The 007 Collective is a bi-monthly column in which I revisit every official feature in the James Bond franchise and review how they hold up today. Along with a review of each film, each article in this 10-month-long series will dive into the historical place and production of each film in question. It will also feature a dossier i.e. a fact sheet with superlatives, ratings, rankings, best, worsts and other fun stuff in line with the format you’ve seen in my annual Year in Superlatives articles. This project isn’t meant to be the final word on the Bond franchise. It’s merely my take on the series. For previous entries, click here.
I return to my The 007 Collective series with a look back at last fall’s supremely hyped and eventually frustrating fourth entry in the Daniel Craig saga – the 24th and latest installment in the Bond franchise – SPECTRE.
Mission Title: SPECTRE
James Bond: Daniel Craig
Release Date: November 6, 2015
Source Material: Original story
A cryptic message from the recently deceased M (Judi Dench) sees James Bond on a mission to Mexico City and Rome to uncover the ties between an Italian mobster and a vast and powerful criminal syndicate named SPECTRE whose tentacles span the furthest corners of the globe. On the way, 007 joins forces with Madeleine Swann, the daughter of an old nemesis, and heads to Africa to find SPECTRE. But the more Bond investigates the organization, the more he learns of the shocking connection between himself and Franz Oberhauser, the mysterious leader of SPECTRE.
Throughout the history of the Bond franchise, one thing has remained consistent. Whenever the series hits a critical and commercial high, the filmmakers follow it up with a gargantuan (read: bloated) blockbuster that attempts to outdo everything that its iconic predecessor did, only to go down in a ball of flames. Thunderball was deemed an artistic letdown after the critical and commercial high of Goldfinger. The reception towards Moonraker was catastrophic in comparison to the glowing reviews that The Spy Who Loved Me garnered a few years earlier. Tomorrow Never Dies was a derivative failure after the series rejuvenator that was GoldenEye.
Spectre continues that perplexing tradition. Not only is it the most expensive Bond movie ever made ($245 million), but at 148 minutes, it’s also the longest film of the series. Content-wise, it takes everything that its acclaimed and uber-successful predecessor Skyfall did and doubles down. It’s more stylish, its action sequences are more bombastic, its Bond women are more alluring, the villains are more outlandish, and its locations are more exotic. And you know what? For a good chunk of it, director Sam Mendes and company almost succeed at making a worthy follow-up. During its first two acts, Spectre is everything a long-time Bond fan could hope for. It’s a fun, well-acted and stylish adventure teeming with atmosphere and even a bit of mystery… that is, until the whole thing careens off a cliff during its last 40 minutes.
Picking up shortly after the events of its predecessor, Spectre kicks off with a fire cracker of a pre-title sequence. Set during the Day of the Dead festivities in Mexico City, it opens with a stylish five-minute take in which cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema’s fluid camera stalks Daniel Craig’s Bond from a crowded street all the way to a building rooftop as he hunts a white-suited terrorist. The sequence, which is among the most exhilarating openers in Bond history, then continues with a thrilling chase through the streets of Mexico and concludes with a brutal fight to the death in an out-of-control helicopter doing 360° barrel rolls over a heavily populated plaza.
Once we’re done with Daniel Kleinmann’s surprisingly awful octopus-laden opening credits sequence over which Sam Smith’s wails his tone-deaf theme song, the action shifts to London. We learn that Bond’s Mexico shenanigans were the last orders of Judi Dench’s M. Unfortunately, 007’s stunt comes at a time when Bond and his trusty MI6 team (Ralph Fiennes’ stern M, Ben Wishaw’s fantastic Q, and Naomi Harris’ cheeky Moneypenny) are on the verge of being rendered obsolete by a smarmy intelligence chief (Andrew Scott) who plans on replacing the “00” program with a drone-operated global surveillance network.
Because Bond couldn’t care less about the consequences, he embarks on *yet* another rogue mission that takes him from the sodium-lit cobblestone streets of Rome to the snow-covered Alps of Austria to the sun-baked sands of Morocco, all in search of the shadowy organization called SPECTRE. Along the way, he partners up with Dr. Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux), the daughter of an old enemy, and eventually realizes that every adversary he’s gone up against ties back to one man: Franz Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz).
Although the Daniel Craig era has been largely credited with bringing class and gravitas to the Bond franchise, they aren’t immune to the series’ long history of blatantly borrowing elements from popular fads of the day (See Live and Let Die, The Man with the Golden Gun, Moonraker). Casino Royale was heavily inspired by Batman Begins while Quantum of Solace was an imitation of the Bourne movies. Even Skyfall, which many critics praised as a game-changer, shamelessly borrowed a chunk of its plot from The Dark Knight.
With Spectre, Mendes (plus screenwriters John Logan, Neal Purvis & Robert Wade and Jez Butterworth) attempt to ape the Marvel franchise model by tying the plots of all three Craig movies into a single “everything-is-connected” narrative. Unfortunately, the connections are strenuous at best, making you wonder why they even bothered to tie the films in the first place. The theme of government surveillance and privacy is a topical issue – but it too isn’t taken explored after being introduced in the first act. More frustrating is the mystery at the heart of the story which after all that build-up leads to nowhere, leaving you asking, “Wait, that’s it?”
Although I was apathetic towards the casting of Christoph Waltz as a Bond villain—talk about on-the-nose casting—the Oscar winner makes the most of what he’s given, bringing a sinister edge to every one of his signature wide-eyed grins. But again, Mendes and company stifle him with minimal screen time and by giving the character a laughably bad motivation. By the time the film stumbles to its awkward conclusion, many of the developments that have transpired over the previous 40 minutes feel rushed and unearned. It’s almost as if Sam Mendes and his writing team had their screenplay re-written by Adaptation’s Donald Kaufman.
You could argue that stupidity and glaring plot holes have been staples of this series ever since its glory days in the 60’s. While that’s true, the grit, class and emotional gravitas that the Craig Bonds, in particular Casino Royale and Skyfall, have brought to the series, we as fans have come to expect more. In a way, Spectre is a classic example of wanting to eat your cake and having it too. It wants to be silly but ultra-serious at the same time. And for nearly two acts, Mendes and company succeed in making that uneasy relationship work. It’s too bad then it falls apart.
I could continue critiquing Spectre for all its flaws and missteps but truth be told, I had a damn good time watching it. It’s possible that watching all 24 films in the franchise in 2015 may have played a part in adjusting my expectations. Nevertheless, for all its glaring story problems, there’s still plenty to enjoy here. The action sequences, which include the previously-discussed cold open in Mexico, a kinetic car chase through the backstreets of Rome, a destructive airplane-SUV downhill chase in the Alps, as well as a show-stopping brawl on a train between Bond and a towering henchman named Mr. Hinx (a wonderful Dave Bautista) are slick, meticulously-crafted and above all, fun.
Like Skyfall, Spectre is an outstanding-looking film. Topping Roger Deakins’ Oscar-nominated work in Skyfall was always going to be a stretch but Hoyte Van Hoytema’s warm and striking lensing prove why he’s become the new go-to guy for Christopher Nolan and Spike Jonze. Spectre may have gapping storytelling problems but at least it’s never less than gorgeous to look at. Another aspect that serves Spectre well is its healthy dose of humor—the most in a Bond movie in at least a decade. It’s not Roger Moore or even Pierce Brosnan-level farce but the bevy of clever and well-timed deadpan jokes is evidence that Mendes and team are trying to circle back to the Connery days as much as they can. The multitude of Easter eggs and callbacks to older films certainly don’t hurt.
Having played Ian Fleming’s iconic hero in four films now, Craig has already made his mark on the series. Though his recent comments suggest an actor growing tired of the role, his steely and surprisingly funny performance demonstrates otherwise. When Craig made his debut in Casino Royale, his interpretation of the pop cultural icon was a revelation. His Bond wasn’t the fully-formed, suave, and sophisticated killing machine of previous eras but an emotionally-bruised, psychologically-complex man whose icy exterior disguised a past scarred with pain. Nine years later, the bruises may look faded but they’re still there. Craig is the fuel that keeps these movies going, even when they sputter the way this one does. If this is to be his last turn at bat, as the film tries so very hard to make it out to be, then he’ll leave with a legacy of being one of the best, even if he didn’t exactly go out on top. After all, neither did Connery.
As noted in the review segment, Spectre’s cold open is one for the books—a fire-cracker of an opening that checks off many of franchise’s most iconic traditions, including a chase sequence, a helicopter and an exotic locale. Set during the Day of the Dead festivities in Mexico City, it kicks off with a stylish five-minute take in which cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema’s fluid camera stalks Daniel Craig’s Bond from a crowded street all the way to a building rooftop as he hunts a white-suited Italian assassin and terrorist named Sciarra. The sequence, which is among the most exhilarating openers in Bond history continues with Bond chasing Sciarra through the streets of Mexico through the festival crowds and concludes with a brutal fight to the death in an out-of-control helicopter doing 360° barrel rolls over a heavily populated plaza. Dispatching Sciarra turns out to be relatively easy but the chopper’s pilot proves more challenging. Once he finally kills the guy by throwing him out of the aircraft, Bond is able to take control of the helicopter just in time to avoid a fiery death. The sequence ends with Bond taking a closer look at the chrome ring he pulled from Sciarra before he killed him.
Title Designer: Daniel Kleinmann
Title Song: “Writing’s on the Wall” performed by Sam Smith
Famous Quote: “How do I live? How do I breathe? When you’re not here I’m suffocating”
How bad is Sam Smith’s title song? In a word: Atrocious. It’s so bad that it rivals Madonna’s “Die Another Day,” Rita Coolidge’s “All Time High” and Lulu’s “The Man with the Golden Gun” as the worst song in the Bond oeuvre. The problem isn’t the tune but Smith’s whiny delivery. He sounds pathetic. Enough with the crying, man! We get it… your ex was a dick and he destroyed your heart but bringing that shitty baggage to a Bond movie is idiotic. The fact that this monstrosity of a “song” managed to score an Oscar nomination for Best Original Song is a testament to the brilliant marketing by the Sony awards team and the lack of competition, not to the song’s quality.
Even more disappointing are the visuals during the credits sequence designed by Bond regular Daniel Kleinmann. The imagery is a bizarre mishmash of tentacle porn, guns, a shirtless Daniel Craig, naked women with tentacles for torsos, dead characters from the Craig saga – among them Vesper, M, Silva, Le Chifre and Dominic Green, flames and death heads. It’s thematically incoherent and worsened by that awful song. Nothing about it works.
The Big Bad: Well, the cat’s out of the box, right? Christoph Waltz is Ernst Stavro Blofeld – Bond’s scarred and Nehru-suit wearing arch-nemesis who finally returns to the franchise after taking a legal leave of absence from the series since Diamonds Are Forever (1971). Since the Craig era is meant to be a reboot of the series, this is meant to be the first time that Bond and Blofeld go head-to-head, and unfortunately, it’s a disappointment. I can’t blame Waltz here – he does the best he can with the role. He’s just grossly under-served by the script which relegates him to the last act during which they hand him an inane motive and connection to Bond. They’re… step-brothers? And the entire reason that Blofeld created SPECTRE and decided to destroy Bond’s life is because he was jealous that his dad loved foster-son Bond more than him? Jesus… that’s almost as pathetic as Sam Smith’s song! Almost. The only way they could have made things worse was to kill off the character at the end of the film, and thankfully, in one of the last 40 minutes’ only saving graces, they didn’t. We’ll see how things progress with Blofeld and the franchise after this.
Henchman: The near mute and towering Mr. Hinx (Dave Bautista) who, coupled with his impeccable fashion sense, makes for the best henchman in the Bond series since… Xenia Onatopp. Mr. Hinx’s introduction at the SPECTRE board meeting in which he secures a place on the board by crushing an opponent’s skull is one for the ages. But the even better scene takes place at the conclusion of the film’s second act in which he gets into a vicious brawl with Bond on board a train. It’s a classic scene that made me wish his character wasn’t so short lived.
MI6 and SPECTRE double agent Max Denbigh (Andrew Scott) who, after the merger of MI5 and MI6, assumes control over England’s intelligence unit. Denbigh, who also goes by the code name C, attempts to use the coordinated terrorist attacks orchestrated by SPECTRE around the world to scare the nine countries with drone warfare capabilities into signing a new bill that would virtually allow them to monitor every person’s move whenever and however they want.
The evasive and shadowy Mr. White (Jesper Christensen) whose character 3-film character arc finally comes to its end in Spectre. A shadow of his former-self, Mr. White is now a dying man resigned to life in a hideout somewhere in the Austrian Alps. Instead of trying to kill him, Mr. White instead implores Bond for his help in protecting his daughter Madeleine before killing himself.
World Domination Plan: Using a series of terrorist attacks around the world in order to scare the world’s governments into green-lighting the use of a radical global surveillance program that will be able to monitor the entire world’s citizens using the label of national security as an excuse.
Primary: The smart and beautiful Madeleine Swann (Lea Seadeux), the estranged daughter of Mr. White who Bond is entrusted to protect from SPECTRE. Madeleine, who works as a psychiatrist at a high-end clinic in the Alps, is initially resistant to Bond but soon becomes his ally in finding out the truth behind SPECTRE. Unlike Vesper Lynd or M – the best Bond women in this new series, Madeleine is more of a classic Bond girl – a passive bystander who is pulled into Bond’s mess due to happenstance. Although she knows her way with a gun, and how to deal with assassins (seeing how her father was one), she doesn’t bring much weight to proceedings, and her eventual declaration of “Love” for Bond during the film’s one of many climaxes makes zero sense.
Lucia Sciarra, played by the incomparable Monica Belluci who is utterly wasted by the producers on a role that amounts to little more than a glorified cameo.
Estrella (Stephanie Sigman) – the stunning Mexican brunette who Bond pairs up with in Mexico.
M (Ralph Fiennes): Who gives Bond a thorough scolding during the post-credits sequence in London for going rogue in Mexico. M also has to deal with C, who he would love to call out on being a stupid C… but in true gentlemanly fashion, chooses his words wisely instead. M proves to be a reliable field agent during Spectre’s otherwise bonkers last act, in which he foils a potential deadly attack.
Q (Ben Whishaw): The relationship between Daniel Craig’s Bond and Ben Whishaw’s Q is slowly starting to become the most interesting one of this series. Theirs is the one beset with the most humor as well as the most… let’s call it “tension.”
Miss Moneypenny (Naomi Harris): Sadly, after a greatly enhanced field agent role in Skyfall, Naomi Harris’ trusty Moneypenny is reduced to the role of the desk clerk secretary. More of her next time, Broccolis!
Bill Tanner (Rory Kinnear): It’s a nice little paycheck for Mr. Kinnear and he should be immensely satisfied.
Aston Martin DB10 which, in classic Bond tradition, comes equipped with a bevy of gadgets including machine guns, bullet proof windows and windshields, flamethrower exhausts, and of course, an ejector seat
The Omega Seamaster 300 Watch: Another classic tradition of watches being used as gadgets by Bond is resurrected via the Omega watch in Spectre. The watch’s explosive materials comes extremely handy when Bond is being tortured by Blofeld’s bizarre brain-drilling pain device at Spectre’s headquarters.
ODDS & ENDS
Most Memorable Quote:
[Bond and Madeleine have come to Blofeld’s opulent headquarters inside a crater. After showing them around the place in classic Bond villain fashion, Blofeld turns to Bond and asks him why he came to see him]
Blofeld: So James… why did you come?
James Bond: [nonchalantly] I came here to kill you.
Blofeld: And I thought you came to die.
James Bond: Well, it’s all a matter of perspective.
Most Embarrassing Quote:
[Blofeld is torturing Bond by drilling his needle drill apparatus into Bond’s head. A particular brutal session causes Bond to lose consciousness. Unable to deal with the horror, a distraught Madeleine runs to Bond, holds his head and looks longingly into his eyes]
Madeleine: I love you
[Upon hearing those immortal three words, Bond wakes up and looks at her, knowing that he’s found his destiny]
Excuse me while I puke. Nowhere, and I repeat NOWHERE in this movie are we made privy to Madeleine falling “in love” with Bond. So when she says these words, not only is it bizarre but it’s also an absolute betrayal of the character. It’s a failure of screenwriting 101.
Most Memorable Moment:
The opening sequence, of course! One of the best in the series’ history.
Most Cringe-Worthy Moment:
I’d like to say it’s the entire last 40 minutes of the movie but I’ll settle for the entire sequence set at the abandoned MI6 headquarters where Bond is invited into a booby-trapped labyrinth filled with photographs of his past enemies, allies and loves. Are you really telling me that Blofeld and his goons took the effort to find stock photos of all of Bond’s past acquaintances and went through the trouble of pasting pictures of them all across the building so he could get traumatized when he passed them? Get the fucking fuck out of here. This is a bat-shit idiotic concept and idea that I was floored to see actually make it to the final script.
There are plenty of chuckle-worthy moments in Spectre but I liked the moment where Bond crashes into the car driven by the old Italian man and scares the hell out of the poor old guy. Straight out of the Roger Moore Bond handbook.
Most Shocking/Outrageous Moment:
The bizarre torture scene in which Bond gets interrogated with a needle drill. Ouch!
Best Pun/Double Entendre:
Worst Pun/Double Entendre:
Best Stunt/Action Scene:
I’m going to cheat here and go with the terrific brawl between Bond and Mr. Hinx in the train. This one’s for the Bond history books. Absolutely fabulous stuff.
Number of Times Bond Has Sex: 2 (once with Lucia, once with Madeleine)
Number of people Bond kills: 32
Killing Mr. Hinx by throwing him off the train.
Locations visited (In order of appearance): Mexico, London, Rome, Austria, Tangiers, Sahara desert
Misogyny Meter: 6/10
The Craig era has generally strayed from the series’ history of misogyny but Spectre returns to some of that through its treatment of its female characters. Bond essentially forces Lucia into having sex with him—“Die, or have sex with me.” Madeleine doesn’t really fare much better as she’s constantly the damsel in distress through most of the movie. Just when you think the character has begun to gain some urgency by telling Bond she’s leaving him for good, she gets kidnapped by Spectre and is used as bait by Bond.
Homophobia Meter: 0/10
Racism Rating: 0/10
Box Office: $199.6 million ($879 million worldwide; 14th highest overall).
Oscars: 1 nomination (Best Original Song for Sam Smith’s “Writing’s on the Wall.” It was a bad year for movie songs.)
007 Chronological Listing: 24/24
Director: Sam Mendes
Screenwriter: John Logan, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Jez Butterworth
Cast: Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Léa Seydoux, Ralph Fiennes, Ben Whishaw, Naomi Harris
Producer: Michael G. Wilson, Barbara Broccoli
Running time: 148 minutes
Companies: EON Productions, Sony Pictures, MGM
Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of action and violence, some disturbing images, sensuality and language)
The 007 Collective will return in:
BOND 25 (2017)
Previous entries in The 007 Collective:
- Goldfinger (1964)
- A View to a Kill (1985)
- Diamonds Are Forever (1971)
- The World is Not Enough (1999)
- Die Another Day (2002)
- Quantum of Solace (2008)
- On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)
- Octopussy (1983)
- Thunderball (1965)
- GoldenEye (1995)
- The Man with the Golden Gun (1974)
- The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)
- The Living Daylights (1987)
- Skyfall (2012)
- You Only Live Twice (1967)
- Live and Let Die (1973)
- Moonraker (1979)
- Dr. No (1962)
- For Your Eyes Only (1981)
- Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)
- From Russia with Love (1963)
- Licence to Kill (1989)
- Casino Royale (2006)
- SPECTRE (2015)