Movie Review: James Bond's "Spectre"
A Sunday afternoon at the theater
This past Sunday, I took my son to our first ever screening of a James Bond film. I currently own a number of the films on both VHS and DVD, and we regularly view them on our television. We also watch them when they run on the various T.V. stations (why do we do this when we own the DVD's?) but have never seen Bond on the big screen until now. We were excited, although I had my doubts as to whether this film would be as good as its predecessor, Skyfall. In my most humble opinion, I feel Skyfall is the best Bond film to date, supplanting Goldfinger at the top.
That is very hard for me to put into print, as I previously felt Sean Connery's Bond in Goldfinger was the absolute best film in the long run of James Bond. But, there it is; in black and white and out there for all of the Internet to read. Ah, well.
First, the Theater
We drove the short twenty minutes or so into town to the theater we would be attending. It is part of a long-standing line of theaters, known collectively as Wehrenberg Theatres. In operation since 1906, this theater has a tradition of excellence. And, with their prices, they will continue to offer a wonderful time spent as a family or on a date for couples. For this matinee, we paid the exorbitant price of $5.00 each. Yes, on the opening weekend for the film, we paid $5.00 to get in.
There were multiple showings offered for SPECTRE, and we chose the one which would allow us to view the film and make it home in plenty of time for whatever else we had planned for the day. The seats were quite comfortable, of a cushioned rocking variety and each one had a cup holder for our drinks. Settling in, we watched a few previews then eased back for the feature.
One thing I have enjoyed in the recent James Bond films featuring Daniel Craig is the continuity from one to the next. Far more often than not, the previous Bond films could be considered stand alone, that is one film need not be connected to the one prior to nor following. They are James Bond films, but while they are part of the whole they can be viewed independently without needing to know what went before.
The recent Bond films have created a timeline, a similar story line beginning in Casino Royal through Quantum of Solace and into Skyfall, and now to Spectre. Quantum literally began with the ending of Casino, and Skyfall moves on quickly into the line leading to it from Quantum. Through each previous film, a shadowy consortium we do not see but suspect is hidden from view, only the current henchmen and villain available for us to despise. In Spectre, it comes full circle and we see the ties we did not see before.
S.P.E.C.T.R.E. as it is known by has appeared in several other Bond films over the past five decades. An acronym for Special Executive for Counterintelligence, Terrorism, Revenge, and Extortion, it is comprised of a large group of bad guys intent on nothing less than total world domination through whatever means required. The leader of this group has been a person known as Ernst Stavro Blofeld and has been portrayed by multiple actors in various films. Considered a super-villain, Blofeld is rarely seen clearly, while his white cat actually has as much if not more screen time than he has had. When last seen, Blofeld was being deposited down a smokestack and is presumed dead. With a new Bond comes a new life, and Blofeld is back.
In the previous Craig Bond film Casino Royal, we see a man called Mr. White as the evil henchman. He reappears briefly in Quantum of Solace, telling us that the group he is attached to is everywhere while being questioned by M and Bond, and displays this very notion as immediately one of the members of MI6 guarding him begins shooting the others there, allowing White to escape. He literally had a mole in the room protecting him while this person was theoretically working for MI6! In Spectre, Mr. White, Le Chiffre, Mr. Green and others are brought to the forefront and seen for being tentacles in the far reaching body that is Spectre. They literally are everywhere.
The twenty-fourth film in the Bond franchise opens in Mexico City at the Day of the Dead celebration. Bond is there chasing a ghost, then catches him only to lose him to death. But as he dies, Bond removes a ring from his finger. The ring has an emblem on it, a representation of an octopus. This leads him on a chase from Mexico City to Italy, even though he has been grounded by the new M, portrayed by Ralph Fiennes, he of the Lord Voldemort role in the Harry Potter series. Fiennes has replaced the previous M, played by the wonderful Dame Judy Dench. She died in the end of Skyfall, and Fiennes has stepped into her role as leader of the 00 group of spies attached to MI6.
Bond shows his normal amount of disdain for authority, completely ignoring the direct order to remain in London. He is injected with a form of tracking device known as "smart blood". Bond is nothing if not slippery and he immediately enlists Q as his "helper", allowing him to go missing again. Sneaky devil.
He follows the scent of Spectre as a bloodhound follows a scent on the wind, moving from one location to another. At one point he somehow finds his way into a secret meeting of the shadow group and stand by as one of their own kills another highly placed person in front of all. This scene is disturbing as there is nothing said by anyone as the murder takes place. Nothing.
Shortly thereafter, the shadow figure at the head of the table speaks. Directly to Bond, calling him by name. The shadow recedes as he moves his head to look into Bond's eyes, and we see Blofeld. Bond runs, and a chase scene for the ages takes place through the streets of what I assume is Rome. Suffice it to say, Bond gets away in part to Q's assistance via the "gadgets" in the supercar, though not after a couple of humorous moments in mistaking what Q has designed.
One thing that makes its appearance here after a long absence is some humor. There are several scenes where it makes it appearance, all in perfect timing with the script and scene. Well done!
Beneath all of the Bond plots and scenes lies a darker, more sinister plot: to end the need for the 00 section. A new player has arrived on the scene whom Bond calls "C". He heads a private industry which has developed a means for intercepting and detailing all information in the known world, thereby eliminating the need for Bond and his ilk. A number of nations sign up for the service including England, and MI6 is effectively shut down. M, Q, and Moneypenny become castoffs, yet are determined to halt this from taking place. While they are working one side of the plot, Bond is working the other and later, the two shall meet.
C works for Blofeld. Of course he does.
Meanwhile, Bond is tracking a name. While in the secret meeting he overhears the name "the Pale King". While on the run he enlists Moneypenny's assistance and learns this is Mr. White. He tracks White down and learns that White is on the outside of Spectre now, having changed his mind about the ruthless means the group has undertaken, that of killing women and children heedlessly. His death is imminent, having been poisoned but Bond enlists his help by promising to look after White's daughter. She is in hiding and Bond must find her.
He does, and she kicks him to the curb. She wants nothing to do with the industry of killing and espionage and calls security on him. But before Bond can leave, she is abducted by a villain, no less than the evil man who killed in the meeting. Hinx, as he is known, is one tough villain drawing on the best Bond villains like Jaws and Oddjob. Silent, menacing, intense he goes after any and all alike. And like Jaws, seeming is indestructible. Shooting him would just make him mad.
A mad dash down a snowy mountainside in SUV's and a plane eventually deprived of flight ends with the White's daughter Madaline coming to grips with the fact that she has to go with Bond. She is the key to Spectre, although she doesn't know it.
They travel to L'Amerikan in Morocco, drawing another perhaps unintended comparison to me. I thought of Rick's Cafe American in Casablanca when I saw the hotel. I couldn't help it. There they find information which details their next move and they are off again. Another bit of humor takes place in the room, with Madeline having a bit too much to drink and telling Bond that she has no problem killing him if he makes a wrong move regarding her, and as she drops off to sleep, she forms her hand into the semblance of a gun and points it at him, saying "pow" before dropping off to sleep. I enjoyed this lighter moment in the darkness.
From Morocco, they travel to a hidden facility in the desert, Africa I believe. There they find Blofeld in all his glory and we finally learn of his plan to rule the world. Information, specifically intelligence information available for the chosen few to access, namely Spectre. We also learn another nugget of information regarding Bond's early life, namely that Blofeld's father took a young James Bond in after his parents died and raised him. This created a rift between actual father and son and resulted in the death of father, and the assumed death of son until he rose like a phoenix from the ashes as Blofeld.
Blofeld then proceeds to torture Bond, but Bond is Bond and escapes, saving the girl and destroying the lair and presumably Blofeld as well. But all is not as it seems.
They travel to London where M, Q, and Moneypenny await to aid in halting the new intelligence service from taking over. M battles C and kills him in a fall. Bond finds that Blofeld has again kidnapped Madeline, as she decided she could no longer be involved with Bond and the killing. Walking away, she falls victim to Blofeld's kidnapping. She is held in the remains of MI6 headquarters, the building partially destroyed in Skyfall by Raoul Silva, another Spectre villain. Bond saves the girl, escapes the boobytrapped building, and eventually gets Blofeld. Standing over the injured Blofeld, who asks him to finish it, Bond looks at M standing in front of him, yet makes no more to halt Bond possibly killing Blofeld. Instead, a subtle head movement forces Bond to look behind him and he sees Madeline there, watching. Bond hesitates, then drops the gun thereby allowing Blofeld to be arrested and assumedly taken to prison.
After a slow beginning, a long portion of minimal speaking moments, some wasted opportunities to delve deeper into personalities and characters, the movie comes to a close. But I just don't know how I feel about it: I mean, who wants to see James Bond "ride off into the sunset" with the girl. Bond NEVER gets the girl in the end! Never! She always ends up either dead, or abandoned or leaving on her own. And Blofeld, in prison? Do you recall a Bond villain winding up in the custody of the authorities? I don't.
This ending lends itself to two very distinct possibilities. Either Bond is finished, is retiring from the business of killing and is going to settle down, or Blofeld will escape and kill his lady fair, thereby proving that Bond is a loner for life as he sets off on another rage filled, revenge bent destruction of the evil in the world. But the question that looms largest is this:
Will Daniel Craig return as Bond? He is signed for another film as Bond but his comments on this one leads the viewer to fear we have seen the last of the man who has perhaps elevated James Bond to a point he has never been before. Sean Connery was James Bond. Roger Moore was a farce, as was Timothy Dalton. Pierce Brosnan was so-so. George Lazenby was an idiot. Daniel Craig IS Bond now, and for any who try to follow him, good luck. James Blonde has found his way into the hearts on Bondaholics worldwide and is The Man now.
I hope another film will be in the offering someday, sooner rather than later. One that completes the saga with Bond alone (unfortunately for him), Blofeld dead, and MI6 firmly in control of Britain's intelligence once more.
So where do I rank Spectre? Better than Quantum, but below Skyfall. I feel Casino Royal was a stronger plot but I guess I will place Spectre alongside it. Better than all of the Dalton and Moore Bond films, and better than Brosnan's Bond films as well. So that means Skyfall is first, followed by Goldfinger. From there, it's a toss up of Connery films intermixed with Craig's turn as Bond.
I do have to say one extremely negative thing here. I HATE the theme song! Whoever thought it would be a good, let alone great idea to have a man sing the theme in a falsetto voice should be shot! That is not Bond! Shirley Bassey, that's Bond. Adele's Skyfall, that's Bond. Hell, even Duran Duran singing A View To A Kill was acceptable (barely) but this? Not no hell no! It's even worse than Garbage (remember Garbage?) singing the title song to The World Is Not Enough was better than this! And the saddest thing is that it will forever be a Bond theme! AAAAAGGGGHHHHH!!!