Since this is a pretty recent release and it’s quite possible you haven’t seen it, of course a spoiler alert is required, as I am dropping some heavy ones. Here, let me hit a few dozen carriage returns…
Bond enjoys a bit of me (and her) time at the Day of the Dead in Mexico City all dressed up for the part, at first he just seems to be chilling out with a lady friend, but it turns out to be a working holiday as he foils the plans of some guys plotting to blow up a stadium, by, err, instead blowing up the building where the plotters are plotting their plot.
The head of the plot, Marco Sciarra (Alessandro Cremona), tries to escapes by helicopter but Bond joins the flight and they punch it out while the helicopter buzzes around like a drunk wasp – much to the consternation of everyone in the Zocalo below. Eventually Bond wins the bout, forcing Sciarra to disembark in mid-air, but snatching his ring before he does. The ring has a natty octopus design, which seems to be significant.
Daniel Kleinman presents a curious depiction of man-woman-octopus love, in a similar style the titles for Skyfall. Sets the appropriate mood for the following action.
As it turns out, Bond wasn’t really supposed to be triapsing around the world causing trouble, so Mallory, the new M (Ralph Fiennes) grounds him, not even a nudge-nudge-wink-wink do-what-you-have-to-do. M has another problem, though, with some git called C who has a rival agency, the Joint Intelligence Service, which is all mad keen to get Nine Eyes, a global surveillance co-operative incorporating even the bright minds of ASIS.
Bond, meanwhile, lets Q jab him with “smart blood” (groan) which apparently lets MI6 track Bond wherever he goes. Q also shows off the new Aston Martin (natch) that was supposed to be Bond’s but has been reassigned to 009. Bond fills in Moneypenny on what’s going on; the old M (Judi Dench) left a message to Bond suggesting that he should bump off Sciacca and then attend his funeral just to see who turns up, hence he asks Q to take him off the grid.
After attending the funeral in Rome, he seduces Sciarra’s widow, Lucia (Monica Bellucci), who tells him about “Spectre”. He turns up to their lodge meeting using Sciarra’s ring as a pass. It’s a spooky organisation with a spooky boardroom table surrounded by lots of spooky people, including Mr Hinx – Dave Bautista, who is perfect as a henchman. Mr Hinx takes up Sciarra’s place as head enforcer; when asked for his credentials for the role, Mr Hinx provides a convincing practical demonstration.
The chairman of the board, however, is arguably creepier, and after listening to another member’s spiel about, I dunno, taking complete control of global espionage through subverting government outsource tendering processes, Bond recognises him as Franz Oberhauser. Furthermore, Oberhauser spots Bond at the meeting and addresses him by name, and effectively sicks Mr Hinx onto him.
Bond buzzes around Rome in his hot Aston Martin pursued by Hinx in his hot Jaguar. Bond despairs that the car has already been reconfigured for 009 who apparently prefers Sam Smith to Radiohead, but there’s enough toys left to be able to ward off Mr Hinx for the time being.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Moneypenny has been doing her research, and leads Bond to old mate Mr White (Jesper Christensen), the so-called Pale King who is holed up in a lodge in Austria. Mr White, too was a ranking member of Spectre (basically Quantum was a subsidiary) but has gotten hacked off with the hierarchy and their expansion plans into sex trafficking. Consequently, they responded by poisoning Mr White with thallium, so he’s on his last legs by the time Bond comes to visit. Mr White reveals he has a daughter, and asks Bond to find and protect her – she will also lead him to “L’Americaine” which will bring Bond closer to bringing Spectre undone.
Having made his last request and one last dramatic statement for Bond, Mr White puts himself out of his misery.
Bond rocks up at the clinic where White’s daughter, Dr. Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux), works as a psychologist. When Bond reveals his true agenda, Swann understandably wants little to do with her father’s business and orders Bond out.
Bond grudgingly props up the bar, where to his disdain he finds they don’t serve martinis. Q turns up as well, somewhat peeved but providing Bond with more assistance, Bond lending Q the Spectre ring to do some homework on it. At this time Hinx and his goons turn up and abduct Swann, so Bond appropriates a plane from somewhere and after a chase through the Austrian Alps, rescues Swann from their clutches, meeting up again with Q.
Q has found out that, surprise, surprise, all of Bond’s prior enemies were also aligned to Spectre, even the weird little guy from Quantum of Solace, so effectively Bond was battling Spectre all the time before the McClory dispute was resolved.
“L’Americaine” as it turns out, is a hotel in Tangier where Mr White used to take annual holidays, often with Madeleine, with his regular suite having a little hidey-hole where he kept his spy stuff. The evidence left there points to a base in the midst of the desert, where presumably Spectre have their operations.
While Bond and Swann make their way there by train, Mr Hinx pops up again – cue another classic fight-on-a-train sequence (see From Russia From Love, Live And Let Die) before Hinx gets succumbs to the ol’ rope-a-dope. Being all het up, Bond and Swann finally decide to release the tensions.
Eventually Bond and Swann make it to the Spectre base, situated in a meteorite crater in the Moroccan interior. Oberhauser greets them and reveals his latest sekrit plan, which is to fund the Joint Intelligence Service while causing all sorts of shit around the place to justify its need. Once Nine Eyes is enacted, Spectre will basically be omniscient, thanks due in part to C in London.
Hell, they already know a lot already, such as how Mr White died, as Oberhauser merrily plays back the grim footage for Swann’s information. And then he conks Bond out.
Fluffy White Cat!
When Bond comes to, he finds himself tied to a chair in a white room where Oberhauser recounts their connection. Basically, when Bond’s parents died, he was placed in the care of Oberhauser’s father, who taught Bond many of the skills. Franz was none too pleased about that, so he staged his own death and killed his father. Yep! They’re virtually brothers! What the christ.
Then Oberhauser reinvented himself as Ernst Stavro Blofeld, started Spectre, and enjoys the life of a magnificent basterd. Also, he has a fluffy white cat. After needling Bond for a bit, Bond manages to loosen himself, having Swann toss his Q watch at Blofeld where it blows up in his face.
Bond and Swann make their escape from the base, which seemingly has pretty lax standards for the storage of explosive materials, and the whole damn lot explodes. I do hope the cat survived.
The End Ellipsis Question Mark
Anyway, after those stunning revelations, what’s left of MI6 – Bond, M, Moneypenny, Q and Tanner – try to stop Nine Eyes from starting up, eventually storming into C’s compound. Bond gets separated and ends up at the old Vauxhall Cross building, which is primed for demolition after the events of Skyfall, and goes through a gallery of the dead, where he runs into Blofeld, bearing a distinctive scar after escaping that almighty explosion.
Blofeld taunts Bond, saying he’s tied up Swann somewhere in the building, and giving him the choice of trying to save her or escaping the impending demolition. Across the river, the crew (well, really it was Q) have managed to stop Nine Eyes from booting up, and then M (who gets a great line here) and C have a scuffle before C falls to his death. A little fable on the hazards of outsourcing vital government functions to rentseeking corporations.
Faced with this dilemma, Bond is, like, “why not both?” – successfully rescuing Swann and then making off after Blofeld who is fleeing by chopper. Bond manages to shot straight enough to conk the chopper’s engine out, and eventually catches up with Blofeld, but looks over at Swann, and lets M arrest Blofeld instead. Like, Bond actually leaves the job, not just for a couple of weeks for his usual busman’s holiday, but for good – settling for that quieter life. His last act in the service is to visit Q to pick up his restored DB5, which he drives off into the sunset with Swann.
Basically, in the context of the long history of Bond films, this full stop is extraordinary. Up until Casino Royale, 007 films have been basically self-contained, with only a few nods to a possible continuous thread. You could watch any particular one and, while you can expect a number of tropes to pop up, they have a beginning and an end, knowing James Bond Will Return for another adventure. Although while there is a definite pattern, it does get messed around enough to avoid slavish repetition, although it has to be said that quite a few of those films rhyme. A lot.
That changed with Casino Royale – it ended with somewhat of a cliffhanger, which was resolved up to a point in Quantum of Solace. Skyfall was more or less self-contained, but then you come to this last film in the arc, where the old enemy Spectre pops up, retconning as its tentacles the Quantum organisation as well as Diego Silva – whom, for all we knew was just a lone wolf, like Auric Goldfinger (who probably wasn’t, either).
OK, personally, I thought some of the plot twists were a little too neat – and particularly with the revised backstory to re-imagine Blofeld as someone Bond knew for a very long time, which does dissipate the mystique of Ernst Stavro a bit. But did it ruin my childhood? Nope. My childhood basically owed more to Moore, anyway, where Blofeld only shows up once, allegedly.
On the whole though, I did enjoy this, maybe not quite to the degree of Casino Royale and Skyfall, but was still quite satisfied by it. But there is one major twist, that makes me reflect on why 007 was still on the frontline in his late 50s when he could’ve been taken the nice payout to blow and let someone younger battle a crazed Christopher Walken.
In this timeline, James does get a decent retirement. He doesn’t have the love of his life shot out of his arms on their wedding day (but whether he and Madeleine make it long term, who knows?). He doesn’t win the Order of Lenin, he doesn’t see his best mate get his leg chewed off by a shark, he doesn’t ski off the edge of a precipice to be saved by his Union Jack parachute (he had to wait for the London Olympics to do that sort of thing), he doesn’t battle a giant with metal teeth several times before convincing him to play nice; he doesn’t seduce voodoo psychics, collaborate with the Taliban, drive an invisible car, kill Sean Bean, or even defuse a nuclear bomb dressed as a clown.
There’s little doubt James Bond Will Return, but it’ll be yet another timeline. I think Daniel Craig might well be my favourite Bond now (OK, my taste may be dubious considering my previous favourite was Tim Dalton), but with this arc more or less complete, it’d be kind of sad if he came back, pressed back into service. Reportedly Craig has refused a redonkulous amount of money to return, and I have a lot of respect for that. This has been a pretty good self-contained saga of four films (even if QoS let the side down a little) ascribing a beginning, middle and end for this version of Bond, finally fleshing him out as someone who gives a shit even when he’s been trained not to do so.
It’s fun to try and imagine the earlier films as being other events that have been crammed in between the events of 21 to 24, or perhaps to bring up the Time Lord theory I brought up earlier, but it makes more sense just to let those timelines, and let the next actor established their history, just like the half dozen so far.
So, you may be wondering where I sit on the speculation over the next actor (or actress, as much as it’ll make manbabies scream); well it could be anyone, as long as it’s someone good. I think Idris Elba would be great. I think Hiddleston could be great. They have the credentials. The beaut thing is, while there are obviously certain qualities Bond has to have, the film series has allowed enough flexibility in the character so whoever comes in can make it their own.
When EON do announce who that person is, I’m kind of looking forward to coming back here and reading this over and saying why on earth did I think that? And then get hyped for the next reinvention.
I don’t have too much left to say on this particular instalment – I thought it was a thoroughly solid 007 film, perhaps it packed a little too much in – it’s a pretty long movie – but I also appreciated the callbacks and tropes to the earlier films being folded in, even the curveball at the end, considering I have now watched all TWENTY-FOUR (plus ONE) of the damned things in the space of less than three months. I’m kind of sick of 007, actually.
Even so, I’ll have one more post about this long, ridiculous series, which will of course include my personal top ten, because I gotta make a top ten list, right?
This time around, it’s a nice solid 16 out of 20 undrinkable protein shakes. I don’t know if the cat actually survived.