The James Bond franchise is a throwback about a Cold War concept of espionage (human intelligence as applied to the nuclear arms race with Russia) and the appetite-driven Alpha Male who was its greatest practitioner in the worlds of fiction and cinema. The appetites: vodka, gorgeous women, weird gadgets and witty asides – amazingly – have been the aspects of the character most muffled over the decades, since the end of the Cold War seen as vestiges of a bygone era.
Today we have Daniel Craig’s James Bond showcased at the height (most likely) of his run as the character in the wonderful film Spectre. We now have a Bond motivated less by bachelor pad stuff and more by childhood issues. When he attempts to order his shaken Martini he is told that they don’t serve alcohol at the bar only veggie shakes. This is the world Craig’s Bond inhabits. Here Bond’s love interests are never mere vixens with sexy voices but instead layered, complicated, wounded females crying on shower floors while their mascara rolls down their cheeks. They’re still hot of course, sorta (not Playboy circa 1970 hot, but okay) . . . but the Bond- series isn’t really male fantasy any more, unless your idea of a good time is dragging Judi Dench through a series of cemeteries on a cold night on the moors while an orphanage from a Brontë novel burns in the background (see Skyfall). I mean in Casino Royale they went through a long drawn out explanation of how to play poker and played it for suspense. What guy doesn’t know how to play poker? I mean did they explain how to play baccarat in Goldeneye? No. Bond just housed the place (pun!) and that was enough for everyone.
But anyway those are limitations that Spectre transcends, in my opinion.
Daniel Craig recently said that the production of Spectre was a miserable experience for him and that he’d never play the character again. And although that exhaustion doesn’t seep into his performance at all, this is a really intense film full of action sequences with awesome stunts and real planes and real snow and sand so I can see what he’s saying.
Also it’s a dark film and tonally and thematically complicated. I think there are artistic pretensions to it. So it was a challenge apparently. But I must say that Craig should really shut his god damn mouth about what a shitty time he had, because Spectre is a magnificent piece of work and he wasn’t the only guy who put blood and sweat into the project to make it the glorious piece of throwback cinema that it is. Yes Daniel, it’s hard to make a good movie. Everyone used to know this. Just ask George Lucas who almost died making the first Star Wars- movie and look how crappy that ended up. Right? Ask Coppola for crying out loud.
In interviews with the director of Spectre, Sam Mendes, he has said he concentrated his energies on shooting in real locations and with practical effects as much as possible, because modern audiences have grown too sophisticated for shoddy computer effects. He respected the audience? Whoa. And although this is quite obviously a MUCH more challenging prospect than “do it in post” type crap it’s more than just a “for the fans” gesture and you can see that on the god damn movie screen if you actually are brave enough to go to a movie theater and see this damn picture (*chomps cigar*). Everything looks good in Spectre. The sets are awesome. The locations are pure eye candy. The story has weight. The exhaustion that is poured into it, the craftsmanship, makes the moments of levity work instead of being lame. Good and true catharsis and playfulness are evident here like in all our favorite eighties movie because so much grit and muscle is soaked into the film. You can’t fake it. And that’s just the god damn reality of movie-making people.
This is a great Bond film. And I say that as someone who didn’t care for any of the previous Craig Bonds. But hey they made a ton of money so who cares what I think after the fact?
People asked me why I was anticipating Spectre since I hadn’t enjoyed the previous few Bonds and it was for the simple reason that Christoph Waltz was going to be in it and was coming off two straight “Best Actor”- wins. Now, I am of the opinion that his performance in Django Unchained was nothing special at all in a really middling Tarantino film. But is there precedent for such a pedigree in a Bond film? The answer is “No”. Sam Mendes also obviously won an Oscar for American Beauty. So I was just thinking there was a lot of potential there and then to hear Craig pop off about how he had his ass handed to him during the production just furthered my interest. I just had to see what on earth was up with this Bond film.
And I am just happy as a clam that I did.
I don’t know if it was during the production or during post, but Mendes found his inner Spielberg here. There is a sense of fun and self-discovery to the picture that I’ve never seen in his work before. Almost like he finally calmed down a little bit and relaxed after decades of uptight, over serious, “look at me”- film-making. I get that. It’s hard to stand out as a creative person these days and you need to roll your bones with the powers that be in the critical establishment (apparently) before you can do something truly creative. At least that seems to be the case with Mendes. In Spectre it seems like he is finally comfortable enough to have some fun, and the result is simply the best and most enduring film that he has ever made and possibly the strongest overall Bond film since Goldfinger or From Russia with Love.
As a movie nerd par excellence it is my conjecture that Mendes found out how much fun editing is and how rewarding because the production was so hard, but he got so much quality footage from his real locations and real stunts. The film is very exuberantly edited and has great, crowd pleasing moments that ripple through the crowd, making us lick the butter and salt off our god damn fingers and grin.
It’s just great and the Bond franchise incomprehensibly is able to stumble forward into the next century after three very creatively stilted movies.
This new creative peak has led me to think about the whole idea of the Bond franchise being a throwback and how it has changed over the years. While it’s true that the character himself has evolved a bit it’s interesting that the franchise retains some of its anachronisms that are actually pretty risky. I’m talking of course about the opening song. Sometimes (always) cheesy as hell and incredibly lame (yes even Adele) and yet it’s still a non-negotiable hallmark of the series. And I have to give them a hand because why the hell not have an opening song that is absolutely idiotic and possibly the un-sexiest thing ever committed to celluloid? For all that one can say (and apparently people are bitter) about the Bond property being held by some weird, shadowy, family that owns a lot of Land Rovers in England you have to concede that if you gave Bond to some American studio owned by a multi-national corporation they would get rid of the opening song if they thought it would make them another million bucks because they could trim four minutes and squeeze in an extra show or because their research math told them to do it. They totally would scrap the song and you know it! But see that’s not the franchise. The franchise is: You gotta have the song. That’s why they’re rich. You’re poor. Thank you very much.
I don’t know if I have liked a Bond song since Goldeneye (and it’s terrible) but it’s not going away and while I sat in my theater seat with my popcorn and Coke waiting for Spectre to start it made me realize that good franchises really do stick to an underlying formula very rigidly. It just all depends upon what they think that formula may be that makes a franchise succeed or fail. There is genius in hanging onto the song.
That said I just find it amazing that no filmmaker has ever been like…”how about no awful song number at the beginning because it’s an embarrassment to the film itself?” I think Mendes made a Bond film here that stretches the artistic possibilities of the character, so maybe in the future they will think about loosening up the rules a bit because their scripts and talent are so strong. So strong. Will there ever be another Bond with this much Oscar gold front and center? I doubt it. But that doesn’t mean this franchise can’t continue to become relevant. And with Spectre the Bond franchise becomes maybe the preeminent storytelling left in commercial filmmaking. And I absolutely mean that one hundred percent. Is that because they don’t have to compromise the franchise and have been able to wait until something this good came along? Maybe. In any event they need to raise the stakes and go again with this same team.
You must see this film on the big screen because it is that good. Yes.