Warning: major spoilers for Spectre and the other Daniel Craig Bond movies follow. If you have not watched them and don’t want the plots ruined, read no further. You have been warned.
A couple of weekends ago, I went and saw the new James Bond film Spectre. Going into it, I had the sneaking suspicion I wasn’t going to find it as thrilling or engaging as Skyfall, the movie before it. For the most part, I was right. But the issue with Spectre for me wasn’t just that it wasn’t well written or well paced. There was a deeper thread going on that ends up being the root of many of the movie’s issues.
Spectre sees the return of long-standing Bond villain Ernst Stavro Blofeld, a figure from the days when Sean Connery played Bond. Blofeld is pretty much the iconic movie supervillain. He’s one of the original guys who built a giant lair inside a volcano, and is one of the most parodied elements of spy fiction (the Austin Powers movies poke a lot of fun at that trope). Leading up to the movie, I was interested to see what take they were going to have on the character in the more gritty reboot of Bond they had been working with for the past few movies. It had already been revealed that Bond and Blofeld had a familial tie this time around, which was an intriguing twist on the formula. So I was excited to see how it all panned out.
I can at least say the movie has a lot of great ideas in it. It attempts to tie together all of the Daniel Craig movies in one big web, implicating Blofeld as the central mastermind behind all of the enemies Bond has had to face so far in the reboot. This would have been a very cool story arc for the character. There’s just one major problem.
None of it feels planned out in the slightest.
Back in the first couple of Craig movies, Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace, we had a shadowy organization in the form of Quantum. A lot of people speculated that Quantum was the new Spectre and that the Daniel Craig movies were going to focus on his encounters with them. But then in the end of Solace, Bond kills who we’re led to assume is the head of Quantum (at least I think he was…I was never able to follow much of that movie), which puts an end to the organization’s dealings. In the next movie, Skyfall, we’re treated to a villain who has no visible ties to Quantum because the people behind the movie told us they were going in a new direction.
But then, psyche! Apparently…
Turns out Silva (the villain in Skyfall) was connected all along! But why…exactly? There’s no real reason for him to be involved in any of it. Skyfall felt like its own standalone story. And that’s kind of how Bond movies always were, standalone adventures. The franchise has always played it fast and loose with continuity. Bond even gets married in one of the older films only to have his wife shot and killed in the film’s closing minutes. But that event has little to no effect on the rest of the movies, aside from some occasional vague references to it (even Pierce Brosnan’s Bond makes reference to it at one point).
Anyways, back to Skyfall. Silva’s character has one basic motivation: to get revenge on M for abandoning him. You see, Silva was once an MI-6 agent. He screwed up in the field, and like we hear will happen in so many spy stories, he was disavowed. He was captured and tortured for a long time. And no one came to save him. The end result of all this is that once Silva got free from his captors, he despised M and MI-6, making it his ultimate goal to destroy them both. Despite how ridiculous certain bits of his plan are (such as the inexplicably well-timed train bit), his motivation feels right. It feels justified. It feels deserved.
And then in Spectre we’re expected to believe that it was Blofeld pushing Silva along the whole time. So apparently, according to this logic, Blofeld sets Silva up to be disavowed and tortured, which he somehow knows will end up in Silva concocting this insane plan to get revenge. Now, I could buy Quantum being just another branch of Spectre. That would make sense, as it is just another shadowy organization that seemed to be a nod to Spectre in the first place. But Silva’s inclusion in all of it just feels so random and out of place.
This is what I think Spectre’s major problem is. The payoff that the movie is selling to us doesn’t feel deserved. Nothing in the past three movies leading up to Spectre showed any indication that Blofeld was involved in any way. At least in the old Sean Connery movies, you would get glimpses of Blofeld behind the scenes. Maybe you hardly ever saw his face, but you knew he was there. Spectre feels like Blofeld just crops up out of the blue and says “hey James, you know all that crappy stuff you’ve gone through? I was behind it all, because I hate you. Daddy taught you how to ski so I killed him and made it look like an avalanche.”
That’s his actual motivation for doing everything. His father spent too much time with James as a kid, so he killed him and spent the rest of his life trying to make James suffer. It’s as ridiculous as it sounds.
Maybe this wouldn’t seem so silly if we just had more time to understand Blofeld’s character. But as it is, we see him for maybe twelve minutes out of the entire movie. He is revealed to us in the first half of the movie through a tense meeting scene (although he’s named something else…he reveals that he took his mother’s maiden name to become Blofeld later on) and then he disappears until the film’s final act. All in all, we’ve spent about five minutes with this character by the time he reveals his parental issues that drive his entire evil scheme. It just doesn’t seem very believable.
And that’s the thing. Daniel Craig’s movies were seemingly meant to be a bit more realistic, relying less on gadgets and more on pure physical prowess and smarts on Bond’s part. After he meets Vesper in Casino Royale and is subsequently betrayed, it is implied that the incident has ruined Bond’s relationship with women from that point out. And yet, in Spectre we see Bond romancing women the way he always did in the old movies and even falling in love with one of them later on. It just doesn’t feel deserved because the movie is caught up on whether it wants to be an old Bond movie or a new one. It tries to make things more gritty yet more fantastical, and ends up stuck in the middle somewhere. The ridiculous parts of the movie don’t seem appropriate and the gritty aspects feel almost ham-fisted. It’s a movie trying to be two different movies at once, yet succeeding at neither.
Bolfeld is the perfect exemplification of this. In the old movies, he was just a megalomaniac who wanted to take over the world. He wasn’t necessarily a sociopath. He was just evil. But in the new Bond, he’s not really that same man anymore. All he seems bent on is destroying Bond. Which then leads me to ask: why the whole secret organization bent on world domination? Are we really expected to just believe that Blofeld went through all that trouble trying to take over the world just to get back at Bond? Spectre as an organization feels like it’s just an afterthought, like Blofeld said “hey I guess we can do this whole global domination thing, but I really just want to screw with James for a while”. The organization feels like it only exists because it has to exist, because that’s who Blofeld is in the old movies. And that is Spectre‘s biggest failing. It tries to break new ground with the franchise, but it’s also so caught up in being loyal to old source material that shouldn’t even matter anymore.
And the silly thing is, by the end of the movie Spectre as an organization has collapsed and Blofeld is in jail. The character who pretty much haunts the background of many old Bond movies is taken care of in a single film in the new generation. Spectre wants to tie everything together, but it also seems to want to contain the Blofeld arc to one movie. The indecision on the part of the filmmakers to go one way or the other with the movie leaves us with a film that has all these different ideas that are never given a proper exploration. Blofeld’s motivation is just a single line of dialogue that only serves to explain his hatred for Bond. They never delve into their past and explore what that relationship was like. It’s just an excuse for more explosions.
But hey, explosions are still cool right?
Well that’s all I have for you this time. In the end, Spectre isn’t a bad movie (better than Quantum of Solace, that’s for sure). But it certainly has its issues when you start looking too deep. It’s an enjoyable film, just not up to par with some of Daniel Craig’s earlier outings as Bond.
Tune in next Wednesday for another post, and as always, have a wonderful week.