My Thoughts on Bond 24: SPECTRE

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An old nemesis returns...

by Matthew Gohn

When I was first discovering movies, like many other kids I fell in love, hard, with Star Wars. I was young and impressionable, and at nine-years-old I was not fully aware of the atrocities being committed by George Lucas in The Phantom Menace. When I got older, my films of choice became the Bond films. I loved science fiction a lot, and the superhero genre didn't really explode until I was a bit older, so for me, the formative films of my youth were the Bond films. There are many good ones, many bad ones, but never a shortage of things to love about them. 

Casino Royale is still my favorite film of all time, I've been enthralled with the casting of Daniel Craig as James Bond, and spy films are my favorite. So in other words, today was a good day. I awoke to full casting, a plot synopsis, and even a look at the new Aston Martin. 

Readers, I present to you my thoughts thus far on the 24th James Bond film, SPECTRE

First up, this is the official plot synopsis. 

"A cryptic message from Bond’s past sends him on a trail to uncover a sinister organisation. While M battles political forces to keep the secret service alive, Bond peels back the layers of deceit to reveal the terrible truth behind Spectre."

This already sounds reminiscent of Skyfall as that film dealt with secrets from former M's past. It's obvious Bond will eventually learn of the existence of SPECTRE (it's about the journey not the destination, folks.) I'm actually excited by the idea of new M (Ralph Fiennes) having to politically maneuver to keep MI6 alive and functioning. It's a tease, but we have an idea of what to expect, and I think this sounds like a great next adventure.

Now...about that title: SPECTRE. Some of you may know that SPECTRE is the name of the evil organization led by Blofeld who were pulling the strings behind nefarious plots during the first Bond films, mostly from the Connery era. SPECTRE is an acroynm standing for SPecial Executive for Counter-Intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge, and Extortion. (You know, I think it might have been reverse engineered.)

Blofeld's ring, showing the symbol for SPECTRE. Image Source:

Blofeld's ring, showing the symbol for SPECTRE.
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Looking at what the title means illustrates how much of a product of the Cold War spy era it was, and while nowadays an organization's name would be selected for symbolic purposes, or just because it sounds cool, the name still holds up for those reasons. We've yet to learn if the name will mean all that. Name aside though, it's good that Bond finally has something to work towards again. SPECTRE hasn't been on screen in several films, quietly phased out as the court case behind the scenes eventually led to the current Bond producers unable to use the name. (The behind the scenes drama of the Bond franchise is very complex and highly fascinating, if you wish to know more, look up a man named Kevin McClory and read about his influence on the films. It is a story too complex for me to do justice)

With the court case resolved, producers Michael Wilson and Barbara Broccoli have wasted no time getting back to it. The addition of SPECTRE will make the Bond films feel like a serialized tale as opposed to the episodic nature the films have had for a while. These missions are no longer standalone. Now these missions are working towards a bigger, multi-film goal of destroying the most fearsome, organized, and ruthless terrorist organization of all time. In Craig's second outing, there was an attempt to build a new SPECTRE in the Quantum of Quantum of Solace, but Mendes' film ditched that continuity for the most part. Which is actually one of my biggest problems with Skyfall.  I'll go into SPECTRE in a future post closer to the film release as there is so much more to talk about here. 

So the title and plot synopsis signal good things to come. And the casting is just as worth of our confidence and faith as well.  Ralph Fiennes will be back as M.

I dug Fiennes in Skyfall, and it's good that he's not trying to replace Judi Dench (how could he?) but to be his own M. It sounds like M will still deal with defending an intelligence organization of questionable methods in a questionable time, and I approve. I don't need more scenes of M in a court room (my favorite part of Skyfall) but knowing that M has outside influences making his job harder as well as a ruthless yet effective special agent should be good.

Naomie Harris and Ben Whishaw return as Moneypenny and Q respectively. Harris was great as Moneypenny and I look forward to more of her. Hopefully her role is significant, but not as involved as Skyfall, that wouldn't work. She can't be a secretary who goes into the field all the time. But I don't want Bond to simply see her, slap her on the ass, and go into M's office. It's a fine line. She can't be a simple secretary anymore. 

Whishaw as Q I'm fine with. I'm sure he'll do fine again, but nothing about him in Skyfall really thrilled me. After Mendes nailed the casting of Moneypenny and M, Whishaw didn't leave as strong of an impression. Maybe he just needs more to do, time will tell. 

And of course, Daniel Craig is back as 007. I won't waste time here detailing my love of his work, suffice to say I believe Craig is the best Bond by a country mile and his work in these films has been perfection from a literary standpoint and from a film standpoint.

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Now let's get to the new. 

Christoph Waltz is going to be in a Bond film. Let that sink in. I'll get my bias out of the way. I think Waltz as Colonel Hans Landa in Inglourious Basterds was one of the greatest acting roles of all time, even better than Ledger's in The Dark Knight. But seeing as both actors received Oscars for their roles, we'll never know who's better. Waltz sublimely played a villain in flawless English, French, Italian, and German. The man is a silver tongued acting genius-and he made Landa one of the all-time great villains overnight. 

So I'm excited. But who is he playing. Rumors circled he'd be Blofeld, head of SPECTRE and Bond's arch-nemesis, the man who killed Bond's wife. But Waltz is being officially cast as someone named Oberhauser. 

It's hard to pinpoint. Is Blofeld coming back? Is Waltz playing Blofeld? It seems that to cast him as an new character but not to say anymore than that would be producers trying to bury the lead. After all, JJ Abrams flat out lied to the press for months denying that Benedict Cumberbatch would be Khan in Star Trek Into Darkness and then BAM! he was Khan. So we're in an era where directors will flat out lie to protect their secrets. I prefer the Christopher Nolan approach of secret protection involving advertising that doesn't give away the entire film, and printing his scrips on paper, but I digress...

I think he'll be Blofeld. Will he be the bald, cat-petting Blofeld who inspired Dr. Evil in Austin Powers? Or will he Blofeld in name and title but give it a new spin? I hope for the latter. I want Waltz to have a role that is beefy and tailored to him as opposed to him reminding us of the 60s in every frame. But until we know more, or are proven wrong, we just have to trust he'll be a great addition. Hell, he could even play a good guy. 

Next are the new ladies of the franchise: Lea Seydeoux and Monica Bellucci. Monica Bellucci has always felt like she'd be at home in a Bond film, she's a very sinewy and dynamic screen presence who never feels particularly good or evil. She's always hat a Catwoman-esque morality in her films which makes her an interesting presence. She's also the oldest Bond girl ever now at age 50, surpassing even Honour Blackman as Pussy Galore who was 39 in Goldfinger. I am intrigued by her casting, and I hope they do more with her than the absurdly attractive Berenice Marlohe in Skyfall

Lea Seydoux is an interesting choice (and she's shared screentime with Waltz in Basterds) I've yet to be blown away by anything she's done (I have not seen Blue is the Warmest Color so I reserve judgement since that was apparently a great film) So I expect that she will do just fine, and may even exceed expectations of some.

Here's where I'm most happy. Dave Bautista will be Mr. Hinx, a henchman. I've always been a fan of Bautista's (seriously-go see Riddick) but the world fell in love with him as the incredibly literal Drax (coincidentally the name of another Bond villain) the Destroyer in the year's runaway hit, Guardians of the Galaxy. I worry he may start to be typecast as brutes, but I'm going to let this one slide since I'm excited to see a physically intimidating bad guy for Bond to tussle with. The producers state he'll be an "iconic" villain such as Jaws and Oddjob. That might be putting the horse before the cart a bit, but I'm not ruling it out. I certainly didn't think Drax would become as popular as he did. 

And to round out casting, Andrew Scott is someone named Denbigh. Will Scott be a good guy or a bad? Hard to say, but such a traditionally British looking chap leads me to believe he'll be an MI6 asset. That being said, the producers I'm sure are aware of his terrifying turn as Sherlock Holme's ultimate nemesis Moriarity in the brilliant BBC show Sherlock. He could go either way. 

And the last major returning player is director Sam Mendes. Mendes of course made Skyfall as well as several other fantastic non-Bond films. I'm happy to see him back, though I hope some of his touches in Skyfall are either forgotten or developed. 

For instance, Mendes directed the best looking Bond film. Roger Deakins was probably the best thing behind the cameras of Skyfall. His cinematography in that film is sublime, and he won't be back unfortunately. This is the biggest blow since learning composer David Arnold wouldn't be back for Skyfall

But getting back to Mendes, I found Skyfall to be a very cold film. Which worked in that context, but I hope his next outing has a bit more life to it. Bond films should be fun, even if they get serious and mature.

But Mendes has directed one of the best bond moments of all time as well. The damn cufflinks...

Bottom line though, Mendes coming back is a very good thing. He's proven that he knows what he's doing. Skyfall felt like a perfect Bond film. It had the DNA of the 60s roots but the ruthless modern tone needed to keep the character relevant. I hope his story isn't quite as The Dark Knight inspired and maybe a bit less reverse-engineered, but despite it's flaws, Skyfall still stands as one of the best Bond films. And the Bond formula is inherently silly and prone to being excused its excesses simply because it is a Bond film. Mendes made a great action heavy, story driven episode in the franchise and I'm happy to see more. 

We were also treated to a glimpse of the Aston Martin DB10, a brand new car for the film. Only 10 have been made so guess what, you won't be driving one. 

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It's sexy to be sure, but I think it's design looks a little too Porsche-y for my taste. (I've never thought Porsche's were attractive cars) But it's nice to see Craig back behind the wheel of something more modern. 

And finally, we have the poster. The cracks in the glass are very deliberate as the image is reminiscent of the original 60s SPECTRE design. 

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I personally love it. The font and title design are effective. The imagery is clever and evocative. The way it subtly calls back the SPECTRE symbol is perfect. As a teaser poster it's great. 

It's been an crazy two weeks of movie news. We've gotten a trailer for the new Star Wars and Jurassic World. And today we also see a trailer for the kinda-sorta-but-not-really-reboot of Terminator Genisys. Now we know in the next seven months a new Bond film will be made. 2015 is shaping up to be an interesting year of film as apparently every film franchise ever decided to release another one. Get your wallets ready, you'll be spending a lot of time indoors. 

SPECTRE opens November 6th 2015 in the UK, so presumably the week after internationally. It is the fourth Bond film starring Daniel Craig and the second Bond film directed by Sam Mendes.

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