Ah, Spectre. I have a lot of memories about that old Macintosh game, playing it at school during free time. You control a tank in what looks like an early VR environment, with solid coloured walls, and enemy tanks that look more like blocks than anything else. I’ve still got the Super Nintendo versi … wait, wrong Spectre. We’re talking about the most recent James Bond movie, released in 2015 rather than 1990’s Spectre computer game.
Directed by Sam Mendes (who also directed Skyfall), Spectre brings back the global criminal organization of the Sean Connary Bond years, which they weren’t able to use because of Thunderball copyright reasons for decades. It attempts to tie together all of the Daniel Craig Bond movies by making Ernst Stavro Blofeld the man behind everything. “I am the author of all your pain.” It earned $880 million, making it the second highest grossing movie of the franchise, and sixth highest of 2015, behind five movies that all passed the $1 billion mark.
At first, Mendes didn’t plan on returning for Spectre, but after he read the script and learned of Eon’s long-term plans for the franchise, he agreed to join in. He became the first person to direct two Bond movies in a row since John Glen, who directed all five Bond movies released in the 80’s. Spectre also happens to be the most expensive movie in the franchise. The estimated budget is somewhere between $250 and $275 million. Part of this is because of Craig and Mendes getting higher salaries, but another large chunk of this involved more filming locations, a number of expensive effects and large set pieces. However some of the massive budget was made back thanks to tax incentives and rebates from Mexico.
Despite being an original story, Spectre draws a lot of influence from Ian Fleming’s work, most notably Franz Obenhauser. Obenhauser is a background character in the “Octopussy” short story, and was a temporary legal guardian of Bond’s after Bond’s parents died. In the movie, it’s actually Hannes Oberhauser who acted as Bond’s legal guardian after his parents died, whereas Franz is more of a brother figure. A brother figure who didn’t exactly like the younger brother forced on him.
Joining the cast of characters from the previous entries, you’ve got Ralph Fiennes as M (he appeared in Skyfall and eventually took M’s place after Judi Dench’s character died), Christoph Waltz portrays Franz Oberhauser, although at the time he refused to comment on the nature of his part (I won’t either to avoid spoilers). At 50, Monica Bellucci is the oldest Bond girl in the franchise, yet she still looks really good at her age. She was previously considered for Tomorrow Never Dies, of which Brosnan famously said in an interview, “the fools said no.” You’ve also got Léa Seydoux as Madeleine Swann, the main Bond girl of the movie and the daughter of Mr. White (one of the people Bond chased throughout Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace). Mr. White was originally supposed to be killed off in Quantum of Solace, but that scene was cut, allowing him to return in Spectre.
Dave Bautista plays Mr. Hinx, a large and very dangerous henchmen and a man of few words. Mandes was worried that the silent nature of the character would drive Bautista away, but as a lifelong fan of Bond, Bautista loved the idea of reviving the quiet henchmen idea. He says a total of one word in the entire movie. He also found the silent role challenging in a fun way, as he needed to communicate his thoughts exclusively through body language. I’d say he did a pretty good job at that.
At first, the English band Radiohead was commissioned to write the title song, so they submitted “Man of War,” an unreleased song of theirs from the 1990’s. Since it wasn’t written for the film, they ultimately rejected it as it wouldn’t be eligible for the Academy Awards. Radiohead recorded another song titled “Spectre”, but it was also rejected, apparently being too depressing of a number. Eventually, they accepted Sam Smith’s “Writing’s on the Wall” as the title song. Apparently the song was written in under half an hour, and they put the song together in a single session. This was enough to satisfy the filmmakers.
The critics gave the song mixed reviews, comparing it unfavorably to Adele’s “Skyfall.” However, it did win the Academy Award for Best Original Song, becoming the second Bond theme song to do so. Personally I think it’s fine. It highlights some of the more dramatic elements of the film, but the slower, unexciting tone also acts as an unintentional warning of what is to come.
The film received mostly positive reviews before its UK release, although most critics agreed it didn’t live up to Skyfall. After the full release, reviews became a lot more mixed, giving the movie a 63% on Rotten Tomatoes, with an average score of 6.4/10. The general consensus is that Dave Bautista did a great job as an intimidating henchmen, but the story felt a bit too bloated and unfocused. Another common criticism is that Daniel Craig didn’t seem to be all there at times. The Charlotte Observer went as far to call Craig’s performance, “Bored, James Bored.” The Washington Post stated the movie turned out to be “a disappointingly conventional Bond film.” That said, Rolling Stone gave it a 3.5/4, calling Specter “party time for Bond fans, a fierce, funny, gorgeously produced valentine to the longest-running franchise in movies.”
I watched Specter back when it was in theaters, along with my cousins when they were visiting from out west. We all had pretty much the same reaction – the movie was alright, but too long for its own good. That and we agreed that Daniel Craig seemed kind of bored. It was enough that I haven’t watched the movie since, until this morning. After seeing it a second time, I think it’s a little better than the first time I saw it, but not by much. By no means is this a bad Bond movie, but it feels like it’s trying too hard to top Skyfall.
The opening sequence is up there with the best action scenes in the franchise, not to mention that wonderful opening tracking shot during the Mexican holiday, Day of the Dead. It first shows the celebrations, and then we follow Bond from the streets, up to his top floor hotel room, and then as he walks across rooftops to accomplish a mission Dench’s M gave him in a post-mortem message.
Not only is this a nice final nod to Dench’s run with the character, but it’s somehow poetically appropriate for Bond to take care of this mission during Day of the Dead. This action scene turns into a fun helicopter battle, even if it’s a lot more impractical than any of the other Craig action scenes. It feels almost like it’s slipping back into the over the top Pierce Brosnan days with a touch of Roger Moore era comedy, but it’s an entertaining opener. Here’s the opening tracking shot.
It’s after the theme song when things start to slow down to a drag. There are extended sequences that are quiet and slow paced, sometimes to the point where you’ll start to feel bored. The moment the movie introduces the head of Spectre is the perfect example of this. It’s full of slow, seemingly unconnected exposition paired with short moments of complete silence, or people whispering into the head’s ear quiet enough that we can’t hear what they’re saying. This is but one example of the many slow feeling scenes in the movie.
On a character development level, this does try to take another look into Bond’s mindset. It digs into whether pretty much working as a government assassin is what Bond wants to do. Unfortunately, whatever good dramatic writing there was behind this development, Craig’s bored performance stops it from being effective. That said, Seydoux as Madeleine Swann does a good job with her part in Bond’s character development, as well as convincingly playing someone who wants to stay as far away from her father’s criminal past as possible.
As much as some of the action is exciting, like the brutal train fight between Bond and Bautista’s character, there are other action scenes that go on a bit too long. There’s a chase scene down a slope, between the Spectre agents in jeeps and Bond in a plane that’s exciting at first, but starts to drag by the end. There’s a shootout at one of Spectre’s bases that is so easy for Bond, it looks more like a video game than a movie that’s trying to be brutal and realistic. Even while Spectre agents are shooting at him, Bond just casually walks forward and fires back, nailing each of them in but a few shots from quite a distance. This is also moments after his head gets drilled as a form of torture as well, supposedly affecting his sense of balance.
That shootout also happens to be the single deadliest scene in the entire Bond franchise, where he kills 195 people with a single explosion in addition to all the thugs he shoots. Speaking of which …
Bond kills – 232
Other’s kills – 5
Total kill count – 237
Sean Connery’s total kill count – 72
George Lazenby’s total kill count – 5
Roger Moore’s total kill count – 90
Timothy Dalton’s total kill count – 23
Pierce Brosnan’s total kill count – 135
Daniel Craig’s kill count to date – 276
The first three Craig Bond movies tried to be fairly down to earth; straight action thrillers. Spectre throws that out the window in favour of the Pierce Brosnan era of over the top action, while still trying to tell a deep story about government corruption, a criminal organization trying to take over the world from the shadows, and an otherwise dark and serious story. It tries to top Spectre by looking deep into whether 00 agents should still exist, while clearly showing through Bond that they’re still needed. Spectre feels like a movie that collapses under its own weight. It doesn’t help that Daniel Craig looks bored during most of his screen time, and it’s not hard to feel bored with him by the movie’s end.
Spectre is by no means a bad Bond movie, but it’s overly conventional and it feels tired. It worries me about Bond 25 (currently slated for a 2020 release), which also happens to star Daniel Craig. He had two fantastic Bond movies, and an underrated one between them. Hopefully Bond 25 can be a return to form for him, so that he can be the one Bond actor to go out on a high note. But I’m not ready to get my hopes up yet.
As much as Spectre isn’t the best way to end this blogathon for now, I’ve enjoyed this a lot. I tend to go through a bunch of Bond movies every three years or so, and it just felt right to finally see all the movies I’ve missed in the past. It also felt right to write about all of them. Especially since this franchise has been an influence on my own writing. In fact, most of the books I’ve written and hope to get published have at least some sort of thriller aspect to them. The 12 book series I wrote rough drafts for between 2013 and 2016 is basically James Bond with vampires and werewolves.
This movie franchise did have an effect on how I see action movies, and I know I’m not alone in saying that. It’s the longest lasting movie franchise in existence, fast approaching its 60th anniversary and 25th film. That it’s still regarded with prestige, with people of all ages getting excited about each new release, says something about Eon Productions. Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman deserve a lot of credit for turning Ian Fleming’s novel series into such a great franchise. Current producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson deserve just as much credit for re-inventing it for the post-Cold War era and keeping it going. Apart from Die Another Day, all of the Eon produced Bond movies are at least watchable, and when the franchise is on its game … to quote the theme song from The Spy Who Loved Me, “Nobody does it better.”