All right, you know the drill.
I'm about to dive deeply and discuss SPECTRE. And there are going to be spoilers.
So, if you haven't seen it yet, go away. Come back after you've seen the film. It's OK--this post will still be here...I promise!
Review, and spoilers, will start after the four SPECTRE posters. See ya there!
And it doesn't work, on either level. It's a gimmick without any thought behind it, without any real attempt made to develop it. And the result is a frustrating, lackluster James Bond film, which in the end has no idea what it wants to do with the villains or their "plot."
Let's start with that SPECTRE ring itself. Bond sees some goons practically kneel when Marco Sciarra shows it to them. So 007 makes sure to grab it during his fight with Sciarra. And it's quite useful at gaining Bond admittance to the meeting in Rome.
But then the writers realize that they haven't done the most basic groundwork in proving that all 4 Craig movies have had the same hidden master villain. And they decide to take a pretty nonsensical shortcut. Bond has Q analyze the ring, and lo and behold, the miracles of quack science somehow "prove" that SPECTRE was behind LeChiffre and QUANTUM and Silva and...
I'll be able to say more once I get the movie in home video format, and can do so freeze frames and screen captures. But having seen the film several times, and watching especially closely the last couple of times for this: Q's magic laptap scanner finds partial fingerprints and DNA on the ring. There's no indication that it finds anything else, such as embedded files. The movie doesn't show us anything else at all. And from that. somehow, Q is able to intuit not only the existence of SPECTRE, but it's structure and leadership!
This is storytelling malarkey at its finest, but let me emphasize a couple of points to elaborate just how stupid this is:
*Obviously Sciarra had just worn the ring, and White had recently handled it. But how in the world would Green's and LeChiffre's and Silva's and Oberhauser's fingerprints or DNA been on the ring? Was there just one ring, and the members of SPECTRE passed it around? This. Makes. No. Sense.
*Franz Oberhauser allegedly died in an avalanche as a 17 year old, and his body was never found (according to the article Moneypenny was reading). How, and why, would MI-6 have had his DNA on file? Yet Q's computer screen quite clearly tells us that there was a "DNA MATCH" for Oberhauser. This. Makes. No. Sense.
*Even if you come up with some silly excuse--every SPECTRE member has their biometric data encoded on each ring, just because--how could Q have possibly used that information to come up with his nice branching organizational chart laying out SPECTRE's entire structure? How could he have possibly known from the ring that Oberhauser was the leader of the whole organization? Was there also a microchip in the ring laying out SPECTRE's corporate leadership chart, because secret organizations like to get caught? THIS. MAKES. NO. SENSE.
I know I'm going off an awful lot on a very small detail, but it's a point that's emblematic of the movie's problems--the filmmakers keep making incredible assertions, and then don't bother putting the tiniest bit of thought into explaining (or understanding!) these plot devices. They just wave their hands about, hoping the audience is too easily hypnotized to notice the lack of craft in the script.
Just as the ring makes no sense on a literal level, the implications on the story level--there is one organization, one person even--who is behind everything in the first three movies is pretty indefensible. Neal Purvis and Robert Wade co-wrote all 4 Craig 007 movies, so they should know that this bootstrapping was going to be hard to accomplish. Casino Royale made it clear that LeChiffre did not work for QUANTUM--they just introduced terrorists to the "banker." There was no indication whatsoever that Silva worked for anyone beside himself. His revenge against M was entirely personal--and now we're supposed to believe that it was actually at Blofeld's behest--to get back at Bond?!?
So the script doesn't even try. We just get unverifiable statements that SPECTRE was "behind everything all along" and the Blofeld was "the author of all your pain." No attempts at explanation. Let's just retcon those three movies, and not even try to make it make sense. it's an attempt to layer on "continuity" between the movies without having to bother to actually do any of the required work. Plus, it makes MI-6 look stupider than hell.
[If you wish to argue that Blofeld was merely making this up, as a way to get under Bond's skin, I'll applaud your creativity. But I'll also say that if the movie somehow doesn't reveal that at the end, it makes no sense from a story perspective. And it contradicts Q's physical evidence that "proves" it].
The oddest part is, there's no reason to do this. It's not as if these "revelations" somehow improve those past movies, or somehow make this one better. No, this is a symptom of "Big Bad Syndrome." TV series are hot, they have season-long arcs with master villains and strong continuity. Let's try to do that for our movies! The problem is, something that works for 22 episodes of hour-long TV, with gradual revelations, doesn't work in 4 movies over a decade, especially when there were no earlier hints. "Surprise!! This is what really happened in that movie you maybe watched 9 years ago" misunderstands your audience and your medium, I think.
Look, I'm fairly agnostic over the prospect of bringing back Blofeld. And while I'm not sold on the Austin Powers approach of making him related to Bond, I could support that if done well. But you have to commit to the concept. You have to make us care that he's Blofeld, and care that they're foster brothers. If you're going to do it, DO IT. And three or four lines lines inserted into a script are nowhere near enough to get it done.
The trouble is, the script-writers forgot the whole "make it personal" angle for Franz Oberhauser. Compare, for a far better example of surprise villain revealed to be personal, Goldeneye. There, 006 and 007 argue the entire movie, about their beliefs and past friendships and means and methods and...the entire film is about their relationship and what their job has done to them. SPECTRE? Bond realizes that the villain is his presumed-dead foster brother (although for some reason doesn't actually tell anyone about their relationship), but doesn't say a single word to Blofeld about it the entire movie. Not a "how could you have killed him" or "He loved you" or "he saved my life why couldn't you share" or anything at all. Blofeld's grievance against Bond is short to the point of parody ("My father was fond of him") and is so underwritten and underdeveloped that you have to wonder why anyone even bothered. And so none of the limited dialogue between Bond and Blofeld has even half of the zest or frisson of that between, for example, Bond and Silva.It's an idea that neither the writers nor the actors actually seem interested in.
As to the unveiling of Oberhauser as Blofeld...well, meh. Did naming him Blofeld do anything to make the movie better? It's a bland and consequence-less reveal, feeling more like a "we have the rights to Blofeld and we damn well are using them right now!" than any kind move that actually improved the film. Honestly, if you're not going to commit 100% to "Here's Blofeld," well, you might as well have not even used him. The film would have been stronger, and you could have taken the wasted time and spent it developing the Bond/Oberhauser relationship.
So Waltz is left to perform a shell of a character, someone who is more of a random collection of traits than a character. He worships a meteor? Why not! He does obscure torture for no reason? Sure!! [It should be noted how terrible Blofeld is at the torture part. He says the first probe will effects Bond's sight, hearing and balance. It does no such thing. The second probe is supposed to remove his ability to recognize faces. Again, it does no such thing. So it's just sadism for sadism's sake, unlike, say, LeChiffre's torture of Bond. Why dress it up as quasi-anatomical research if you're not going to follow through?] It's a shame, as Waltz could have been an admirable Bond villain had someone bothered to write one for him.
We should also note the lack of convincing crisis they have created here, as the movie doesn't even bother to show us what the countdown timer was down to when Q cracked the code and shut down the project. And who cared about the midnight deadline, anyway? Did it matter if Q still shut it down later, say at 12:05? What irrevocably happened at 12:00? The movie neither knows nor cares.
Bond meets C only once, in the very beginning, never sees or speaks to him again, and has zero to do with his death. Denbigh barely rises to henchman status. His death is poorly earned--he just loses his balance?!?--and seemingly changes nothing (he was, after all, acting with the authority of the Home Secretary, and presumably the Prime Minister--why wouldn't Project Nine Eyes continue, after the elimination of SPECTRE's taps into the feed?) Perhaps the most interesting characteristic he had is the way his 2-day beard just keeps getting thicker and less groomed as the movie goes on. Seriously, you're a top government minister and you don't shave? Even before addressing a conclave of the world's top governments?!?!
As for SPECTRE itself? Well, once again, this has the distinct feel of "we finally got the rights back, and we're using them!" Is there any reason this wouldn't have worked just as well if the group were QUANTUM, instead? As a group SPECTRE is mentioned only twice in the film, and never by anyone affiliated with the group. Hell, we're never told what it stands for (if anything). They don't do anything noticeably different that we saw QUANTUM doing in QoS. So again I ask--why bring back something so weighted with history and expectations, and then do absolutely nothing interesting with them?
And in the end, nothing 007 does would seem too have any impact on SPECTRE's operations. They were able to make the "board" resign which freed up their sexual slavery operations without Operation 9 Eyes being in effect. There's no indication that they couldn't get the WHO in line for their African Rx plans. Surely, Denbigh wasn't their sole operative, right? They had to have people in other intelligence services, right? So other than replacing Blofeld, it doesn't seem as if they're going to be substantially slowed in what they do. [Not to mention, given the level of access to information Blofeld had--he watched live feeds in MI-6 HQ, for heaven's sake!!--it's not hard to imagine him blackmailing himself out of captivity soon]. The whole "evil plan" revolves around making SPECTRE a little more efficient. Yes, that fails, but they're still as much a threat at the end of the movie as they were at the beginning.
Well, that all sounded unrelentingly negative, more so than I planned. Sorry about that. But I do feel that the film failed quite badly on the villain/plot side. So let's shift focus, and talk about some good things!
That being said, I'm not a big fan of the way she decides to "break up" with him just as he's headed off to risk his life in a final confrontation. Seriously--now is when you choose to lay that on him, when he's about to go risk his life? You can't say, "when you're done we need to talk?" Of course, the screenwriters needed some excuse to separate her from the MI-6ers so she could be kidnapped...Still, it was a terribly abrupt transition from "I'm going with you...I love you" to "I can't do this anymore."
Otherwise, Craig's Bond is the one we've grown used to--terse, intense, stubborn, charming when need be, and relentless. His scenes with Lea Seydoux are great, and make a worthy addition to the list of Bond romances.
Craig is showing no signs of slowing down--or does he? He seems to have a lot less physical stunt work than in prior movies. After the teaser, there's the car chase (not much physically required of Bond), the plane/car chase (again, he's just driving), the train fight (fair enough, pretty brutal), and the escape from Blofeld's compound, in which he just walks forward, shooting, while the SPECTRE agents just miss him. Indeed, in that scene (and the beginning of the plane/car chase), he's more like a Terminator than a secret agent--he defeats dozens of opponents far too easily, which undercuts the film's thematic attempt to make him more human. He never feels like he's in real danger at any point. Just a coincidence, or are they trying to take it easy on the physical exertions for Craig?
As to the song itself? Well, Sam Smith and Jimmy Napes allegedly wrote it under half an hour. it certainly shows in the lyrics. Bah. And I'm not particularly a fan of Smith's vocal stylings. Still, musically, the song isn't half bad, and I'll be damned if the tune doesn't stick in my head for quite awhile after each listening. With tighter (and less repetitive) lyrics, a singer who wasn't so consumed with over-emoting each note, and using the actual title in the song, this could have been a top-notch Bond theme.
So what do we have? A flawed Bond film, probably the least of the Craig films upon reflection. There are some good things here--a number of them. But turgid pacing (more below), and a complete failure to make the villains and their master plan interesting or credible drag the movie down. And what worked in Skyfall doesn't work in SPECTRE, as the script isn't at all interested in explaining anything above the obligatory hand waves, instead seemingly focused on rounding up the usual Bond suspects at the expense any attempt at depth or originality. Which is sad, because the elements are there, and after the teaser, my hopes were quite high. And the ham-fisted attempts to force in Blofeld and brotherhood without bothering in any way to develop those ideas got in the way of the better elements of the film.
Perhaps the most damning thing I can say about the movie? The damned Heineken commercial has more energy and elan and creativity than anything that happens post-teaser in SPECTRE.
SPECTRE is not a bad movie, by any means. But it is a disappointing one, as outside of the teaser, there seems little energy or innovation, and the film seems more concerned with reestablishing ownership of some intellectual properties than telling an actual story with them. For the first time in the Craig era, a Bond movie felt more like a contractual obligation, than an actual film with something to say.
SNELL'S RANDOM THOUGHTS AND QUESTIONS:
**Why 150 minutes? Seriously, this movie is waaay too long.
I know, it's only a few minutes longer than Skyfall.
But this movie is pokey. The pace is sooo slow at times. At points Sam Mendes seems more interested in slow pans over foreign vistas than in moving the story along.Where Skyfall crackled, SPECTRE seems to drag often.
Where to cut? Easy. Drop the meteor scene--seriously, what the hell was up with that? Drop the scene where Moneypenny gets the phone...we can't even tell what phone she's using the one time Bond calls, and since C was able to record the whole thing, the point of giving her a burner phone is moot, anyway. How about not showing us all 6 doors and 4 flights of steps to the safe house? There--I've just saved 7 or 8 minutes, without any hard work...
**So, what is the point with the opening caption? Did Mendes & company feel the need to bludgeon us over the head with the movie's theme? Did they have no confidence that we could figure this out ourselves?
**C's villainy couldn't have been any more telegraphed if he had beaten orphans and evicted windows in front of M and 007. Especially when Tanner mentions that recent terrorist attacks have "played into his hands," and his mantra and initiative are mentioned practically verbatim at the SPECTRE meeting.
**As great as the teaser was, they seem to have used up all their budget for extras there.
There's no one else about skiing, or driving, during the plane chase scene (we had just seen a cable car full of snow-boarders!) No one else in the dining car of the train, or the kitchen? Rome's roads are mighty empty, even if it is after midnight.
And most egregiously...we're 5 minutes from activation of the biggest security initiative in British history...and there's not one single employee in the CNS building? Not one? No analyst, no tech, no janitor, no security guard?!?!?!
**The Judi Dench cameo was unexpected.
But if you're going to leave a "from-beyond-the-grave" assignment for someone, could it hurt to dole out a little more information? Why kill Sciarra? What are you expecting 007 to find? How much did you know?
Seriously, if you want your best agent to accomplish something, perhaps be a little less cryptic.
**Speaking of cryptic, why does everyone refer to to White as "The Pale King?" Why the pseudonym? Why not just Mr. White? Of course, if they just called him Mr. White to begin with, the movie is much shorter...
**Not to mention, if Bond gives Q the ring to examine right at the beginning, well, that eliminates a lot of running around, right? Q can still magically pull all of the information of the ring, MI-6 can know that everything is magically connected, and M can stop being such a dick to Bond, right?
So why does Bond wait days to ask Q to research the ring?
**If SPECTRE has already poisoned White with thallium, why is it so urgent that they send someone to assassinate him now? Isn't that already mission accomplished??
Is this the first explicit reference we've had to another Double-0 during the Craig era?
**Say what you will about length or pacing issues, Sam Mendes knows how to make a static scene look as sharp as hell. The funeral, Tangiers, the crater---it all looks lovely.
**OK, why, exactly, was the hit ordered on Lucia? We're never given a reason, really, except it was sort of implied that while he was alive they could depend on her silence. That's kind of a harsh standard, isn't it? Every time a SPECTRE member dies, their spouse--and children--are killed?
**The bit where Blofeld first sits down, whispers for his aide, and the aide pulls the microphone a whole one inch closer to him? That was hilarious. Seriously. A tiny bit more camp like that might have helped...
**So, why did Blofeld insist there be a public challenge to the guy who volunteered to replace Sciarra? Did he have something against the guy? Did he have some reason to want to promote Hinx? Did he just want to put on a public display of brutality to impress Bond, whom he knew was watching? Or is he just a freakin' sadist?
Classic Blofeld had no problem publicly killing underlings, but it was always to punish failure and stealing...
**While the DB10's gadgets (and lack thereof) were cool and amusing, it was a fairly boring car chase (which can sadly be said of most of the stunts/action sequences). If nothing else, the Fast & Furious movies have raised the bar a bit for what's exciting in car chases, and the one were given here is mostly unengaging and perfunctory. There's little sense of danger...
**Does it seem credible that Oberhauser's MI-6 file wouldn't mention the fact that one of their Double-0 agents lived with him as a youth? Especially since it was a matter of public record (Bond had the legal form in his Skyfall effects)!!
Then again, Maybe C somehow managed to expunge that bit of data...
**Mmmm, prolytic digestive enzyme shake...
**The plane/car chase was pretty good, but the storytelling initially was very unclear. Since Mendes never shows us Bond taking off to grab a plane--or indeed heading off in a different direction at all--when the plane first appears the viewer has no idea at all that 007 is flying that plane. Some different editing and/or use of the Bond theme was called for here, I think...
**So, Mr. White dry-walled off an entire room of the L'Americain hotel? With no obvious secret door, how the hell did he get in and out? Did he just tear it down, and reblock it up when he left? Did the hotel know he was doing this? Or did he pay them to do this?
**I've already discussed the lack of observers during the train fight. But what about employees--conductors? Security people? This fight, unlike the train fight in FRWL, ranged throughout the whole train, and did thousands of dollars worth of damage...and no one follows up? Investigates? Throws them off the train? (Maybe they were thrown off the train, which is why they got off with no plan??)
**Seriously, the plan was once you got to that point in the Moroccan
desert was to just sit around and hope someone came by to pick you up?
Really, you had nothing else? Had could you know that Blofeld would send
a 1948 Rolls Royce Wraith for you? How long were they prepared to wait?
What if no one came to pick them up--Bond and Madeleine just wait
there, and Blofeld's plan succeeds!!
**Man, that part with the meteor continues to baffle me...what the hell?
**Blofeld's cadre of "info-ninjas" was pretty cool.
**If you're just going to torture Bond to death, why the big deal about "teaching him a lesson"? Needless time-filler, perhaps, even though Bond insisting that Madeleine look at him rather than at her father's death was a key part in that couple's development.
**Yes, it did win the Guinness World Record for the biggest stunt explosion (or whatever). But still, I feel that Bond's escape was far too easy, and the complex went up far too easily. Reminiscent of that hotel at the end of QoS--one bullet blows up the whole damned complex?!?
I don't mind Blofeld's escaping there, though...as Bond's helicopter takes off, you can see a couple of black SUV's driving away from the fireball.
**Still, that was in many ways an emotional climax of the film, and to go back to London to take out C doesn't feel well-justified. As we've discussed, C was nothing to Bond, there was no real meaningful countdown, and honestly, the stakes aren't all that high. So having Blofeld survive, and show up to kidnap Swann and Bond, feels a bit tacked on and "oh, come on now," Obviously, it's necessary to give some weight to the finale, because honestly, the others are able to deal with Denbigh without breaking a sweat (or they should have been. Poor show, M).
**The Center for National Security, the big be-all and end-all for the British intelligence services...doesn't have bulletproof windows?
**That Bond just happens to come to a stop right outside where Madeleine is being held is poor writing, since he has no clue whatsoever where she might be. That he hears her thumping and screaming, when she's revealed to be bound and gagged so tightly that there's no way she could have made those noises, feels like something added post-production to explain how he found her.
**Bond making impossible shots to take down Blofeld's copter is somewhat lacking in tension and excitement. We should have somehow had a more direct chase/confrontation, with Bond a little more challenged.
**As I mentioned above, I like how the finale echoes Madeleine's "I don't like guns," and also calls back M's "licence not to kill." Well done.
And it's good to see a villain survive to face justice once in awhile. And if nothing else, Blofeld has a history of that.
**And again, I have to question what happens in the wake of this story.
Denbigh clearly wasn't going completely rogue. He merged the services, built a huge freaking building, set-up joint intelligence operations with 8 other countries, and shut down the Double-0 section...all with the blessing of the Home Secretary. This wasn't some secret operation--only SPECTRE's involvement was unknown (or did the Home Secretary know of that?).
So, does the HomeSec (and/or the PM) just order them to start up Nine Eyes again, because it was idea they approved of, just removing any SPECTRE malware or whatever? They were down with the idea before. With Denbigh dead and Blofeld no doubt held at a black site somewhere, no one can spill the beans (unless M goes rogue...).
Meanwhile, couldn't the other 8 nations just go on without Britain? Was there some physical reason that the moment England went online was key? If the other countries were down with it, why wouldn't they just proceed with 8 nations' intelligence linked up, which SPECTRE do doubt already had a way to tap into?
And if word got out that the British Director of Intelligence was complicit in arranging terrorist attacks in their countries to sway their opinions...well, that's an act of war, isn't it? So can England back out without admitting that they were duped into attacking South Africa, Mexico, Germany, et al?
**BOND SCORE: 2, Lucia and Madeleine. And poor Estrella is still waiting in that hotel room...
And finally, as always...