Spectre: A review
This weekend, I went to see the newest James Bond movie, Spectre. I’ve never been much of a fan, though as far as I can tell, I’ve seen every Bond movie soon after its release. I mentioned in my review of Skyfall, the early Sean Connery movies were thrilling. Every exotic locale, the delicate dance of the gambling dens, where everyone was evil, but oh so glamorous transported our sixties humdrum selves into vivid cinematic sin. Even better were the women with big hair and funny names. The sex scenes faded at just the right moment. No morning mouth, snarled hair or wince of regret spoiled it.
Spectre, the newest Bond film, is an entertaining film with an impressive opening sequence. We’re in Mexico and from a Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead) parade a man appears among the celebrants. He wears a skull mask and holds hands with a beautiful senorita. As we follow him and he removes the death mask, we see that he is 007. The death mask is fitting since in this film, Bond is labeled a professional assassin. He leads the woman to a prearranged room and they begin making love. Then he seems to change his mind. Exiting via a window, he tells her he’ll be right back. He never returns. Instead he chases and kills a bad guy and during some truly impressive helicopter stunts, he almost takes out half of the parade people.
Later at London headquarters, and back from “vacation,” Bond is in trouble. The new “M” (Ralph Fiennes, for my money one of the best things in the movie) suspends him for the unauthorized “hit.” The “license to kill” program is being phased out in favor of a new international surveillance conglomerate headed by “C” (Andrew Scott—Moriarty to Cumberbatch’s Holmes). “C” is a smarmy passive aggressive bureaucrat, a drab harbinger of all things “spy” in the changing world. “C” is the new reality and “M’ is the past, a theme carried over from Skyfall. Not every millennial is on board with the change. “Q” (Ben Whishaw) still believes in the program and happily creates all the fun cars and gadgets, giving Bond access even after Bond has been suspended. So why did 007 defy his orders this time?
We discover the answer when a concerned Moneypenny visits James Bond’s pitiful apartment to find out the real reason Bond was in Mexico. Like Moneypenny, we’re not impressed. There’s no movie décor, nothing “goes” with the couch, and the flat screen TV sits on the floor. 007, the embodiment of all things glamorous has no taste. Why does this matter? It doesn’t, except the movie reality doesn’t match the fantasy of the older Bond films. The ‘60’s Bond was a man whose freedom, the “license to kill” included plenty of other sins and little guilt.
When I thought about it, which was almost never, I assumed that whatever this enigmatic spy called home was likely a den of solitude like Superman’s fortress. And no women allowed (except the cleaning lady; 007 wouldn’t vacuum or make beds). Discovering the ordinariness of the Bond residence is like finding out there is no Santa. Once the bubble’s burst, there’s a new perspective (Spectre?) of Bond. This new view extends to his treatment of women, which changed as the film went on. He deserted the senorita with no apology, and after protecting a grieving widow by killing her assassins, he comforted her by ripping off her clothes (she helped). Then he goes home, unrepentant and when M (Fienne) suspends him, something changes. There’s weariness in 007’s eyes. In fact rather than shrugging off commitment, he becomes territorial. He pouts when he discovers Moneypenny had an overnight visitor that’s not him. “That’s life,” Moneypenny chides. So it is.
James explains his actions by clicking on the TV. A posthumous message from M, assigns him a mission. The woman who haunts James is not Pussy Galore, but “M” (Judy Dench). In Skyfall, M emerged as a mother figure for both James and his foe, an embittered agent. Her willingness to sacrifice them for the good of the Crown cut deep.
As in Skyfall, more than world domination, Bond’s past drives the plot in Spectre. These issues continue in the form of Blofeld, played by Christoph Waltz, an interesting actor, though the smirk is wearing thin. The scene introducing Blofeld as a man to be feared is masterfully done, using protocol and whispers and it ends in a gruesome murder. Blofeld’s connection to Bond is what drives Blofeld’s thirst for revenge. He has a childhood score to settle and he’s mad enough to make sure that all the important women in Bond’s life, including M, die. Like all Bond villains, Blofeld is a psychopath.
“M’s(Dench) posthumous assignment leads to Madeleine Swann (Lea Seydoux, an appealing French actress). A psychiatrist specializing in talk therapy, Swann is the daughter of a dying bad guy who begged Bond to save her from her father’s enemies. Bond agrees, but Ms Swann isn’t grateful. She can take care herself, thank you very much. Of course, she’s promptly kidnapped. He rescues her but she’s still not with the program, though she does lead him to the next clue. It seems that Blofeld and “C” are in cahoots. Surprised?
There’re more betrayals, helicopter stunts and rescues before the movie’s end. There’s also something different. Bond decides to give it all up for Madeleine, a woman who cannot tolerate the world of her father. 007 has done this in other films and the future Mrs. Bond always ended up dead, leaving James newly available. This time, she survives and they walk away together. Bond seems sick of it all. But can this leopard change his spots, never to engage the deadly sleek glamour of the games, the adrenaline of the jungles, the seething volcanoes of life and death? Will he give up the miracle cars, suitcases with secret compartments, and exploding watches? Will he miss the sultry, double-dealing women, the rescuing of grieving widows? It seems this Bond can leave it all.
This is Craig’s last Bond film, a character he described as misogynistic. The world has changed since the days of Mad Men, when Ian Fleming’s smooth spy was unstoppable. Thanks for the memories, but spies now operate in a more complex, more inclusive world. A more human Bond might be a better fit. Maybe the next Bond should be more like Richard Burton’s character in The Spy Who Came in From the Cold. Maybe it’s time Bond did too.