007 Mission Files: ‘Spectre’
SPOILERS AHEAD: Like all of the 007 Mission Files, this article will contain massive spoilers including a full breakdown of plot and characters. I would highly recommend reading this article after seeing Spectre. If you decide to ignore this warning you can blame only yourself and neither I nor Project-Nerd can be held accountable for your poor decision making.
This past weekend saw the release of the 24th movie in the Bond franchise. As soon as its name, Spectre, was announced it conjured images of Sean Connery confronting his old nemesis to lifelong fans across the globe. Its release, however, has led to a number of mixed reviews.
Spectre is a contemporary presentation of a traditional Bond narrative. Like Casino Royale, it’s a modernization of 50-year-old source material. In the ’60s, the evil SPECTRE organization preyed on the Cold War fears of a nuclear winter. Today they deal in information. Who has it and how are they going to use it?
The difference here is that instead of one source story the plot of Spectre was knit together from numerous books and movies, including From Russia with Love, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, and You Only Live Twice. This ultimately stands more to serve fans than the film itself.
While Skyfall and Casino Royale were successful in uniting Bond fans and the general public with a good movie that happened to be about Bond, Spectre firmly replaces that wedge. It isn’t a bad movie, it’s okay, but other action movies with similar plots have done it better over the last few years. However, it is a return to the classic Bond style with many heavy-handed nods to the franchise making it a sort of love letter to Bond fans. If you aren’t a Bond fan, it doesn’t really care about your opinion.
It creates a rift not just between the audiences but within the brains of some of its most passionate fans. I always say that the best Bond films are the ones that try to be a good movie first, but Spectre throws all of that out the window and just tries to make a Bond adventure. Normally I would be upset in this directional shift, but as a Bond fan I had a lot of fun watching this movie. While it won’t hold up to the casual fan, I can see my friends and I getting together years down the road to enjoy a night of watching Spectre while sipping on Vespers.
I wasn’t impressed with Skyfall the first time I saw it, but over the last few years I’ve watched it quite a few times and it’s steadily moved up my list. I felt the same the first time I watched Spectre, it wasn’t what I was expecting and I was a little let down. However, I’ve already seen it a second time, and I already like it more. I expect it to follow the same trajectory as Skyfall, never topping my list but coming to rest in the 5-7 range.
The majority of the cast and crew from Skyfall returned for Spectre. They even delayed production for a year to lure Sam Mendes back into the director’s chair, though names like Ang Lee, Danny Boyle, and Shane Black were reportedly considered as replacements during this time. The story was based on an idea Mendes and writer John Logan came up with during the making of Skyfall. According to the leaked Sony emails, the studio and producers weren’t happy with Logan’s script. Craig and Mendes agreed to bring back Purvis and Wade, who had retired from writing Bond movies, to polish the script.
Spectre moved forward with an estimated $300 million budget, making it by far the largest budget for a Bond film. It’s $100 million more than Quantum of Solace and twice the budget of Casino Royale. This falls in line with the fourth film syndrome of all Bond actors in which the production becomes bloated (Thunderball, Moonraker, Die Another Day), but luckily it doesn’t go off the rails as badly as these other entries. Obviously this number has not yet been confirmed and a final box office cannot be produced since it has only been in US theatres for a week, but it set numerous records in the UK and has already made over $300 million worldwide. I have a hard time believing it will surpass the $1 billion mark as Skyfall did.
The movie opens at the Day of the Dead celebration in Mexico City. Bond is on an unofficial mission to kill a man that is planning on blowing up a stadium that night. He inadvertently hits a bomb, and the building collapses. His target Marco Sciarra is able to escape and Bond chases him through the crowded streets and onto a helicopter. Bond is able to kill Sciarra and his pilot and take his ring, which sets us on our journey.
M is handling his own problems as MI-6 has been merged with MI-5 and now is under the umbrella of the Joint Intelligence Service, headed by C. C feels that spies are outdated and has moved to close the department and create an intelligence co-operation between nine countries. M can’t take any more chances and takes Bond off field duty for his actions in Mexico City.
Moneypenny arrives at Bond’s apartment that evening to give him items recovered from Skyfall. Bond feels he has earned Moneypenny’s trust and shows him a video of the previous M asking him to kill Sciarra and go to the funeral. He asks Moneypenny to look into a name he heard in Mexico City. The next day, Bond goes to see Q who provides him with a watch and injects him with nano-bots that can send his vitals and location back to MI-6. Of course, now Bond must also ask Q for a favor and make him disappear for a couple of days.
Bond steals the new Aston Martin that Q has tricked out and drives it all the way to Rome by the following afternoon. He attends the funeral and follows the widow home for questioning. There, he kills two would-be assassins and finds information on the organization that Sciarra was involved in. He goes to a meeting that night and finds a large group of people headed by one man who immediately recognizes Bond. He’s eventually chased from the premise and pursued by Mr. Hinx.
During the chase, Bond calls Moneypenny and finds out the name he heard in Mexico City refers to Mr. White from Quantum and that he was last seen three months ago in Austria. Bond travels there and finds Mr. White in an old sea-side cottage. He’s been poisoned and is barely clinging to life. He strikes a deal with James to protect his daughter in exchange for information on where to find L’Americain before killing himself.
Bond travels to meet with Mr. White’s daughter, Madeline Swann. She resists helping him at first, but then he saves her from Mr. Hinx and explains that he needs help to find L’Americain. He convinces her to meet with Q, who has taken the ring from Bond to run some tests. He finds out that the society is real and it all connects back to Franz Oberhauser, Bond’s foster brother who is believed to have died in a climbing accident with his father. Swann tells them that the group is named Spectre and agrees to take James to L’Americain.
They arrive in Morocco and Swann takes them to a hotel named L’Americain. They go to the suite where her parents used to go every year on their anniversary. Bond tears the room apart and eventually finds a secret room filled with equipment and information, including the coordinates for Oberhauser’s location. They board a train and travel into the desert. Aboard the train, Mr. Hinx again attacks them. Bond and Swann are able to work together to stop him and eventually tie a rope around his neck, attach it to a bunch of kegs, and kick the kegs off the train.
When they get off the train, they are picked up by a private car and taken to a compound in the middle of the desert. Oberhauser has laid out clothing for each of them. They change and meet Oberhauser at the heart of the crater. Oberhauser reveals to Bond that he had killed his father when they were young because he was jealous of how close he had become with James. He also faked his own death so he could create this criminal organization. Over the past few years Bond has gotten in his way and unknowingly thwarted his plans, so he in turn would do something to hurt James like kill M and manipulate Vesper. He also reveals that C is a member of his team and when the new intelligence co-operation goes live he will also have all of the information at his disposal.
Oberhauser takes Bond captive and straps him to a chair with a small drill attached to it. He is trying to drill into parts of Bond’s brain, essentially like a lobotomy, to affect his hearing, vision, and memory. Before he gets too far into the process he tells Bond that Franz Oberhauser died with his father, and he is now known as Ernst Stavro Blofeld. Bond is able to get his watch to Swann and activate the bomb within so they can escape.
Bond and Swann retreat to a safe house in London where they meet up with M, Q, Tanner, and Moneypenny. They devise a plan to shut down the intelligence co-operation and stop C. Swann tells James she can’t return to this life and leaves him.
Tanner drives Moneypenny toward the new intelligence headquarters with Q hacking away in the back seat. M is driving another car with 007 when they are hit by Blofeld’s men. They take Bond captive again, but M is able to escape and meet up with Tanner’s car. They arrive at the information center and confront C. Q is able to shut down the intelligence co-operative and C dies in a struggle with M.
Meanwhile, Bond is taken to the old MI-6 headquarters and finds Blofeld in the basement. He tells Bond he will activate the detonator to the bombs that are wired to demolish the building, and he will have three minutes to either die trying to save Swann or escape and live with the guilt. Of course, Bond is able to find Swann and escape before being caught up in the explosion. Blofeld is escaping in a helicopter and Bond uses a boat from the channel to give chase and shoot him down. He confronts Blofeld on the bridge where the helicopter lands and ultimately decides not to kill him, but leave him for MI-6 and ride into the sunset with Swann.
I went into Spectre with really high hopes and expectations. While those weren’t completely met, I got a really fun Bond movie and I think as the years go on I’ll like it more and more. It successfully accomplishes what they were trying to do during Moore’s tenure while pulling some of the best parts from the Connery era.
I was not a big fan of the theme song. I think the instrumentation is great in a very grandiose Bond sort of way, but the lyrics are very trite. They might have worked with someone like Shirley Bassey or Adele, but Sam Smith’s performance is lacking. There’s no catchy bit to get stuck in my head, no discernable chorus to sing along with, and the vocals are a bore. Smith gloated that he wrote the song in 20 minutes, and it only took another 20 to record. It shows.
I’ve read a lot of backlash on the cinematography for this movie, but I for one loved it. From the opening “single” shot (which is really 4 shots cleverly cut together) to the final reveal of Swann next to Bond in the car (which looked like a Wes Anderson shot) it was all very purposeful. Hoyte Van Hoytema took over the cinematography duties from Roger Deakins, and while Deakins did a phenomenal job on Skyfall, Hoytema isn’t a slouch having recently shot Interstellar. I’ve even read some backlash against recording on film for this movie instead of doing it digitally like in Skyfall. Ultimately, it is an aesthetic and procedural choice. I like the quality it gives the final product (you can tell subtle differences in things like focus and lighting), and ultimately if everyone was shooting on the same format with the same cameras it would take something away from the experience. Do these people also not want to see The Force Awakens in 70mm IMAX? I’ll take their ticket.
Cars: I was so excited, so scared, to see the Aston Martin DB5 being rebuilt at Q-branch (along with Q’s humorous quip, “I told you to bring it back in one piece, not to only bring back one piece.”). Luckily we are also treated to the rebuilt car as Bond drives into the sunset with Swann. So pretty. This marks the eighth time in twenty-four movies the DB5 has made an appearance and the thirteenth time an Aston Martin has appeared.
We also see the reveal of the Aston Martin DB10. This car was strictly created for Spectre and limited to the ten cars used for filming. It is meant only to give a glimpse into the future of Aston Martin designs.
Mr. Hinx drives a Jaguar C-X75. It’s a concept car from 2013 that was never put into production. This is the first time the two heavily featured vehicles in a Bond movie are both prototypes that are not intended for production.
Allies: Ralph Fiennes returns for his second appearance as M. I love his portrayal of the character in the series. He’s a throwback to the classic Bernard Lee M, but he has the experience in the field to trust Bond’s instincts.
Dame Judi Dench also returns for a brief appearance as M from the grave for her eighth appearance. This is really just a glorified cameo, but she sends Bond on his mission and is still an integral part of the story. I love Dench and am completely happy with her appearance. This is only the second time two actors played M in the same Bond film (after Skyfall with the same actors).
Ben Whishaw returns as Q for the second consecutive film. I enjoy his character a lot more than I expected when I saw how young they were casting. He can do it all, though. He’s good with computer tech, gadgets, and spitting one-liners with 007. He has a big part in this film as he goes to meet Bond in the field while he’s in Austria, helping to hack into C’s intelligence co-operative at the end and shut it down.
Naomie Harris also returns for the second time as Moneypenny. I like that her history in the field gives her the ability to leave the office. We saw it in Skyfall when she’s protecting M after Silva shoots his way into the courtroom, and we see it again during the climax of Spectre. Harris is a great actress, and she does well in the role.
Finally we have Rory Kinnear returning for his third stint as Bill Tanner. This makes him the most tenured actor to play Tanner, and he does a great job with the role. He’s kind of the everyman at MI-6 the audience can relate to while still being a part of the action.
I love the MI-6 cast they have right now. Fiennes, Whishaw, Harris, and Kinnear make a great team, as seen at the end of the film. I really hope they can keep this core together for a while because they have great chemistry with each other and Bond.
Bond Girls: Léa Seydoux plays Madeleine Swann. She is the daughter of familiar Bond foe Mr. White. Bond promises to protect her for information on Spectre. In doing so, they fall in love. Seydoux is believable as a Bond Girl and it’s easy to see why she and Bond would fall for each other as she grew up around death and assassins. She is one of the few women who can truly understand him. Upon first viewing, I had a hard time believing they would fall in love. The character just seemed too underdeveloped to me, but I was more accepting of it the second time. She has a lot of the same qualities as the two previous loves in Bond’s life (Vesper and Tracy), but it didn’t feel like the movie did enough to earn it. Like I said, I was more accepting of it the second time.
Lucia Sciarrra is played by Monica Bellucci. Bellucci had been in the running for a Bond Girl for quite some time. She actually was a finalist for the role of Paris Carver in Tomorrow Never Dies. Ultimately, she was always looked over. At fifty-one, she is by far the oldest actress to play a Bond Girl, beating out Honor Blackman (Pussy Galore from Goldfinger) who was thirty-eight at the time of filming. Her character Lucia is the wife of Marco Sciarra, whom Bond kills at the beginning. He saves her from two assassins in exchange for information on Spectre.
Stephanie Sigman appears in one shot as Estrella. She is with Bond at the very beginning during the long take when he kills Sciarra.
Gadgets: This was definitely the most gadget-heavy of the Craig era, but the gadgets were still pretty basic. The major gadget is the watch. It has a built-in explosive that saves him from Blofeld’s drill. As Q points out, it also tells the time.
I liked the way the DB10 was tricked out. Q loaded it with extras, but they were very obviously done. Instead of pushing the button on the radio to slyly activate the ejector seat, there was a big switch on the dash labeled “Air.” It looks very homemade, which would make sense for something like this.
Villains: Christoph Waltz (Inglorious Basterds, Django Unchained) is the primary villain of the film. Franz Oberhauser was the son of the man who took Bond in after his parents died. Franz became jealous of the closeness between Bond and his father and eventually killed him, making it look like they both died in an accident. He changed his name to Ernst Stavro Blofeld and slowly built his empire as Spectre. Gary Oldman was also in talks to play the character, but he didn’t want to commit to a six-month shoot spanning multiple countries.
Waltz is a great actor, and I really enjoy most of his roles. Like Swann, I originally felt the character was a little underdeveloped, and I didn’t like that they tried to shoehorn him into the past three movies by saying he orchestrated it all. It just felt forced. What made the Blofeld of the ’60s great is that we had hints of him and his power for three movies before we finally met him in You Only Live Twice. Here, he’s retconned into the action and he doesn’t seem as imposing. I think ultimately his portrayal of the character will be dependent upon what they do with him going forward. He survives the end of the film, so if they use him again (Mr. White was freed from MI-6 in less than an hour after being captured and Blofeld has a much bigger following) and continue to build the character, then it will go a long way in shoring up this version.
Blofeld’s scar at the end was added in post-production, but it actually looks pretty good. They didn’t want the makeup to be spotted on set or in camera and have it leaked before the movie. There has been a lot of slack about the way they handled Waltz’s reveal as Blofeld, too, with a lot of reviews likening it to Kahn in Star Trek Into Darkness, but I disagree with that assessment. While they were trying to keep it secret that he was going by Blofeld, the name doesn’t mean anything to the general audience and even Bond quips it’s a catchy name. He was just using it as a new name after faking his own death. I was perfectly okay with it, but annoyed by the reveal of Kahn.
Dave Bautista (Guardians of the Galaxy) appears as Mr. Hinx. He’s essentially Blofeld’s henchman, as he is recruited by Spectre to do their dirty work. He’s a nice mix of classic Bond henchmen Jaws and Oddjob. He’s brutal and extremely strong while only saying one word in the entire movie. He will go down as an all-time great henchman.
Jesper Christensen returns for the third time as Mr. White, making him the only actor to play the same Bond villain three times. He’s more of an ally in this entry, though, as he gives Bond vital information and sets him up with his daughter before killing himself. Christensen has despised playing the role, so they let him out of his misery by killing him off…unless he comes back like Dench!
Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave, Children of Men) was in talks to play C, but the producers ultimately went with Andrew Scott (Sherlock) as his salary would be $1 million less. Scott does a good job, but I love Ejiofor. Hopefully they can get him in a future role. C is heading up a new intelligence division in London and trying to start a intelligence co-operative with nine other nations. He’s also working with Blofeld on creating this system.
Marco Sciarra doesn’t last long. He’s played by Alessandro Cremona, but he doesn’t make it past the opening credits. His wife is more essential to the plot.
Ultimately, Spectre isn’t as good as I want it to be, but it is a fun Bond film that I will watch a lot in the coming years. It has a great amount of humor that actually works. It feels organic as opposed to Skyfall, which felt forced.
I think this movie will be remembered by what comes next. I know Spectre hasn’t been in the theaters long, but it just feels like they were building up to something greater. It pulls a lot from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service but stops short of the ending where Tracy is killed on their wedding night. What if the next one opens with Blofeld’s escape and the murder of Swann? M has to convince Bond to come out of retirement to catch Blofeld again, and this can be Craig’s swan song. His The Dark Knight Rises.
Craig has seemed on the fence about coming back, but he is under contract for one more, and the producers are convinced he will return. He just has the Hugh Jackman mentality for Wolverine that he has to be in tip-top shape to play the character, forgetting what Roger Moore looked like in the ’70s and ’80s. He just doesn’t think he can keep up with it. While I can appreciate that, he’s also making a lot of money for each movie ($39 million, by far the most for any Bond actor…remember when they had to beg Connery to come back and do Diamonds are Forever for $1 million?) and his other films since becoming Bond have been busts (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Cowboys and Aliens, The Golden Compass). He’s also the first Bond actor to get a producer credit, being billed as a co-producer, so he will see residuals from that as well.
I also believe we will see Bond 25 as a direct continuation sooner rather than later because a lot of the financing and distribution deals have been for both Spectre and Bond 25. Even John Logan’s deal was to write scripts for both movies at the same time. It isn’t out of the realm of possibilities that we could see Daniel Craig as Bond for one more outing chasing down Blofeld and dismantling Spectre in the next 2-3 years.