Spectre may be one of the most self-hating movies ever made. It’s still an action adventure, it’s still 007, but it doesn’t really enjoy being that way — and somehow, it’s not a bad thing.
The 24th 007 movie sees James Bond (Daniel Craig) again on the run from MI6 after an unauthorized skirmish in Mexico City. With under-the-table help from Miss Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) and Q (Ben Whishaw), Bond sets off after Spectre, the mysterious organization that seems to be behind Quantum from Craig’s first two movies, and also Skyfall because of retconning.
Spectre opens on a spectacular, electrifying Mexico City chase scene, and then Sam Smith’s sad, slow “The Writing’s on the Wall” hits the audience like a cold shower. In the moment, I immediately pegged it as one of the worst Bond songs ever, and it really is tough to listen to out of context, but it’s actually perfect for this movie, which takes the conventional Bond plot and incorporates it into that same cold shower.
To understand how it does this, we need to get into some film fundamentals. Movies stimulate two senses — sight and hearing. The extremely rough rule of thumb is visuals make viewers feel a certain way, and audio tells them to feel a certain way. It’s a dynamic that only stands out when it’s done poorly, and the music wants you to feel something that the pictures and plot just can’t create — Man of Steel springs to mind as an example, if you really want to put yourself through that.
Spectre doesn’t have poor audio matching by any stretch — instead, in many of its higher leverage scenes, it simply has no music at all. The car chase? Engines roar and there is no other sound. When Mr. Hinx (Dave Bautista) ambushes Bond and Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux) on a train? The dull wet packing sounds of meat on meat, and nothing else. The brass section normally makes a feast of Bond action scenes, but even when Bond is flying a plane after some cars driving down a mountainside, these scenes seem thoughtful and reserved.
At some points, it feels more like a horror movie than an action movie. Again, none of this is a bad thing. Director Sam Mendes delivers another beautifully shot film, particularly in the climax that literally puts Bond in a spider’s web. While many of the Craig films have eschewed some Bond traditions and held to others, Spectre inverts which is which. Returning after Skyfall’s success, Mendes clearly wanted to do something different, and he did. This is an artistic film, the kind that will take several viewings to fully decode. It may not satisfy fans looking for a typical Bond romp, but the same can be said of all the movies during Craig’s run, which is viewed of as the series’ best in spite of this.
It’s impossible to discuss this movie fully without getting into some details that aren’t really spoilers if you’ve been paying attention, but Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer went to lengths to hide it, so, spoilers below.
John Harrison Miranda Tate Franz Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz) is actually Ernst Stavro Blofeld, the scarred leader of SPECTRE from the ’60s and ’70s films, but you knew that. After an on-and-off legal battle that went all the way back to 1961, MGM finally got the rights to all of Ian Fleming’s characters in 2013, including the SPECTRE organization and related characters, and at that instant everybody knew the next Bond film would center on them. It was so implicit that Waltz would be playing Blofeld that they didn’t announce, “We’ve cast Christoph Waltz,” they announced, “We’ve cast Christoph Waltz as Not Blofeld.”
I really don’t get why filmmakers are still lying about bringing old characters into rebooted franchises — J.J. Abrams did it with Star Trek Into Darkness and nobody really bought it, Christopher Nolan did it twice with The Dark Knight Rises and nobody really bought it then either. Just stop it.
The Craig string of Bond films has always been a little confused about whether or not they want to be a story arc, and Spectre brings that confusion to another level. Quantum of Solace directly related to Casino Royale, but Skyfall seemed to be its own thing. They wanted to introduce Blofeld as an already established threat, so he took credit for Quantum’s work in the first two movies, but also took credit for rogue former MI6 agent Raul Silva’s work in Skyfall. Then, when the film celebrates this, it completely cuts out references to Quantum of Solace, because that got poorer reviews than the other two. It’s weird to say after four spectacular movies, but MGM kind of needs to get its act together on this issue.
On a larger scale, it — or whatever production company takes up the next movies — needs to get its act together in regards to how they make and keep Bond fresh. Casino Royale blazed a trail in 2006 by having Bond be an alcoholic and actually fall in love and then lose that love, and Quantum of Solace continued the alcoholic overtones and insinuated that his nature as an assassin was to blame for Vesper Lynd’s death, and then in Skyfall he was also an alcoholic and also lost someone he really cared for — it’s gotten to the point that the all-new, all-different Bond is getting repetitive as well. Familiar story elements really stick out now that the movies are supposed to stand more on their own. It was an issue with Skyfall, it’s an issue with Spectre, and it’s going to continue to be an issue until someone figures it out.
Leopold Knopp is a formerly professional film critic, licensed massage therapist and journalism student at the University of North Texas. The Inca Lines were actually dug by Jesus himself during his trip to America to satisfy his dad, who had complained about not having drawings to pin to his refrigerator. I’ve had a change of heart in regard to reader input. It is now welcomed and encouraged. Like Reel Entropy on Facebook, follow it on Twitter @reelentropy, and shoot questions to reelentropy@.