Double-0 Christmas - SPECTRE

SPECTRE

It's nearly Christmas so there's bound to be a James Bond film on TV somewhere. This week, we're looking back at Stuart Mulrain and Barnaby Eaton-Jones' series of articles on the 007 films. Finally, Stuart Mulrain remembers SPECTRE...

“Welcome, James. It’s been a long time. Now finally; here we are.”

Those who know me (or have read or heard my ramblings elsewhere) will know that I have had mixed feelings when it comes to the Craig era of Bond. Whilst I was a fan of the idea of Craig as Bond, I approached Casino Royale with cautious excitement. The idea of rebooting Bond after 40 years didn’t really appeal to me, but they did such a good job telling the story of how Bond became Bond that I was won over by it.

And then Quantum Of Solace happened. I was excited. We were going to see Craig as the full Bond that he seemed to have become by the end of Casino Royale. Of course, as we know now, he still wasn’t quite Bond yet, which meant many of the Bond elements still weren’t present. By the end of Quantum though, the gun-barrel walk appeared to end the movie (more on that in a minute) signalling that Craig was now the full Bond.

Skyfall would mark Craig’s first appearance as the fully fledged Bond as we know him. So as I sat in the cinema waiting for the film to start with the reassuring sound of the James Bond Theme as a white dot moves across an all black screen my heart began to sink. Instead of the gun-barrel, we faded in on a corridor. This is not how a Bond film should start. Bond isn’t like any other film. It doesn’t just open cold, it opens with a bloody gun-barrel walk!

Of course we didn’t get the gun-barrel walk (it again came at the end of the film) because Skyfall was a film about a Bond who was the full Bond, but was now a little bit past it. I’m in the minority of not really being a fan of Skyfall (some of this maybe down to the lack of traditional Bond movie opening). Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good film and it has some great pieces in it (and a fun homage to Home Alone for its climax), it’s just that it wasn’t really a Bond film.

With these past two (for me personally) disappointments in mind, I wasn’t really excited for Spectre. I was going to see it more out of a habit of watching Bond films rather than out of my love of them, which was kind of a sad state to be in. Given my 30 odd year love affair with the series, to be in a frame of mind that the series had gone stale for me and moved in a direction that I wasn’t excited about following bothered me.

But to the cinema I went anyway (to the first showing I could get in to – which offered me a glimmer of hope that somewhere deep down, that kid who loved Bond was still in there somewhere). As I sat in my seat waiting for the film to start, I just kept thinking “Please let the gun-barrel be at the beginning”. I know it seems like an odd thing to get hung up on, but as a Bond fan, it’s something that’s important to me (as you may have gathered from the first few paragraphs of this piece).

So the lights went down and the MGM and Columbia logo came up, with a variation on the familiar Bond theme playing in the background, and I got a little bit of butterflies going on in my stomach as the pangs of excitement began to stir. And then the screen went black and a white dot moved across the screen, stopping to follow Daniel Craig as he walked from right to left across the screen. And then he turned, shot and I was 8 years old again and anything was possible.

The pre-credits scene is a marvellous piece. Taking its cue from the opening of Touch Of Evil, it opens with a single tracking shot as we follow a masked Bond as he walks the streets of Mexico City, takes a ride in a lift and then a roof top stroll until he finds his target. It’s a wonderful piece of film-making and lets you know straight away that Sam Mendes is upping his game for this one (and his game was pretty high on Skyfall).

The main plot of the film sees Bond go rogue (again!) as he investigates his past and fulfils one final mission for Judi Dench’s M. To be honest, the plot is a little bit flimsy and we can pretty much see where it’s going from the trailer, but it’s also a lot more fun than the tone of the trailer suggests. It’s not a complete tonal shift from what has gone before (it’s actually very much in keeping with the tone of the Craig films) it’s just that it allows itself to have a little bit of fun by embracing what it is that makes Bond so much fun to watch.

Spectre 2

That’s right dear reader, for the first time we get to see Daniel Craig give us his version of the full Bond and he seems to be having a blast bringing it to us. He has a lighter touch to his approach this time, choosing to embrace the fun that is Bond and add some humour to the character again. The humorous tone is where some Bond actor can come undone – just ask Pierce Brosnan – but Craig handles it well and keeps it in line with his version of Fleming’s character.

The best Bond films honour what has gone before whilst putting their own stamp on the series. They remind you of other great Bond films, without making you wish you were watching them instead. Spectre does this very well, feeling like the first traditional Bond film we’ve had in over a decade. If anything really disappoints about this, it’s the fact that it took them so long to get us here.

That’s not to say there aren’t problems with the film. Given how present she was in all the publicity, Monica Bellucci barely registers as a character in the film and could’ve been played by anyone. Bellucci is great in her limited screen time, but I was expecting her to be involved later in the film, possibly as the big bad. Part of me even began to wonder if she was going to be revealed as the real head of SPECTRE. After a female M, why not a female Blofeld?

That big bad honour is reserved for Christoph Waltz though. Waltz is a great villain, falling somewhere between his character in Inglorious Basterds and Charles Gray’s Blofeld in Diamonds Are Forever (and I mean that in the best possible way). I don’t think anybody would be surprised by the reveal that Waltz is playing Blofeld, despite the way they try to build it up. Much like the Khan reveal in Star Trek Into Darkness, when Waltz tells you who he is it’s more a of “Well duh!” moment than an actual shock.

With bigger roles for Ralph Fiennes’ M, Ben Whishaw’s Q and Naomie Harris’ Moneypenny, other characters feel a little sidelined. Lea Seydoux is great as Dr. Madeleine Swann, but she is not much more than your standard Bond girl, seemingly strong and independent at first, but gradually downgraded to damsel in distress by the end. That’s a fault with the writing though rather than Seydoux performance.

Overall though, this is Craig’s film and is very much designed to tie his previous films together and bring Quantum and SPECTRE together under one criminal umbrella. It’s a smart move and ties up the Craig series nicely (if this should prove to be his last Bond film), bringing back some familiar faces in Mr. White and a video message cameo from Dench’s M. The finale in the abandoned SIS/MI6 building (as it’s demolished) adds a strangely final bow for the Brosnan era as well.

The film does raise some questions with regard to how the films prior to the Casino Royale reboot fit in (if at all) or if they will look at re-adapting some of Flemings books into new films in the future (either as straight adaptations or taking story elements from them to use in new films). I’d always assumed that they would just kind of loosely exist as unseen missions that would have happened either between two Craig films or (perhaps more logically) between Craig and the next fellow to don the tux, but this film alters plot points that makes some of the earlier films no longer work in this continuity.

Not that continuity necessarily matters in Bond films. In many ways it’s better to view them as stories not told by Bond, but from the point of view of the people who witnessed them. All the same in general, but with some of the inflections changed slightly to suit the storyteller.

But what of Daniel Craig? If his current round of press is to be believed, he’s done with the franchise. It’s worth bearing in mind that he’s saying this having just come off of making a James Bond film and I’d argue that the last thing he probably wants to think about is doing the next Bond film. It also can’t help his mood much when (seemingly) every other reporter is asking him who he thinks would do well as his replacement.

If this is the end for Craig though, he will be going out on a high note (unlike several of his predecessors), with a final shot of him driving off into the sunset that gives you the feeling that his story arc is complete and that he got his happy ending. It’s a fitting end for him that also sets up the franchise ready for the next man to take over.

Most importantly from this fan’s point of view, Spectre may have its faults, but for the first time in nearly a decade, I was given a film that made me love Bond again. And despite that certain level of uncertainty about where the franchise will go next, I’m excited for what’s to come.

James Bond HAS returned...

Poster - IMDb, Photo - Jonathan Olley