Directed by: Sam Mendes. [spoilers] Spectre? I barely knew her! (…) Anyway, I’m kind of dreading this post because I’m pretty interested in Bond, and I feel an obligation to make a pretty substantial and interesting post about this movie and what it means, etc, etc, but I’m not sure how much I actually give a shit right now. I did a whole big think piece about the franchise a couple years ago, basically stewing about how interested I was to see how they balance the inherent incompatibility of the Bond mythology with the expectations and sensibilities of the modern era. And later, when Skyfall came out, same thing—I was really interested in that movie, I found it really satisfying, but I could sense a kind of finality, that they had perhaps run out of potential, like Skyfall was the rope and the only thing to do would be to stop entirely and re-boot, or to continue on and hang themselves with that rope. But I was secretly really really really hoping that Spectre would cut the rope in half (in the Alexandrian sense) and find a third way, that the little seeds they’ve been sowing, the whole thing with Mister White (whose performance by Jesper Christensen was keeping the bar incredibly high throughout these movies, I could have taken twice as much Mister White!), the thread of the Quantum organization, some thread tying the whole thing together, in a way unlike the rest of the episodic franchise but still hearkening back to the old SPECTRE/SMERSH days, etc—all of that shit had tremendous potential, and it was in that realm of potential that I was very excited by these dumb action movies.
So then, in short, I was tremendously disappointed in this thing, and for a lot of reasons. I’m exhausted just thinking about this fucking thing. Where do I begin? I guess let’s start with the main storyline, the villain, the big reveal, SPECTRE itself. So the whole Quantum thing was actually called SPECTRE? Okay. Why did they call it Quantum? It’s a double-secret society? (Are they on double-secret probation?) Is it perhaps because the Quantum of Solace movie didn’t do that well and they’re trying to distance themselves from it? (For the record, I thought it was pretty cool, and miles above this turd.) And the whole idea of the whole thing was based on childhood jealousy, a personal vendetta against our hero, that prompted the villain’s life-long obsession to create a global spy network thriving on war and destruction? All because of petulant sibling rivalry? And it’s fucking Blofeld—good old Blofeld, with his grey Nehru jacket and a fucking white cat—and it turns out (turns the fuck out) that although Bond was an orphan, he was raised in Blofeld’s surrogate family and the dad always liked Bond better so Blofeld spends his whole life hatching an elaborate system of shadowy world domination that’s actually just there to get his revenge. So, setting aside the bare inadequacy of that, I’m just really not sure about the entire thing to begin with, by which I mean, the entire idea of bringing Blofeld into it, of invoking those specific Blofeld tropes—the grey Nehru jacket, the white cat, and eventually the scar on his eye. To put it subtly—whose fucking stupid idea was that? Have they literally been living under a fucking rock for the last 30 years? And I mean this seriously—were they not aware of the Austin Powers franchise? There are many, many, many, many reasons why the classical Bond mythology is incompatible with the modern era—a white, womanizing, sexist, violent imperialist who fucks and shoots his way around the world to make the world safe for Anglo-American supremacy—and I’m not convinced that this mythology can be “updated” as much as ignored or tolerated, that we’re stuck with either just managing and watering down this Bond fantasy that we love so much, or else doing away with it altogether and letting him exist in the past like the Cowboy Hero. But all of that shit aside, one thing is painfully obvious, and has been obvious since fucking Roger Moore’s day—Blofeld is over. That figure is no longer remotely threatening or dangerous, because he was always pretty cartoonish, the point where Bond villains dip furthest into being comic book supervillains, GI Joe supervillains, cartoony, unbelievable, escapist, boy’s fantasy, juvenalia, and steeped in the Cold War no less. We are in a post-Cold War world, but more importantly, we are in a post-Austin Powers world. Maybe I’m being subtle here: Blofeld is Dr. Evil. Dr. Evil is funny and absurd. Dr. Evil is funny and absurd because he exposes how funny and absurd the figure of Blofeld was in the first place, and Austin Powers was funny because it exposed how funny and absurd the figure of Bond was in the first place. Somehow, by running completely in the other direction, by getting super duper serious and invoking a bunch of great serious actors to be really violent and disturbing—Mads Mikkelsen, Mathieu Amalric, Javier Bardem—and by mostly jettisoning the goofy shit that kept the Bond mythology in that state of juvenalia, the movies stood a good chance of demonstrating their relevance, their functionality in the 21st century. And here we are, at the culmination of this great re-boot, the high mark of the Daniel Craig years, and they pull fucking Dr. Evil back in, they get Dave Bautista in there to be the mute, whacky, Jaws-like henchman, they put in more goofy asides featuring the average civilian on the street (the slow driver in the car chase), and a whole host of parodic elements to subvert the fucking franchise. I can’t tell you how tired I’m getting of edgy, post-post-satirical, ironic, distanced, self-aware, aware-post-self-aware exercises in the culture. For a minute there, it looked like these Bond folks were really just trying to make the fucking thing work. And now, we get fucking Professor Moriarty from Sherlock as the head of the super spy NSA evil government wing (who turns out to be the bad guy—who fucking saw that coming?), and we get Moneypenny and Q rushing to M in a pub, pleading “How are we gonna help 007?” like a fucking rag tag after-school mystery solving kids club, and we get Bond strapped to a chair being tortured by some elaborate machine while Blofeld sits there and passively allows the leading lady to get close enough to Bond for him to whisper in her ear so he can set off his watch bomb and miraculously escape at the last minute. We get a painfully predictable side-plot about global surveillance that’s just a re-treading of the plot from fucking Captain America 2, which even if it were the most subtle fucking cartoon superhero plot ever (and it isn’t), it would still behoove the Bond people to aim a touch higher than a mimicry of a fucking superhero movie that’s fresh in everyone’s mind because it just came out 5 minutes ago. We get voodoo-skull Mardi Gras imagery, alpine chateau imagery, and a ton of other references to internal Bond mythology, which to me ruin the entire thing, because the only reason any of this bullshit is believable is because we suspend our disbelief—we pretend that none of the last 40 years of Bond actually happened. And to be fair, they had a bit of that in Skyfall too, which I found to be equally frustrating, but in this movie, there’s nothing really of substance to balance it out. They bring in Monica Bellucci for no reason, another notch in the belt. They toss away that great Jesper Christensen way too soon. They give the great Léa Seydoux a character arc that flips from headstrong caution to DTF in about 2 minutes of screentime like it was the 60’s still. They bring in Andrew Scott, who was great in Sherlock but way too cartoony for anything more serious. And worst of all, they get fucking Christoph Waltz. Now, hear me out. I thought Christoph was absolutely amazing as the jokey-sinister Nazi in Tarantino’s jokey WWII caper film Inglourious Basterds, and that quality he has was really beneficial to the comedy Carnage, and kind of samey in Django, but I assume it was about right for the jokey-earnestness of Big Eyes. Maybe it was seeing him in The Zero Theorem, which wasn’t great, but which demonstrated a much wider and more interesting emotional pallet than the jokey-samey stuff I’d seen before, which offered a glimmer of hope for his performance of this inherently jokey, ironic character Blofeld. It was possible that maybe the direction they were going would be more Javier Bardem, less Mike Myers. Seeing this movie, though, within a few lines of dialogue, it was clear that, no, they’re going for exactly the same tone as the Tarantino movies. Waltz is maybe capable of great things, but this is not it, and the whole jokey Tarantino thing that put him on the map will be his undoing if he’s not careful. I guess it’s chicken and egg here, because it’s a pretty silly fucking movie anyway. I’m still completely astounded that no one—nobody?????—cleared their throat and said “Hey, Mr. Mendes, do you think if we’re gonna jump the shark and invoke Blofeld, this jokey Dr. Evil characer, we might want to try to go out of our way to avoid the more obvious markers of his absurdly comedic nature, namely the fucking white cat and the grey Nehru jacket, and make sure Waltz doesn’t ham it up too much?”, but apparently not.
Ugh, I don’t know. There was talk of getting Chiwetel Ejiofor in here for a villain—how amazing would that have been? There was talk of a black Bond, Idris Elba (personally I’d go for Chiwetel or David Oyelowo, but regardless), or as I just mentioned, a brown Bond? Anything! Anything to re-inject some life into this thing, but then again, what for? Re-injecting life into the franchise was what the last 3 movies were supposed to be, and they just went and squandered it with this cherry turd on top. And really, it’s interesting how this franchise’s idea of re-invigorating the Bond mythology was to show how, first, the entire Bond mythology is impossible and incompatible with the 21st century, and then to turn the clock back and re-invoke all of the old tropes they had previously jettisoned, to the point, in this movie, that it becomes a self-conscious parody of itself that can’t possibly exist in its current form any more. Daniel Craig, it seems, is totally done with this franchise, and so is Sony, the distributor. I know that money talks, but this is a great opportunity for the Bond people (is it still the Broccolis?) to just chill the fuck out, take a decade, count their millions, let the culture sit for awhile, and give it a gooooood long think about what a half decent Bond movie would look like in the 21st century. As some housecleaning, I just have to add another little disappointment, the fact that we never saw the great character of Felix Leiter, the American CIA wingman, who popped up a little bit in the first two movies and who showed great potential, really get his time to shine. Jeffery Wright was fucking amazing in that role, and really was one of my favourite things about this new run of movies, so of course they had to snip him from this turd fest, or he might out-act fucking Waltz and Bautista in their cartoon pantomiming. (Or maybe Jeffery was too busy with his gold mining operation in West Africa—I wonder how that’s going??) And as one more gripe, I have to say that this run of films, for all their ups and downs, have been pretty consistently awful in the music department. With the stunning exception of Adele’s song for Skyfall, it’s been a fucking stinkathon, the choices they made for theme singers as perplexing as some of the narrative choices. Chris Cornell? Give me a fucking break. Jack White? Puke. And this last one, fucking Sam Smith—are people really listening to this shit? Not only did the song not have a pulse, nor any distinguishing characteristics, but the opening credits images were bloody awful too. Why didn’t they just get Adele in the fucking first place, since she’s the only modern singer who’s capable of the job, and make her the new Shirley Bassey? Who would object to that? My god, the Brosnan years had some amazing songs, from Tina Turner’s Goldeneye, Cheryl Crow’s underrated song for Tomorrow Never Dies, Madonna’s jam in Die Another Day. Hell, even Garbage, though a slightly weird choice, did a pretty good job. So anyway, yes—I’m an old crank and I hate everything.