Acting on a message from beyond the grave, James tracks down a man that introduces him to a new/old foe.
Bond, James Bond:
This is Craig’s latest film, and, luckily for him (and us) it will not be his last. Hopefully, he and his writers can find a way to make sure that his last film is not far and away his worst, which is what this one is. That’s not to say that he doesn’t do some good work here. He continues to impress in the romantic relationship, this time with Madeline Swann, even if the script itself doesn’t really earn any of it (more on that later). The movie also allows him to come off as a badass again, whether it be hilariously shouting “No! Stop!” at some rent-a-cop in a psychiatric clinic who is trying to apprehend Craig, or shooting two nameless henchpeople, even though he is blinded by a hood. That’s all I really have to say on the positive side.
On the negative side, it’s mostly the script that fails Craig in this one. It frequently tries to make Craig fall into Roger Moore-style comedy beats, and they just do not feel correct for him. In a car chase, he pushes a small Italian car into a parking space, which then causes its driver’s airbag to explode in his face. It’s not a bad comedic beat, but it’s the kind of broad physical comedy I would expect from the eye-brow raising Moore, not the cold brute Craig. Along the same lines, the cold open features Bond falling from a collapsing building and landing onto a soft couch. The movie then takes several moments to let you know, that, yes, indeed, he fell on a couch. As a reminder, the previous cold open saw this man intentionally crashing into a wall so that he could be launched from his motorcycle onto a moving train. He doesn’t need to land on a couch. It’d be funnier, and, more appropriate if he landed next to the couch (credit to the James Bonding podcast, specifically James Bladon, for putting into words why that moment never worked for me).
The comedy isn’t the worst of the cons either. This film, unfortunately, takes Daniel Craig even further down the creepy, sexual assault path. Bond’s first interaction with a woman who isn’t Moneypenny in this movie is essentially him breaking into the home of Lucia Sciarra, the widow of the man Bond threw from a helicopter in the film’s cold open. Although he breaks into her home in order to stop members of the film’s title organization from killing her, he then takes a moment to try to seduce her. And by seduce her, I mean shattering two pieces of glassware and slowly backing her against a wall, where he begins to kiss and nuzzle her, before unzipping her dress. All of this is done while Sciarra is telling him off for effectively signing her death warrant when he killed her husband. The film plays the whole sequence as a scintillating seduction, and both actors lay the groundwork for this to work but the script/direction corrupts it by framing it as a very forceful move by Bond, instead of a consensual decision between two adults. It really is not far from some of Connery’s worst moments, or Moore’s moments of walking in on showering women or slapping them around. It’s because of things like this that make me glad that Bond is returning for at least one more go-around. Daniel Craig deserves to go out on a better note than this.
After the Academy Award-winning performance from Adele, the producers wisely chose to stick close to a more classic sound for the next theme song. Sam Smith seemed like an appropriate pick. His debut album was nothing groundbreaking, but he had a sound that seemed to fit a classic Bond feel. However, the song does not ever even come close to the highs of Adele’s “Skyfall.” Not only that, it ends up as one of the least remarkable theme songs in the franchise. After an encouraging orchestral start, the song ends up a bland trip where he rarely takes any risks or allows himself to get big and loud, which is where “Skyfall” really starts to make an impression. The first couple lines of the refrain (“If I risk it all/Could you break my fall?”) start to build into something big and loud and fun before it immediately drops in volume as he ends up in a falsetto that, while admittedly impressive, doesn’t make any lasting impression. I’m not sure if it’s my expectations for the song and being so disappointed, but I really, really dislike this song. It’s easily one of my least favorite in the franchise. The fact it won its own Oscar is kind of absurd. I honestly would have rather had something weird than this boring nonsense. Say, I don’t know, Radiohead. (Yes, this is a real song Radiohead submitted.)
As the title of this film implies, the weird legal stuff I briefly mention/alluded to/I don’t really remember what I did (that was months ago) that stopped the franchise from using Bond’s greatest enemy, SPECTRE and Blofeld, came to an end, allowing the writers to go back to that pond. In order to bring Blofeld back into the franchise, the producers bring in Academy Award winner Christoph Waltz, famous for his villainous turn in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds. Waltz does some really good work here, having a take on the character that feels different from the three prior iterations, while still feeling like an appropriate threat to Bond. However, the script fails the actor and the character here. First, the writers make him Bond’s step-brother, after his father takes the future spy in after his parents are killed in a skiing accident. Apparently, the young Blofeld’s father treated James more like a son than he ever treated him. Because of this, Blofeld kills his father and fakes his own death, so that he can slowly begin to torture James from a distance. In fact, he’s been the “author of all [Bond’s] pain.” He has been responsible for everything that has happened since Daniel Craig took over as Bond, which makes sense for Le Chiffre and for Dominic Greene, considering the Quantum connection (Quantum could easily be a subsidiary of SPECTRE), but less so for Silva (I can’t even begin to understand why he would need to be an agent of SPECTRE, especially considering he wanted revenge against M and didn’t really seem to care much about James). It undercuts this great criminal mastermind that he did so much of it just to annoy a guy his father just happened to take care of for two years.
The second area the script fails the character is that they go the route of Star Trek: Into Darkness and try to hide the fact that he’s Blofeld (although the captions on the Blu Ray immediately credit him as Blofeld, which made me laugh). Throughout the promotion of the movie, they referred to Waltz’s character as Franz Oberhauser, which is for sure not a fake name created to distract a person from someone’s true identity. The movie spends much of its runtime referring to Waltz’s character as Oberhauser. It isn’t until Bond is in a torture chair that his nemesis explains that he rid himself of his father’s name (again, all this dude did was care about an orphan.) Instead, he took names from his mother’s side of the family, giving him the chosen name of Ernst Stavro Blofeld. I’ll give the movie credit, it doesn’t play the reveal of the nemesis quite as dramatically as Star Trek did with Khan (“My name is Khaaaaaaaan.”) But the movie loses that credit when it called itself Spectre. Y’all. We know who our main villain is going to be. You’re not going to name a movie Spectre and have your first villain be named Franz Oberhauser. Stop lying to us. Also, the reveal of the character’s name means nothing to any of the characters’ in this franchise. At least Star Trek had Leonard Nimoy Spock they could contact over FaceTime and completely confuse me about the ramifications of traveling through time. This movie had no reason to play the hand the way that they did. It’s a waste of Christoph Waltz’s talent. And, more damning to this franchise, and to this film, it’s a waste of Bond’s greatest canonical enemy, one we hadn’t (officially) seen in four decades.
Lea Seydoux takes the reins on Dr. Madeline Swann, a psychologist, who just happens to be the daughter of Quantum’s Mr. White (remember him? From all four of his scenes in two movies. Because this movie really thinks you’ll care about this). Similar to Waltz, Seydoux really elevates some lackluster material. She displays her distaste for people who kill for a profession well, and she does her part to make me believe that James and Madeline fall in love. But this movie just does not give them enough time for that shift to really be believable. One night, she’s drunkenly telling James that if he gets near her, she will kill him (the drunk scene is a really fun piece of acting from Seydoux), and then, presumably the next night, she is having sex with him after they survive an attack on a train. At least On Her Majesty’s Secret Service gave us a nice little montage of them spending time together and falling for each other. Not to say that a montage is the best way to make us believe that two people are falling in love, but it’s better than the nothing we get in this movie. Which, again, is a huge shame. Seydoux really does some impressive work in this movie. There’s not a moment where I dislike her performance. Her concern for James as he gets tortured feels very genuine, as does her delivery of “I love you,” even if, again, that line does not feel like it’s been earned. She at least delivers it in a very real way. The movie wants us to feel like she is the next Tracy Bond. Seydoux does her part to make this work. The writers don’t even come close.
The previously mentioned Lucia Sciara is portrayed by the great Monica Belluci, who, with this movie, became the oldest actress to ever play a romantic foil to Bond. It’s unfortunate that she is the recipient of the most cringe-worthy moment in Craig’s tenure, and probably the worst Bond moment since Roger Moore snuck up on a showering Maud Adams before slapping her multiple times, because she gives a memorable performance here. Her talent is particularly notable as she slowly walks through her home, knowing full well that there are hitmen from her husband’s organization waiting to kill her. Her fear is subtle but clear, and her small flinch as she hears silenced gunshots behind her is a really nice bit of acting from Belluci. Watching her remain defiant as Craig backs her into a corner is another plus for her character, even while my opinion of Bond plummets.
Daniel Craig’s films have been pretty lacking in the henchperson front, with hitman Patrice the closest his films ever came to having a memorable underling for the villain and even is most notable because he participates in that gorgeous fight sequence. Luckily, this film corrects that, bringing in Dave Bautista to play the silent, physically threatening henchperson this franchise has been lacking for some time. Bautista, a former wrestler, is a lot of fun to watch as Mr. Hinx, as he silently stalks Bond and Swann through the Alps and, most memorably, in a train car. That train car sequence is a great callback to the first, and still best, henchperson this franchise introduced, Red Grant in From Russia With Love. They wisely cut out any score, allowing the only sounds we hear to be the train on the tracks and every painful-sounding impact between Bautista and Craig. It’s a great fight and is easily the most engaging action sequence in the film. The fact it ends with Hinx’s only line (a badly re-recorded “Shit”) before he is launched out of the train is an entertaining capper on one of the best henchpeople this franchise has offered us, and easily the best in about two decades.
The other notable villainous character is Andrew Scott’s Max Denbigh, the head of the new Joint Intelligence Service that merges with MI6. If this script had any intention of covering up Denbigh’s true allegiance, they cast the wrong guy for it. Don’t get me wrong. I really love Andrew Scott, and I appreciate the work that he does here, perfectly playing the worm to go against Ralph Fiennes’ straight-edged M, but dude walks into a room and you instantly know he’s a baddie. The fact that he is in this movie trying to create a super-secret intelligence agency that joins nine different countries’ spy systems into one super system, which he describes as bringing the world from “darkness into the light,” makes him seem even more suspicious. Like I said, I don’t think any of this is Scott’s fault, per se. He is giving the performance you would expect from the guy who chewed his way through all of the scenery in Sherlock (a performance that I think is the best part of that series), I just don’t know if it was the correct choice for this movie. I do appreciate that he dies shortly after thinking he can go one-v-one against Ralph Fiennes, leading to a bullet shattering some glass, which startles him and causes him to fall off a balcony. It’s an unspectacular death for a weasel of a character. Below is a picture of him used in a trailer. You know. The classic “definitely not a bad guy” shot.
Fiennes again does some solid work as the new head of MI6, although I wish he didn’t spend so much of the movie being frustrated with James (again, a choice of the script to have Bond going rogue, per a pre-recorded final request from Dame Judi Dench’s M). I like the relationship that these two formed at the end of Skyfall and would have much rather seen them building on that more, instead of having them at odds throughout the movie, but I’ll take what I can get. And what I get is Fiennes going toe-to-toe with the weasely Scott, and it’s such a delicious pairing, at least to see M constantly burn Denbigh. One of my favorite moments is after Denbigh has announced he is going to get rid of the Double 0 program, Fiennes smirks, saying “You’re a cocky little bastard aren’t you.” Denbigh laughs a bit, breaks eye contact while saying “I’ll take that as a compliment.” “I wouldn’t,” M says, never breaking his own eye contact, before walking away. Although I didn’t get the relationship I would have wanted with this character, watching him constantly out-quip Andrew Scott is a gift.
Naomie Harris returns as Moneypenny, and, continuing from the solid characterization in Skyfall, she still feels like an actual person and member of MI6, instead of the M’s assistant role she filled in the early years of this franchise. The first time we really get to see her is when she goes to Bond’s apartment with his personal effects from Skyfall (the place), where she instantly calls him out from hiding something from everyone because he doesn’t trust anyone. Having her just implicitly know Bond, to the point that he is immediately able to trust her after she calls him on this, is so refreshing. The fact he also allows her to do her own spy work (for him, but it’s something he doesn’t trust anyone else to do) is also appreciated. I was worried that Skyfall was going to front-load the characterization of Harris’ version of this classic character, so having this movie continue to flesh her out and allow her to be a competent member of the storied MI6 is a real treat.
The final member of the MI6 triumvirate also returns from Skyfall, and Ben Whishaw also has not missed a beat since his debut. Although he doesn’t get much to do (even though he gets to meet Bond in the field briefly, most just to deliver some exposition and run away from bad guys), he again makes the most of his time. This film’s Q-scene, where he introduces James to a series of gadgets, is a treat because we get to see how confident Whishaw’s Q gets, even in front of a storied spy like James Bond. After he shows off a car that is not meant for Bond, he gives him a watch, quipping that “It tells the time, which should help with your punctuality issues.” He later makes himself laugh while he and Bond look over the remnants of the Aston Martin that got blown up by Silva’s men in Skyfall, as he jokes “I believe I told you to bring it back in one piece, not to bring back only one piece.” The overly confident little giggle he allows himself is such a wonderful little moment, and it builds off the rapport that he and James gained with each other during the museum scene in the previous film. That relationship continues to grow, as Q agrees to help James disappear off the map, even though he realizes that he could risk losing his job, even though he has a mortgage and “two cats to feed.” It’s all fun, and implies growth in the two’s relationship, while still allowing Whishaw’s take on the character to still feel genuine to the character we met earlier.
For the most part, this movie sticks to the realistic side of the Daniel Craig franchise. A watch that can be set to explode and a slightly loaded Aston Martin (which, somewhat hilariously isn’t even intended for James).
And then there is smart blood. Yes. Smart Blood. They inject a series of microchips into Bond’s blood so that they can track him. It’s…wildly unnecessary. Just do a singular microchip into his skin like they did in Casino Royale. I mean, yeah, Le Chiffre ripped that out of his body, but it doesn’t make me say smart blood.
I discuss this a bit in the section about Blofeld, but, y’all, this story is so stupid, that it really kills any chance of the movie working. The evil security agency that is a subsidiary of SPECTRE is not necessarily a bad idea, and if that felt like the focus and the true reason for this movie’s plot, maybe it would work better. But, because of the shoe-horned familial connection between Blofeld and Bond, this whole movie, and, criminally, all of Craig’s films, is basically the action of a petty step-brother who is sad that his dad loved an orphan more than him. And that’s so absurd. Yes, I know that we want Blofeld to be a little unhinged, but being unhinged because of pettiness isn’t interesting, it’s absurd and a tad bit insulting to what should be a great villain. Also, wouldn’t someone this petty want James to know it was him behind everything all along? Obviously, he gets that in this movie, but James almost dies several times in the earlier films, and, even as James is en route to Blofeld’s compound, Hinx tries to kill him on a train. And then Blofeld has the nerve to talk about how much he has been looking forward to meeting James. Bruh, you almost had him killed, like, eight hours ago. Shut your lying mouth. Ugh. It’s just such a bummer that one choice in one movie can so badly corrupt this movie, but also add a twinge of frustration to three previous movies, all of which I really enjoyed.
Miscellaneous Spy Business:
-This movie starts with one of those long takes that have become popular in the last five years or so. It’s okay. Don’t get me wrong, I’m always impressed by these things and the patience that they must take, but in a world where Birdman feels like it is entirely one shot, and where Creed films an entire boxing match in one long take, a dude walking through a parade and changing out of some clothes just doesn’t do it for me.
-The cold open also has what could be a pretty awesome helicopter stunt (it does several full flips, it stalls out while completely vertical), but it is undercut by pretty consistent cuts and some pretty obvious green screen work. This cold open had so many opportunities to be so awesome but somehow missed it at every turn.
-As James sneaks into a secret SPECTRE meeting, he tells a guard that he’s Mickey Mouse. I know he’s supposed to be sarcastic and cutting, but this is just such a strange joke that doesn’t really seem to fit Craig. There’s so much of this in the movie. It’s a bummer.
-Having Madeline be Mr. White’s daughter just doesn’t really work for me. Again, it’s an unnecessary connection to the prior movies, and we don’t see enough of him in those movies for that reveal to really hold any emotional weight.
-The action sequences in this movie, from the helicopter fight in the beginning to the car chase in Italy and the plane chase in the Alps, should all be fun on paper, but through CGI, random comedic beats, or frantic cutting, none of them land as impressively as they should.
-James talks to a rat in this movie. Like, I get it is supposed to be funny, but this doesn’t feel like it belongs in his movies. It belongs in Diamonds Are Forever. Not in these dark years.
-Fun fact: It deeply weirds me out when villain’s give women clothes to wear. How did you know their sizes, ya creep?
-We officially meet Blofeld when he talks about a meteorite as an unstoppable force. You know. Those giant rocks that fall onto Earth and are stopped by the Earth’s ground.
-This movie shot a giant explosion all in-camera, which is the biggest man-made explosion for a movie of all time. It’s really dope, and I feel bad for Craig and Seydoux, because, like, what if they sneezed?
-When James is walking through a ready-to-be-demolished MI6 in order to find Blofeld and Madeline, he finds an elaborate set-up, including pictures of him on targets, as well as pictures of Vesper, Le Chiffre and Silva. Who had time to set this up? Was it Denbigh? Why waste resources? This is all so stupid.
-Obviously, I don’t feel like this movie earns Bond and Swann’s relationship, but I really love the choice to have James not kill Blofeld (despite the man being the “author of all his pain”), choosing instead to have MI6 arrest him while he walks into the night with Swann. Earlier in the film, she tells him that he’s a good man.Atn that moment, he decides to truly act like one. And it works. And if the rest of this movie worked, this would have been a really fitting end for Craig’s Bond. He started with falling in love with Vesper, having her betray him, and then having to watch her die. Him being able to finally accept love and be happy again would be a perfect ending. Too bad this movie couldn’t stick the landing in any way.
-So, because this movie did not stick the landing, I think it should do a complete 180. Because think about what this movie includes: James going after someone’s daughter, per the father’s wishes; a clinic in the Alps; James falling in love with a woman and leaving MI6 for her; Blofeld. All of these things are in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Bond 25 is going through so much “who’s writing/directing?” nonsense right now that I’m worried that they’ll forget what next move they could be setting up: Blofeld killing Madeline. Yes, this movie does not do the relationship as well as Bond/Tracy. Yes, we have already had Daniel Craig Bond gets revenge. But, since the movie didn’t earn him being able to walk off into the night, I want to see Craig go dark one more time, and get revenge for the murder of someone who didn’t betray him. And, maybe, just maybe, as he kills Blofeld, he suffers a mortal injury of his own. This is another really appropriate way for this Bond to go out. I hope that they have the courage to do it.
This movie feels like a wide range of missed opportunities, combined with a bunch of risky decisions that do not really pay off. Christoph Waltz and Lea Seydoux are really well cast here and make the most of their silly and little time in the script, respectively. The writers continue to send Bond down a creepy lane, to the point that he’s flirting with the unfortunate Connery years, which is not what you want to be. Andrew Scott is terribly cast but portrays this version of the character exactly as you would expect this guy to give. That doesn’t even really begin to touch the fact that this franchise felt the need to go Cinematic Universe and connect the previous films, in a way that doesn’t really feel earned (particularly Skyfall). At least we’ll always have Hinx and that train fight. Choo-choo. I’m clearly insane now. 003/0010.
TJ At The Movies Will Return With:
So, obviously, this is the last film released by EON, with Bond 25 supposedly coming next year. I have a wrap-up planned, which is predominantly a ranking of all 24 films based on “math.” After that, I will eventually get into a different franchise, although which one is up for debate (nothing really compares to the Bond franchise in terms of size or age, which excites me, since this took a year). So. I don’t know what exactly I will return with, long-term. Short-term, be on the lookout for a ranking.
References Spectre Wikipedia Page https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spectre_(2015_film) Photo Credit Cover Photo https://thumbor.forbes.com/thumbor/960x0/https%3A%2F%2Fblogs-images.forbes.com%2Fscottmendelson%2Ffiles%2F2015%2F11%2Fspectre-banner-3-1200x600.jpg Bond https://static.independent.co.uk/s3fs-public/styles/article_small/public/thumbnails/image/2015/10/05/11/Bond-Spectre-5.jpg Writing's On The Wall Video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8jzDnsjYv9A Blofeld https://metrouk2.files.wordpress.com/2015/10/james-bond-8.png Seydoux https://img.wennermedia.com/article-leads-horizontal/rs-216731-MCDSPEC_EC062_H.jpg Belluci https://andreasmoser.files.wordpress.com/2016/08/spectre-monica-bellucci.jpg Hinx Train Fight https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y_eZw262fhM Not At All Evil Andrew Scott http://ksassets.timeincuk.net/wp/uploads/sites/55/2015/10/2015Spectre_AndrewScott_MaxDenbigh_231015-920x610.jpg Largest Stunt Explosion Video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YAg_jqthRY4