Wednesday, November 18, 2015

SPECTRE (2015)

This isn't going to be my full run-down on SPECTRE the way I covered the other movies so far. I'll need to watch it a few more times for that. But I have seen it a couple of times now and like Quantum of Solace and Skyfall, I can at least talk about some initial impressions. There will be SPOILERS.

First, I should say that I wasn't all that excited about the movie. The trailers played up the Rogue Bond angle and mentioned distrust a couple of times, and those are both things that have been thoroughly exhausted over the last few movies. Bond has quit or gone off the grid in every film since Die Another Day and the first three Craig movies could very appropriately be called the Trust Trilogy. Did not want more of that.

And while I know that the quality of the theme song doesn't have a direct relationship to the quality of the movie, the dullness of Sam Smith's number didn't encourage me about the level of inspiration in the film. I ended up waiting a week before going to see it.

Happily, the trailers didn't reflect the actual themes of the movie and even Sam Smith's boring song was improved by one of the best title sequences I've ever seen. (Easily in the Top Three with Casino Royale and Skyfall.) Bond does go off the grid again, but it's not because he doesn't trust anyone. In fact, he's doing it to protect people that he does trust. One of the nicest things about Skyfall was how it reintroduced the idea of Bond's having a support team and that pays off beautifully in SPECTRE. Moneypenny, Q, and Bill Tanner are all trusted team members and become even more so as the story progresses. Bond's even keeping M out of the loop for his own protection, due to the impending governance of the all-seeing Centre of National Security.

The CNS' oversight continues another big theme that was introduced in Skyfall, but not fully explored. Judi Dench's M has to undergo an inquiry because the government no longer believes that MI6s methods are useful. As Mallory says early on, "We can't keep working in the shadows. There are no more shadows."

M begs to differ and says so during the inquiry. "Look around you. Who do you fear? Can you see a face? A uniform? A flag? No. Our world is not more transparent now. It's more opaque. It's in the shadows. That's where we must do battle." She doesn't get to expand on that, but it's an intriguing thesis and I love that SPECTRE develops it. The real world - especially where security organizations are concerned - does feel more transparent. And that's for the good most of the time, but it makes for dull spy movies.

I appreciate that the Bond movies are addressing the tension between transparency and shadows, but I'm also eager for MI6 and its Double-Os to move back into the darkness where they can work uninhibited by anything but the filmmakers' imaginations. So I'm encouraged at the direction that the series looks to be headed in. They've tried transparency with the big, public MI6 building and it hasn't worked. At every turn, the villains have proven that they can't be fought on an open field. I'm hoping that as a result of SPECTRE's activities, the next Bond movie gives Her Majesty a truly Secret Service.

I love how SPECTRE ties all four Craig movies so far into a continuing story. It does this far from perfectly, but the Bond films have become truly a series, with Christoph Waltz' character revealed as the mastermind working behind-the-scenes on all of them. I also love that Waltz himself is a big liar and that yes, he's Blofeld. He needed to be. I didn't want SPECTRE without him.

More specifically though, I love the kind of villain that Blofeld is in this movie. He's such an attention whore. He couldn't stand being less important than Bond to his father as a kid and was crazy enough to let that shape his entire life. He has planned and schemed for decades to utterly ruin Bond and cannot wait to reveal himself. In fact, he says this explicitly. He's so happy to confess that "it was always me. The author of all your pain." At long last, his revenge is complete.

Except that Bond couldn't care less.

That's so rich and glorious. It denies Blofeld the importance in Bond's life that he so desperately craves, but it also puts a wonderful cap on Bond's emotional journey since Casino. The Bond of Casino and Quantum would have gone after Blofeld with everything he had. But he's matured since then. To the point that he can find a tape labeled "Vesper Lynd - Interrogation" and not even be tempted to look. Because of the events of Quantum of Solace; because of the time that passed before Skyfall; Bond has moved on and is looking for something else in his life.

That lets SPECTRE be the most whimsical of the Craig movies, which was something else I was looking forward to after Skyfall. What's the use of reintroducing all these traditional elements to the series if you're not also going to reintroduce the humor? We've had our dark, gritty Bond and I was a huge fan. But I'm also happy to see one who can smile and crack a joke.

Sadly, I don't think it will last. What's going to make Blofeld a compelling, recurring villain isn't that he shares an origin story with Bond; it's that he's absolutely not going to let Bond ignore him and live a happy life. I fear for Madeleine Swann and suspect that we're headed for a Tracy situation all over again. I have 0.25% doubt that this is what's going to kick off the next Bond movie, but I'm glad that whatever happens next will get covered there and that - for now anyway - Bond gets a happy ending.


Carlin said...

You might be the one person in the world with whom I most line up with when it comes to opinions about James Bond.

Michael May said...

That's a rare thing and I hear ya. Feel that way all the time listening to PJP.


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