Spectre, the most recent Bond film, hit the box office last month. Daniel Craig returns for his fourth film playing a confident and suave James Bond. This 24th film of the Bond “series” directed by Sam Mendes and tenuously written by John Logan and Neal Purvis introduces a bigger-than-life villain--Spoiler Alert: it is Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Christoph Waltz). Yes, that weird and illusive faceless guy with the cat from the previous Bond films is finally making an appearance, and the $350 million dollar budget suggests that the writers planned for this to be a climactic and pivotal movie for the franchise.
The movie follows Bond as he goes on a rogue quest to follow the clues left for him by the deceased “M” (Judi Dench). This journey takes him to Mexico City and Rome, where he seduces Lucia Sciarra (Monica Bellucci), who leads him to the meeting of SPECTRE: Special, Executive, Counter-Intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge, and Extortion. The next lead sends Bond to Austria where he has a chilling encounter with the “Pale King,” who tells Bond where to find his daughter Dr. Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux). Madeleine and Bond then hunt down Blofeld who, unsurprisingly, is harder to subdue than they first believed.
Watching the film, one cannot help but feel a shift from prior Bond films, a feeling of isolation. The instrumentals in the theme music are significantly stripped down. In the wake of MI6’s anticipated decommission and Bond’s off grid exploits, the sense that Her Majesty has Bond’s back is absent, and Bond’s “mission” is more of a personal and individual one than part of the agency’s.
This feeling even permeates the action scenes, where Bond and Dr. Swann are kept company by multitudes of henchmen driving Range Rovers. He leaves all of these, miraculously, in a fiery torrent of rubble falling to their deaths. In fact one could probably write a whole other movie on MI6’s attempt to cover up such public displays of violence. It is true that despite Bond’s role as a secret agent, his trail has never been subtle. But this enters a whole new level where neither Bond nor his enemy are afraid to be seen.
With three Bond films under his belt, Daniel Craig is James Bond. Seydoux’s performance, though good, is hampered by the story itself. Her speedy conversion from fearing her debonair defender to impassionately loving him feels forced. Waltz plays an innocent looking character who we find out is a jealous adopted brother of Bond. He believes that Bond, despite his lack of blood connection to his father, was his father’s favorite. This leads to a big letdown, and a true digression into quirky superhero films, cartoons, and political meltdown. Bond has been stripped of the organization that employs him, yet somehow continues to be a well-equipped vigilante. It turns out that the mac daddy of the Bond villains, Blofeld, has daddy issues so debilitating that he has spent years systematically killing off one Bond fling after another. Since when has a single psychological nutcase with a revenge complex for one person become the epitome of national security threats? Why do you need a secret agent to eradicate such a threat secretly?
The movie is no doubt a guilty pleasure, but if you are looking to follow any meaningful plot or retro sense of British patriotism, 007 is not what he used to be. The customized DB10 Aston Martins almost make it worth it, but the British would have their own revolutionary war if the public discovered MI6’s massive spending spree for Bond to resolve his personal issues. Bond films are no longer about an elite operative who in following orders and working with a team, protects Britain and others from imminent destruction. They are about an individual saving an individual love interest from an individual villain who really only wanted the individual to suffer the way he did, individually.