Writing this so that I can write my explanation for my top ten films of the year. That and friend L wishes to complain about my illogic some more, despite him having heard it all at the time.
First, a note – the Picturehouse cinema in London is lovely. Its over-the-phone booking system is less so. As in accepted payments but did not provide tickets. The cinema staff sorted it, but take this as a warning.
Spectre, which I keep putting in all capitals because I am old.
My problems are all with the writing and directing, the acting is uniformly solid.
I’m still not sold on the theme song, but I liked the evil Spectre-pus opening credits.
Comments in more or less chronological order (spoilers throughout):
My main objection to the directing is how Mendes has made large parts of it looks like he ran it through an Instagram filter, you know the one, the one that makes things look like a 50s photograph. It’s distracting. It also makes it look like the main actors are standing in front of a green screen, which cheapens some of the action shots, which is a shame, because I know how difficult they are to do, particularly the helicopter loop-the-loop.
The distracting filter continues on to Rome, a section redeemed by the awesome car chase. And the Mickey Mouse joke. And let down by only having Monica Bellucci in two scenes. Why would you only use Monica Bellucci in two scenes if you’ve got her (including one of the worst not-quite sex scenes in a Bond film)? I do start to suspect the only reason they got her in was because they needed an Italian actress for Italian funding and needed an older actress as a Bond girl to counteract exactly how screamingly young Lea Seydoux is.
I know I shouldn’t be shocked that Batista is good after Guardians of the Galaxy, but he really is good as Mr. Hinx. (He’s also remarkably precious about the whole acting thing, which is strangely adorable.) I also like whoever did his suits. I know Tom Ford did Bond’s suits but I don’t know if he was also Hinx’s tailor.
After Rome we lose the stupid filter for a while, because Austria is obviously not warm and Latin and therefore needs no filter (just assume my sarcasm is heavy and my contempt for the director is great). I’ll give them this, even before I saw the end bit saying it was filmed in Austria because the plane had an Austrian registration, and it pleases me more than I can say.
But those are not the symptoms of thallium poisoning. Yes, I am being pernickety, but it’s not like thallium’s symptoms are hard to research or all that mistakable (see also Agatha Christie’s descriptions of it being good enough to save lives).
The stupid filter returns for Tangiers and Morocco (until we reach Blofeld’s lair). And again it cheeses me off. This bit also included my favourite scene, which we shall call Bond vs the Mouse, which gives Daniel Craig something to do other than look bleak. Now he does a fine ‘looking bleak’ but he’s a much better actor that just the one mood. And there’s an uneasy borderline hysteria in that scene which fits the film perfectly. Fantastic scene.
Part of the problem with the film, for me, was that everything after Morocco felt tacked on. Particularly Dr. Swann being trapped in MI5’s old headquarters.
Bits of the film not working with another was one of my other main problems. Bond vs Blofeld, while I might not like what they do with Blofeld, works. Bond vs the encroaching intelligence complex, is oddly time-sensitive for a Bond film, something I generally agree with and not something I think Bond would agree with.
Bond vs the encroaching intelligence complex doesn’t quite work (certainly not as well as it worked in Mission Impossible: the new one), but I don’t mind it because it gives Q, Moneypenny et al something to do. (Dear villains, do not threaten Q, any Q, I disapprove.) My main problem with the Bond vs Big Brother bit was the terrible dialogue they gave new! M. If Ralph Fiennes can’t make something work, I can be reasonably sure that it cannot work. At the beginning we need a reason to believe that C is a well, the word that the film keeps calling him, and we don’t, other than him being played by Andrew Scott (who actually does a good good guy when he needs to).
As I said, I’m not sure I like what they did with Blofeld. I like my evil impersonal and precise. Although I do love that he wouldn’t stoop to poisoning the champagne.
I did have one moment of complete, uncontrollable giggle fit, which I don’t think was intentional. It’s just that normally Blofeld wears a Mao-jacket variant but what this Blofeld wears looks like a modernised Tiroler jacke (Tyrolean jacket) and my brain went ‘you can take the boy out of Tyrol but not the Tyrol out of the boy’ and I had a giggle fit in the middle of a very serious scene. Sorry about that, people in the screening.
Now onto my actual problems with the film:
I think I see Bond completely differently to how the writers see him.
Partly it’s because I don’t believe what he does is something that requires redemption (in the sense of all killing requires it but not Bond in particular out of all secret agents), and I don’t think love can redeem in quite the way the film thinks it can. (And that’s before we get onto more theoretical discussions on the nature of redemption and sacrifice, which shall be skipped for time.)
The film doesn’t seem to be very clear in re: redemption, because it seems to be saying that Bond’s job is necessary, and cannot be replaced by drones, but that means that someone has to do it, and M seems to have an almost split-personality on the topic not wanting Bond to do it, but needing someone for the job. If the film had gone into that a little more, or even at all, I think I could have lived with it better.
The love redeems thing seems very cheap. As does the ‘only a killer (or relative of one) can understand a killer’. What happens if someone out of Bond’s past decides that they want revenge and kill Madeline? What does Bond do next? Does his redemption stick or was he doing it just for Madeline, which suggests that ‘love redeems’ is as bunk as I think it is. It doesn’t even have to be an international assassin, the number 49 bus does the job just as well. And I don’t think redemption can be due to external things, I think it has to be internal for it to be “redemption”.
It feels even weirder because the post-Hinx’s death not-actually-a-sex-scene is, I think, held up to be a mirror to the Vesper shower scene in Casino Royal, where Vesper’s response to someone’s death was utter revulsion while Madeline’s response is getting every bit as aroused as Bond, and therefore she’s a much better match (according to the film) and yet … the scene just feels really awkward in a way that the Vesper scene didn’t.
The whole ‘understanding + sex = redemption’ thing feels awkward.
I also think that they’re believers in the Many Bonds theory:
Because they’ve just salted the Earth for following Bonds if we’re pretending that all the Bonds are the same guy. Because why does Bond come back or do we just have to ignore Madeline and everything in Spectre for the next film. I know it’s one of the problems of having films with closer internal continuity but this one has pretty much broken the line for anything following. I think that the next film is going to have a different Bond might help that somewhat, but it does mean the Craig Bond-films are pretty much shut into their own cul-de-sac.
Edited to add: I’ve been told I ought to tell people that I haven’t seen Skyfall yet, and that my problems with the film might be due to that. To me that’s still a failure on the writers’s part.