in Skyfall than in SPECTRE. The strained relationship Bond has always had with ‘M’ has always been entertaining, but never more so with Judi Dench in the role. She brought something of depth to that character, something Ralph Fiennes should have been given the opportunity to do in SPECTRE. Getting a sense of the sheer number of missed opportunities?
As a whole, SPECTRE suffers terribly from poor character development. Not one character, not even Christoph Waltz’s Blofeld, is memorable. Heck, Blofeld’s trademark white cat only makes it in one super-fast scene, and not even being creepily stroked by Blofeld. Perhaps Christoph Waltz is cat-shy?
Another character that suffers from poor development is the primary henchman (I apologise reader, I’m just not interested enough in this character to even do some basic research). In the movie this baddie distinguishes himself by gouging out his opponent’s eyes with his thumbs. So, nothing exciting yet. Then in his one fight scene with Bond he doesn’t even get a chance to try and gouge out 007’s eyes! What the hell! How am I ever going to remember this character; that’s right I won’t. I barely remember what he looks like as I write this. Now picture Jaws (steel teeth). Rosa Klebb (poisoned dagger in shoe)? Oddjob (decapitating flying hat)? These are memorable henchmen. Not an eye-gouging thug who doesn’t eye-gouge.
Likewise the interaction between Bond and Moneypenny, between Bond and ‘Q’ – nothing to write about.
So, issue #5 – poor(lazy?) character development in SPECTRE.
A diabolical plan to end 007. That’s what we expect from our Bond villains. Laser cutters, solar rays, death by space shuttle take off. So what does SPECTRE have to offer?
Blofeld has a scary (nope) drilling machine that is able to erase memories. And he plans on using it on Bond to wipe his mind clean of any memory of his new love (oh yeah, he falls in love. More on that later – it’s a doozy) before killing him. Erm, so he’s going to make Bond forget the woman of his dreams before killing him. This is not looking diabolical, is it? Surely a more evil plan would be for Blofeld to kill 007 whilst keeping his memories intact so he can regret not having had more time with aforementioned love interest?
No. 6 – This criminal mastermind, not so clever.
You’ve probably gotten the sense that the overall plot of SPECTRE is quite complicated. And as with any complicated plot comes plotholes. Here’s a big one:
Bond visits a dying Mr. White in the remote cabin. He notices a security camera, before finding White in a hidden room. White talks to 007 about ‘Americain’ and where his daughter is hiding before popping himself. Baddie then arrives on site, after Bond has left, takes note of the same camera and uses that to discern the daughter’s location and apparent importance re ‘Americain’. A few logical questions:
- Why did Bond not destroy that cabin and everything in it including any saved security camera footage on leaving the cabin?
- Why did Mr White not just tell Bond about ‘Americain’? If he wanted to protect his daughter why even bring her into it?
- White’s daughter knew nothing about the secret room at ‘Americain’ that Bond could not have gotten directly from Mr White – Bond found the hidden room without the assistance of the daughter. She played no useful role in this plot. Well, maybe that’s harsh. She does become Bond’s new love interest. See that? The whole set up just to get Bond all romantic. Sheesh.
(00)7 – This plot hole is unforgivable – it illogically sets the stage for the second half of the movie. Very, very poor writing.
So there you have it, my rant after watching a much anticipated and ultimately disappointing movie. In the final analysis, it’s clear that after Casino Royale it all went downhill. It’s no coincidence that Casino Royale, a Fleming creation, was amazing especially because the movie stayed largely true to the story. But thereon each story was scripted for a movie, and obviously not written by Fleming. Each movie has gotten progressively worse.
Time for new blood? A complete reboot maybe?