I was introduced to Ian Flemming’s James Bond, British Secret Service agent 007 at our 1969 high school graduation party. Sean Connery played the tough, elegant Bond in Dr No (1962).
My primary memory of the movie was: 1. We had to get parental permission slips to attend because Mr. Bond had a tendency to jump into bed with almost every woman he met; 2. Sean Connery was good looking but not desirable because he smoked;
3. There were wonderful wild gadgets to surprise and amuse; 4. There was substantial violence (tame by today’s standards) and 5. The plot was really convoluted.
Over fifty years later (24 James Bond films and 8 James Bonds), Spectre (Special Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion) is still taunting Bond. Daniel Craig has now played Bond four times (Casino Royale 2006; Quantum Solace 2008; Skyfall 2012). For anyone born in the 1980s or later, Craig is James Bond.
For those of us who have seen the other Bonds, Craig is by far the grittiest, toughest, enigmatic, and athletic of the Bonds. Craig’s Bond is impeccably dressed. In fact, the Wall Street Journal recently touted Spectre’s Bond as a premier fashion icon for men. But Craig’s clothes are just a veneer for Bond, the consummate loner who uses and abuses his fellow agents, has street-smarts, is capable of daring feats and whose moral compass is out of sync with bureaucracy. After 50 years, Bond is still able to get any woman into bed. Craig makes a great male lead in an action movie; he not only looks the part but he has the ability to bring to film this sense of isolation and total focus. For me, his most memorable performance was in A Girl with a Dragon Tattoo as the reporter trying to find a child who disappeared many years before. His best Bond was his first, Casino Royale.
2015 has been a hard year for counter intelligence groups in the movies. As I reported in an earlier blog, the Mission Impossible team was disbanded by the CIA. The British government suspends the 007 group under the leadership of M (Ralph Fiennes). In Mission Impossible, the team regroups outside the boundaries of their agency. In Spectre, M orders Q and Moneypenny to disengage because their efforts will hinder Bond. The film further reemphasizes the solo nature of Bond, when Mr. White, a long-term Bond nemesis tells Bond that he “is a kite dancing in a hurricane.”
Spectre, as promised, is a gargantuan spectacle, a good way to spend a rainy afternoon. Viewers are treated to a visual feast of exotic locales across the world; Mexico City, London, Rome, Austria, Morocco. There are action scenes with a uniquely equipped spy car (a Bond signature item), airplanes, and many helicopters (apparently the preferred mode of travel for 2015 good guys and bad guys). There are formulaic gadgets and violence aplenty. Bond always a womanizer seduces two beautiful women, one with literally only an introduction.
There are layers upon layers of storylines from previous Bond movies amazingly circling back to an old family connection.
Ultimately, Spectre is not one of the great James Bond movies. The movie feels bloated as if the writers felt compelled to include every imaginable plot twist and the cost to make of over $300 million reinforces this failure to edit.
The car chase goes on and on, the train fight occurs on a train where everyone has disappeared including the kitchen staff, drills into Bond’s head have no impact on him; amazingly he seems energized by this torture.
I personally have never found the Bond franchise as appealing as some other action movies, partially because the movies are so-o-o sexist. In the 60’s when Bond came of age, women jumping in and out of bed seemed risqué but not totally implausible, partially because Bond was such a male stereotype. As the world has changed, Bond has evolved into a strong, energetic, complex man. Given fifty years of women’s rights, AIDS and STDs, Bond women have not transformed appropriately. Does anyone think a 50 year old widow on the day of her husband’s funeral and who just escaped two assassins would be so sexually starved or find Bond so attractive that she would allow herself to be seduced standing up on first meeting. This woman exists only in men’s fantasy worlds. Ultimately, Mr. White was right. Mr. Craig in Spectre is a kite dancing in hurricane, an exceptional actor dancing in a plot that is awhirl with nonsense, noise, and flash.