James Bond movies were highly anticipated events in the 1970s; a British fantasy that frolicked in the shallow end of the male American Dream pool.
We thrilled to the Bondgredients; opening sequence: dashing spy, seen through a rifled gun-barrel, ignoring you, until he swivels, and “blam!” goes the Walther PPK, blood runs down the screen—”dum-dada-dumdum, dum-dum-dum-dum dada-dumdum …” followed by naked-lady silhouettes swimming around the psychedelic screen, to the big-band, kitschy, horn-heavy strains of the classic Bond score.
Bond girls with their outrageously outré triple-x double-entendre names. The perfectly timed, totally predictable stating of the Bond name (and there was much hooting and applause). “Shaken, not stirred” (more hooting). The schooling in the art of Q’s cool spy toys.
Bond must further be chastised by M, platonically flirt with Miss Moneypenny, stunt drive a sexy car.
Bond’s 007 was suave, debonair, tall, dark, handsome, manly, looked very GQ in the suit (worn underneath the wetsuit, goggles, and speargun). Sean Connery and Roger Moore had all this foolish fun nailed down with a sledgehammer. And the ladies loved Sean. They didn’t know he wore a toupée the whole time.
The Craig Bond
Then along came Jason Bourne and spy movies were revolutionized forever; grittier, more workaday. Bond got Bourne’d. Which worked, for a bit. He also got blond. This worked too, because Daniel Craig, like that broke-from-tradition blond mega-moviestar before him, Robert Redford, although blond—had a dark personality.
“Spectre’s” ostensibly got all of a Bond film’s favorite things: style, one-liners, gizmos, girls, fetishized adult beverages, stunts, villains, and exotic locations. But while “Spectre’s” not a bad Bond, it appears the end of the Craig-Bond era has arrived. Bond in general may have finally worn out its welcome (this has been going on for well-nigh 50 years). We’ve likely contracted a collective case of Bond-nnui.
Day of The Dead
Judy Dench’s dead M gives 007 a mission from the grave, which sends him around the globe; we see him first blending into Mexico’s famed Día de los Muertos parade to start spying on the evil organization SPECTRE. They’re very mysterious. We don’t know what it is they actually do.
All you need to know is that SPECTRE may be connected very high up, in the U.K.’s new intelligence administration that’ll likely be replacing the replacement of Dench’s M (Ralph Fiennes), and is wired in everywhere like an Orwellian Big Brother, and would rather use technology and drones than the decrepit 00 (licensed to kill) spy program.
Heading up SPECTRE is one Franz Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz). He intends evil but comes off evil-lite; blabs a lot of Bond backstory that links all Craig’s James Bond movies together. Sort of like Mel Gibson’s Braveheart saying, “Unite the clans!” All of which is unnecessarily contrived and not at all interesting.
“Spectre’s” action is decent, by today’s standards. Had we seen these action set pieces in the ’70s we’d have needed oxygen tanks to recover from fainting. Fact is though, we have already seen them—”Spectre” pays tribute to a string of James Bond’s greatest action hits. The difference is, in today’s action-saturated, numbed-senses, “been-there-seen-that” world, the action here is one small step ahead of “meh.”
This is partially due to Craig’s somber Bond having no joy in the proceedings. Connery, Moore, and Brosnan were always mutedly delighted and ready with a quip for us all to recite for weeks.
However, “Spectre” does get into the unforgiveable area of intelligence-insulting action sequences that beat you about the head and shoulders with spectacle, in hopes you won’t notice the whole kit and kaboodle just did an end-run around your common sense.
Like, “Okay, so, this guy just got hit with a bomb, blinded, the whole place exploded, burned to the ground (he has no friends—how’d he get to a hospital?) but mere days later he’s managed to rig an entire skyscraper with an elaborate, lethal scavenger hunt, and walk around and orchestrate the proceedings?” Come now.
Most action flicks have a significant portion of this fluff these days, which is the cinematic equivalent of those rumors we’ve heard about earthworm-filler being added to hamburgers in certain fast-food chains to stretch the meat and lower the cost. Neither are nourishing.
In the same way fashion infiltrated the Oscars over a period of a couple of decades, men’s style-magazine toys and fashion have increasingly usurped Bond’s more meaningful messages. And there weren’t that many to begin with.
The Bondgredient car-worship portion of the film features a gorgeous Jaguar C-X75, and an Aston Martin DB10. In the same way watching food prep in the current gustatory movie “Burnt” often subliminally feels like a TV food ad, watching these two insanely expensive, high-horsepower vehicles chase each other around Rome always feels like a high-end car commercial.
The Connery, Moore, and Brosnan Bonds were decidedly dapper. But the Craig-Bond’s bespoke tailoring is so in-your-face, it’s almost surprising not to see, at the bottom of the screen: “James Bond’s suit by Giorgio Armani, 37 Sloane St., London SW1; wristwatch by Patek Philippe 18K Gold Calatrava, shoes by Ferragamo …”
The Bond Girl
The Craig-Bond has a lustful, old-Bond tryst (Monica Belluci) and a new, emotional Bourne-Bond protector relationship (Léa Seydoux).
In the same way the Craig-Bond gritted up the action with parkour and pain, the palpable pathos of the emotional Craig-Bond moves the character out of the crass, Mad Men, ’60s-type playboy era. Problem is, this new guy might be too sensitive to carry a license to kill.
Which might not be so terrible. Let’s face it—the 24 Bond films sugarcoat, spit-polish, glamorize, and glorify a profession that essentially boils down to a whole lot of breaking-and-entering, snooping, sniping, sneaking, stealing, sexually manipulating, peeping, hacking, conniving, lying, framing, evidence-planting, poisoning, backstabbing, double-crossing, propaganda-and-disinformation-disseminating, trespassing, terrorism, torturing, and cold-blooded murder. All in service to the queen, of course.
Apparently Daniel Craig’s tired of Bond. Maybe we’re getting tired of Bond too. “The name’s Bond … James—” “Yeah we know.” The high degree of scene-recycling in “Spectre” would indicate that. Probably we’re not yet tired of the intrigue of the whole profession of spying. But we soon might be.
Director: Sam Mendes
Starring: Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Léa Seydoux, Ralph Fiennes, Monica Bellucci, Ben Wishaw, Naomie Harris, Dave Bautista
Running time: 2 hour 28 minutes
Release date: Nov. 6
3 stars out of 5