(SPOILER ALERT: If you are one of the seven people left on Earth who have not seen this movie, yet, do not read this review. We are going to spoil The Living Daylights out of it.)
Spectre is the perfect name for 2015’s James Bond film, as it is focused on the top-secret organization of evil by the same name AND as the film is a pale shade of what a Bond flick should be.
There’s evil, a girl, an awesome car and a series of exotic locales. It’s got Daniel Craig as Agent 007 and Christoph Waltz as the ultimate super villain Ernst Blofeld. Craig has arguably been the best Bond since Sean Connery and nobody in film today plays villainy like Waltz. Seriously, how could the franchise go wrong?
The premise of the film is simple enough. An evil secret organization named S.P.E.C.T.R.E. is undermining global security to enrich itself, and the United Kingdom’s intelligence agency, MI6, is all that stands in the way of S.P.E.C.T.R.E.’s nefarious plans. It is safe, reliable territory for the ongoing reboot of the Bond franchise.
In hindsight, our first clue that something was going wrong was how gleefully Craig was promoting the film as his last as 007. He repeated time and again how tired he was of the role and how excited he was to exit it.
All movie long, Craig looks tired and bored. In the scenes where he is looking to get lucky, he looks more reluctant, “If I must.” In the scenes where he gets to kick some butt, it looks as if he’s thinking, “Isn’t this a foregone conclusion already?” Mostly, he looks as if he’s going through the motions.
To be an action star at 47 is no easy feat. A standard workout is enough to wear on most of us in the over-40 set. To play Bond these days requires Craig to embrace military-grade workouts and hand-to-hand combat training. It’s grueling. Moviegoers today won’t accept the reasonably easy and unbelievable fight scenes a 58-year-old Roger Moore got away with in A View to a Kill back in 1985. (Ironically, Moore was the last actor to play Bond who could have been Bond’s actual age. Moore was born in 1927. Technically, Bond is a World War II hero who dove into Cold War espionage with a martini in hand. It probably isn’t the right time to get into how Bond’s creator, Ian Fleming, was an actual WWII intelligence officer, but it is still a really cool fact.)
Whereas Craig seems tired and bored, Waltz seems to be channeling a warm and loving grandfather. His Blofeld doesn’t seem to be a villain who delights in tormenting the weak and insignificant peons of planet earth who are only meant to be pawns in his grandiose schemes of world domination. He doesn’t seem to enjoy torturing Bond or being destructive. His persona as Blofeld seems to be saying, “I’m really sorry guys. They’re making me be evil, but when we’re all done, I promise to make you some really nice hot cocoa. Please don’t hate me.”
His minions stand in terror of him in the movie, but he really only seems congenial to them and his adversaries…even as he’s drilling out Bond’s brain. It is understandable that he wants to avoid the mockery a “Dr. Evil”-style villain from the Austin Powers spoofs would garner, but Waltz’ specialty is cruelty and being despicable.
Disappointing as it is, the movie isn’t a total loss. The chase scene through Rome is one of the best car chases in recent history. It is as aerodynamic and smooth as Bond’s custom-built Aston Martin DB10. The cityscape cinematography shows Rome at its most beautiful. Rome’s tourist board couldn’t have constructed a better video postcard.
Shooting the opening scenes during Mexico City’s Dia de los Muertos gave the film a lot more cultural flavor that seemed to have been missing in recent films. Plus, it seemed to give a bit of a nod to Moore’s debut in 1973’s Live and Let Die. (It just needed some snakes.)
On a more philosophical level, the movie cleverly addresses a serious issue: cyber security. It is both relevant and a little dissatisfying. In the movie, S.P.E.C.T.R.E. is data mining governments and citizens for all of their weaknesses to exploit them for their own nefarious purposes. They are clearly the bad guys and the British government is clearly good.
It is relevant because data mining is the scourge and boon of our modern world. It certainly sounds evil but it seems that the organizations that are considered good use it the most. The U.S. federal government already has vast data farms monitoring all of our communications and God knows what else. And the government is nothing compared to the chilling amount of information Google, Facebook and our credit card companies are mining and storing about each of us. S.P.E.C.T.R.E. almost seems quaint in comparison.
That is what is dissatisfying about the movie. In real life, we don’t seem to have any answers for how to deal with data mining. Some people are for it; others are against it. Bond can’t win by blowing up a single data farm. Big data is already so ingrained in our society that an old-skool spy can’t do much about it. The computer hacking Q, played by Ben Whishaw, will likely be the new hero of the modern world, as there will be little Bond can do in binary. (And seriously, who wants to watch Ben type for 90 minutes straight?) Bond doesn’t seem to go out on a limb to suggest anything that can realistically keep up with the data-mining problem nor does he propose a solution for dealing with it.
However, it is refreshing that the movie acknowledges that Bond is a bit of a dinosaur in the modern world of intelligence. It seems as if they must find a new place of relevance for him.
This brings us to the end of the film. Bond quits and rides off into the sunset. What’s he going to do with the rest of his life? Serve coffee at Starbucks? Manage an independent bookstore? Learn accounting? He has a limited skillset that really only has one purpose.
As a franchise, the future of Bond is also at a crossroads. Getting back to his origins, Bond is really a 90+-year-old man. A bad-ass in World War II and the early Cold War, there isn’t much he can do with a walker or cane in the new millennium. As a franchise, he is more popular than ever. Every generation wants a suave, sophisticated spy cleverly working and fighting to protect us from evil while bedding the hottest women of the day. Even most bad Bond movies still leave their target demographic feeling pretty good.
So how does a nearly 60-year-old franchise live on to Die Another Day? In case Hollywood comes calling, I recommend updating the concept of the hero. Agents such 006, 008 and 003 are forever getting killed off. Eventually a new 006 is trained to once again die for Bond to save the day by taking over his case. Perhaps, the franchise can explore the concept of the name always going with the number. This allows for several generations of James Bond 007 to have existed and continue propagating future films. Thus we can finally have a black Bond, as is bandied about by other speculators, and it won’t be weird. The new agent James Bond 007 wasn’t going to be born James Bond, he becomes James Bond. He fills out a proud tradition and takes on a special mantle. James Bond can be forever young enough to handle his vigorous duties while learning from the lessons of his predecessors. He’s an ever-evolving super spy who can keep up with the times. No one will need to keep questioning how his accent changes from Scottish to English or his hair changes from brown to blonde or his skin may, one day, change from white to black.
With an explanation like that, any new Bond can go down with the public as smoothly as a chilled vodka martini that is shaken, not stirred.
Nathaniel Cerf saved up $27 to purchase a used copy of Goldfinger on VHS in 1983. It was his first video tape, and it still plays well to this day. You can reach him at Nathaniel.Cerf@aent.com.