So what's going on, James? They say you're finished

So what’s going on, James? They say you’re finished

 

Three years ago, the 007 franchise unveiled a film that marked its fiftieth anniversary by obsessing over the passage of time. Sometimes, a moment like that is a brief respite – a chance to catch one’s breath before coming back rejuvenated. However, as SKYFALL leads to SPECTRE, what we see is less rejuvenation, and instead more acceptance.

M’s death at the end of SKYFALL has left James Bond (Daniel Craig) with one account left to settle. M has left him a video message to kill an operative named Marco Sciarra, and be sure to follow it with attending his funeral. The rogue killing leaves the new M (Ralph Finnes) incensed, and prompts him to lowjack 007 and suspend immediately. M is on pins and needles since a new branch of British counter-intelligence seems hellbent on shuttering MI6.

The branch is called Nine Eyes, and it is headed up by a weaselly bureaucrat we come to know as “C” (Andrew Scott).

When Bond disobeys his orders and goes to the Italian funeral of his mark, he discovers that Sciarra was a member of a terrorist organization called Spectre (Special Executive for Counter Intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge, and Extortion). By infiltrating the post-funeral meeting, Bond learns a great deal of information all at once.  He learns that Sciarra’s place is being taken by a blunt instrument named Hinx (Dave Bautista), who has a talent for killing a person with his bare hands. He learns that a former enemy from Quantum named Mister White can lead him deeper into Spectre’s inner-dealings.

Finally, he learns that the whole operation is run by a mysterious figure named Franz Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz) – a man who seems to know an inordinate amount of information about our hero.

As Bond approaches Mister White’s daughter, Madeline (Léa Seydoux), he prepares to face Spectre head-on. But what 007 may not realize is that in facing Spectre, James must also face his own past.

 

Bloefeld

 

SPECTRE is going to throw a lot of potential audiences, and for good reason.

There’s a promissory note that has come with every film in this series – a note that simply reads “Martinis, Explosions, Girls, and Guns”. The note is outdated of course, and its place in modern society has been debated for at least the last nine films.

Still, it’s the setlist we come to hear the band play.

This second outing from director Sam Mendes and fourth (and final?) performance by Daniel Craig does deliver on the note, but in between those four core elements, the film gets tremendously introspective. There are conversations about the usefulness of MI6. There are discussions about how Bond was moulded into the man he is. There are even length allusions to heroes and villains that have died over the last several entries. I’d never go so far as to suggest that the series needs to be balls-to-the-wall, but something a little less maudlin would have helped.

James Bond used to drop wry wit over hands of baccarat; now he’s waxing philosophical over turns at a chess board.

This shift in tone will throw the average film-goer. It will leave one wondering if Bond’s tux is at the cleaners, or if he’s finally run out of innuendos.

However, for Bond fans, this moment is introspective.

For once, Bond is being asked to truly think on his sins. He is confronted several times with the enemies he has executed, and the allies he couldn’t save. In the past, these ideas hadn’t even been paid lip-service. 007 always existed in a world where talk of the past was just done in knowing winks, and death was quick and bloodless. If we’re asking our superheroes to consider their collateral damage, why not ask our secret agents to face their morality too?

The problem is that going too far down this road leads one to lose sight of the deal. Films like those in the 007 universe are not real. They shouldn’t be “gritty”, or “grounded”. If they stay that way for more than a moment, we begin to believe that Bond plays by the rules that govern our world. Not only does he not, but if he did, it would make his stories a spectacular drag.

So how far to drive down this road in that splendid Aston Martin?

SPECTRE clearly aims to do something no other 007 film has actively tried to do – it tries to write the finishing phrases of what is clearly a particular movement. While varying in their effectiveness, these past four 007 films have come with common themes. There’s been the re-establishing of the character, the clear nods to the legacy, the talk of mortality, and even the continuance of places and faces. The rekindling of this character’s presence on the cinematic landscape has been nothing short of remarkable, but all good things must end – which is what this film feels like, an end. 

Where that gets messy is that it falls to us to understand how we deal with this moment of conclusion.

This isn’t a final note that has been built-up for us like Harry Potter or The Hunger Games. This isn’t even a complete conclusion, since we don’t know if Craig is through with the character and that another actor will step in if he is. It’s an ending we don’t realize is an ending until we approach its own ending. So how to process that?

The obvious answer is to say that it cannot possibly be considered on its own (which, by the way, is what I believe is the film’s biggest failing). The obvious answer is to say this largely quiet and considered “action film” is a series that has never had to chance to approach their work in a volumized way finally able to say “We see the sun getting low in the sky”. Where SKYFALL seemed so concerned with looking backwards, SPECTRE is hellbent on looking ahead. It wants to settle accounts before new management takes over, and allow even a man-child like James Bond to grow up just a little.

 

Matineescore: ★ ★ ★ out of ★ ★ ★ ★
What did you think? Please leave comments with your thoughts and reactions on SPECTRE.