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Sunday, November 08, 2015

Spectre of the Past

It doesn't have the punch of Casino Royale or the poignancy of Skyfall, but Spectre does return a much-missed nemesis to the Bond films and in doing so ties the four Daniel Craig outings into one thematically sound package. Craig's Bond has always been the most reluctant and battle-torn Bond of the films; more than any other actor who has worn the tux, Craig imbues his performance with pain and a deliberate lack of affect; this is a man who, as he admits here, doesn't think much about what else he could have done with his life; he feels as though there were never any other choices for him.

Character agency is very much in question here; the primary antagonist and his secret evil conspiracy give no true rhyme or reason for what they do; they are evil because they have always been evil and must always remain evil, for that is the role history, Ian Fleming and Kevin McClory have cast for them. Even the name says it all: they are Spectre, the phantom that lurks in the shadows and strikes out to undermine civilization at the worst possible moments. Christoph Waltz' villain gives only the vaguest justification for their actions: "Sometimes it takes something terrible to lead to something wonderful." Usually would be world dominators at least attempt to justify their actions with some promise of order and stability; not here.

The world itself lurches forward, too, driven by fear that leading to the ultimate surveillance state, one which James Bond and the gang at MI6 must stop...but we in the audience know that even if the heroes succeed on screen, the surveillance state is here; the battle has already been fought and lost.

It's hard to classify Spectre as good or bad; it is merely as inevitable as the closing credits promise that "JAMES BOND WILL RETURN." It's entertaining, beautifully shot, well acted (especially by the masterful Waltz), provides the requisite comic relief and breathtaking stunts. To its credit, it even attempts to address a topical and crucial issue.

And yet it still feels as though we, the audience, are just as trapped as Craig feels in the role of Bond, and as Bond feels as an agent of Her Majesty's Secret Service. Watching Spectre is fun, but when it's over you can almost feel oily tentacles slithering around your limbs, pulling you to a place from which there may be no return. 


Stephen Fitzpatrick said...

Insightful as always, and your assertions are by and large indisputable. But instead of being trapped, have EON at last struck a great balance between new and old Bond? I can't help but feel that the next film (probably Craig's last outing) has been set up extremely well, like all the pieces are finally in place.

Jeff Shyluk said...

Monica Bellucci now gets to attend the annual Bond Girl convention, so no matter what Spectre does wrong, it will always have that right.