James Bond Finds Himself Stuck in the Past in SPECTRE – BlueCat Review
The name is Bond, James Bond, a moniker bestowed to Daniel Craig with the 2006 reinvigoration of the 007 franchise, Casino Royale, a sharp departure from where we had last left the super suave MI-6 agent in Die Another Day. Casino Royale served as a soft re-boot, with a fresh take on the classic character, something the franchise desperately needed in a post 9/11 world. The Cold War was left for the history books, and Bond needed a new enemy, one readily found in the fear and anxiety of international terrorism.
Casino Royale certainly did not disappoint, and it remains one of the franchise’s strongest and most entertaining installments. If only the same could be said of its follow-up, Quantum of Solace, which failed to properly address Bond’s emotional state in favor of considerably less than subtle environmental themes.
The disappointment many felt from Quantum of Solace seems to have been a wake up call for longtime Bond producer, Barbara Broccoli. The franchise and the character deserved better. They deserved Skyfall. Sam Mendes, an admittedly surprising choice, stepped in to craft one of the best Bond films yet produced, perhaps THE best, if not for the deserved respect given to such classics as Goldfinger and From Russia with Love. Skyfall finally managed to address the psyche of a character like James Bond, a man fighting for his country in a modern world where the bad guys aren’t so easily discerned, and the wars aren’t quite so black and white.
Perhaps Craig should have ended his tenure as Bond there, going out on top with Skyfall. But, it wasn’t meant to be, and here we are, left with Spectre, an unfortunate throwback to old school Bond. Spectre isn’t a terrible film. At least it can boast several impressive action set pieces, beautifully composed shots, and reliably good performances from Craig, Ralph Fiennes as the new M, Ben Wishaw as Q, and Christoph Waltz as Franz Oberhauser (I won’t reveal his true identity, even though it’s not hard to guess).
But, what about the story? Perhaps the writing was on the wall last December when the Sony hack revealed executives’ concerns over the film’s script (Sam Smith’s opening credits pun intended). Yet, with Mendes returning, one can’t be faulted for holding out hope, though a pattern is seemingly discernible. Perhaps neither Quantum of Solace nor Spectre could meet the high bar raised by their immediate predecessors.
One could make such an argument if it weren’t for Spectre’s utter lack of a coherent story and character development. Yes, a basic plot is apparent. From beyond the grave, Bond receives a message from Judi Dench’s M, sending him after a particular target in Mexico City. From there, the trail leads to Rome, from Rome to Mr. White, returning from Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace, in Austria, and from Austria to the elusive Oberhauser (Waltz) in Morocco. Then, after what should have been a shocking twist, Bond returns to London, where he must thwart a random, undeveloped side villain’s unrealistically conceived evil plan to spy on everyone through his or her cell phone (Because that hasn’t been done yet in a Hollywood movie). But, the story behind these plot points seems contrived, desperate to link Spectre to previous Bond films, particularly Casino Royale and Skyfall.
It seems that Spectre’s true problem lies in its reverence for the past. Sure, it may be the most “James Bond-ish” of all of Craig’s James Bond films, but that isn’t necessarily a good thing, unless you happen to be a 007 super fan. The strength of Casino Royale and Skyfall was their ability to bring a fresh perspective to a tired franchise. Spectre brings back the same old, worn out tropes, barely even trying to hide its borrowed plot lines. Is M really going to ground Bond again? Is Monica Bellucci’s character not a blatant rehash of Caterina Murino’s character in Casino Royale? Are we, as the audience, expected to not make these associations?
Perhaps after half a century and twenty-four films, it’s time for Bond to retire for a while. Not just the character himself, but the franchise as well. I’m glad that Bond gets the opportunity to walk away from MI-6, and Craig gets to walk away from the James Bond character, because, after watching Spectre, I honestly feel little to no desire for another new James Bond film. The best of the Bond franchise reflect on the contemporary reality within which they are set. Rather, Spectre is stuck in the past; desperately hoping that old material will pass for new again. Farewell Mr. Bond, until we undoubtedly meet again. I can only hope that your next outing as 007 will prove more forward thinking, rather than desperately retrospective.