Hello to all the gentle and dear readers out there in the vacuum of digital space! I can see that you’ve exhausted every single other website on the webnets and that’s why you’re finally down to this one. Well, I’m not bitter about that at all! Sit a spell and take yer shoes off, pardner! By the way if you’re just joining me, I have just started my fantastic enterprise of ranking the James Bond movies from worst to best every single day with my ever-varying criteria. Yep, no real rhyme or reason for doing this other than trying to alienate the ones that I love because “Daddy needs to write about this fictional spy right now, kiddo!” I can practically hear “Cat’s In the Cradle” starting up right now!
Maintaining anything for over 50 years has to be hard work, right? James Bond has been in print since 1952 when Ian Fleming first wrote Casino Royale. The films of James Bond’s exploits started in 1962 with the release of Dr. No. Since that time, Ian Fleming’s story catalogue became completely exhausted in film adaptations. Of course Fleming stopped writing Bond novels because he was even more exhausted and died.
In the meantime, the Fleming titles were used up left and right as the books were mined for story ideas for the film adaptations along the way. It finally got to the point where the only connection to Fleming’s stories was the movie having the same title as the book and the fact that James Bond was in it. The World Is Not Enough comes from a line in a different Bond novel that was completely unrelated to the resulting film. GoldenEye was originally the name of Ian Fleming’s home, for Pete’s sake. The Pussy Galore film ended up completely unrelated to the Bond series, despite my numerous and thorough viewings to confirm this. But then came 2005…
With the reboot of the James Bond series starring Daniel Craig, it sent up a signal that maybe Ian Fleming’s original stories were coming back. They were even starting with Casino Royale, which stuck fairly close to the book at least compared to some of the later Roger Moore entries. Yes, I’m looking right at you, Octopussy. (Insert evil pun here.) Were they going to give Daniel Craig a go at redoing some of the novels then?
In a word, no. In a slightly longer word, nope. Quantum of Solace, which was a Fleming title at least, turned out to be the overlong direct sequel to Casino Royale. Skyfall, which did incorporate a little of the Bond backstory, very little actually, was next. After Skyfall made more money than ever thought possible for a movie that didn’t have a single Avenger or CGI dinosaur in it, James Bond would, of course, return. And after some legal wrangling which I will regurgitate boringly in a later entry, we ended up with today’s entry, the 3rd from worst Bond movie: Spectre.
Or SPECTRE. Or S.P.E.C.T.R.E. if you want to be really geeky about it, which if you’re reading this, you probably are. Since this movie is the most recent theatrical release as of my writing this, how could I even put Spectre into historical 007 franchise perspective? Believe me, I have wrestled with this very question during the long ten minutes I came up with my master list of these movies and when all is said and done, it turns out that I’m right. So don’t worry! Set a spell, take your shoes off…well pardner, it looks like they’re already off from the opening paragraph! Right neighborly of you, I reckon.
I have been disappointed with films at a theater before: I did see all the Star Wars prequels in their original theatrical run. My rear was planted in the cinema watching Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of The Crystal Skull without Sean Connery but with Aliens and His Son That We Don’t Care About. My feet were sadly stuck to a theater floor when Rob Zombie’s Halloween came out. As you can see, I am no stranger to theatrical disenchantment. But it truly takes a special film to make me angry.
Did I say angry? I meant livid. Balls to the walls infuriated, in fact. Yeah, I was disappointed when I saw Die Another Day in the theater, who wouldn’t be? But Spectre made me quite angry. What could cause this reaction? I cannot blame the theater, which was a brand spanking new UltraScreen-type deal with a full blown restaurant and recliners. The steak sandwich I had with some lightly fried calamari on the side was delightful. The cold imported beer felt wonderful going down. And I finished it off like a Roman emperor on an imbibing bacchanal through a state fair by having funnel cake sticks with both caramel and chocolate dip.
No kids were along, just my lovely bride partaking with me in my ritual of seeing every new Bond movie in a theater. No annoying cell phone users or teens that I wanted to hit with a 72 oz. Call of Duty-inspired flavor of Mountain Dew. Quiet adults enjoying good food surrounded us as we planted our derrieres in the comfy Barcaloungers, ready to watch things explode after the trailers.
And then the movie ended. I walked out quietly with my ever-attentive wife noticing that not only wasn’t I happy but I also appeared to be boiling with red hot rage. On the ride home, on our mission to rescue the babysitter from our children that act much like the loveable scamps from David Cronenberg’s The Brood, we aired our grievances. Here we go!
First off, I like Daniel Craig as 007. I do. Generally speaking, I think he’s acquitted himself quite well over the series so far. However, while his Bond seems to excel at being that blunt instrument that will hunt you down to beat you up, kill you, beat you up some more, set you on fire, and then kill you one more time before razing your house to the ground in an effort to kill you yet again, there doesn’t seem to be much variety beyond that.
I understand that Bond is not a character with the most varied background. But Timothy Dalton managed to show that intensity while also showing that there was more behind the eyes than just an assassin. Even Roger had moments of vulnerability that one wished he showed more of during his run as Bond. I just think that Craig is a better actor than playing Bond has allowed him be, which is a shame.
Trying to follow up a monster hit like Skyfall had to be intimidating as well. The producers, according to some sources, spent close to 300 million dollars on Spectre. Whoa, you’d have to have a ticket sold to everyone in Europe before you’d even think about breaking even. Think about that $300 million number too. Now think about just one million dollars. This budget would be 300 times that! Wow! Glad I could put that into a layman’s terms.
Something else I liked was just the simple return of SPECTRE as the de facto criminal organization in the Bond series. SPECTRE had previously shown up in some form in all but one of the Connery Bond movies, George Lazenby’s solo outing, and in a “well, we’re legally obliged to say that it wasn’t, but yeah it totally was” kind of way in the pre-credits sequence of For Your Eyes Only.
However, since 1961, the use of SPECTRE has been embroiled in legal entanglements as the result of Ian Fleming’s foolishness that were only finally resolved…in 2013. Again, I know legal issues are boring, but there were enough lawsuits regarding the backstory of the origins of SPECTRE that an entire book, The Battle for Bond, was written about the quagmire. And yes, dear reader, I had enough time to purchase and read this fascinating tome! (Insert “NEEERRRRD!!!” shout here.)
So let’s dive into the murky waters of Spectre! And spoiler alerts are for tourists. If you’re a Bond fan and you haven’t seen all of them yet, you’re not a fan. You’re just simply passing through. I never joke about my work, unless I do, so move along!
The best thing about Spectre? The fact they managed to remember to stick the gun barrel opening at the front of the picture. The Craig Bonds seemingly were allergic to having this icon start their movies, so it was nice to see that little white circle dash from left to right with the Bond theme playing. Hey, I’m not asking for the world with these pictures. Just stick to your beloved and established formula, will you?
I also appreciated the continuous tracking shot that starts the picture. Very cinematic and nicely done. Of course it then gets ruined with a chase scene that ends up with unremarkable CG helicopter shenanigans. I shouldn’t end up feeling ho hum after watching this kind of thing, but the pre-credits sequences are signatures for the Bonds goldurn it and after over 50 years I selfishly demand to be thrilled! At least Skyfall’s opening ended with a “Whaaa…?!” moment. This one ended with leading into the supposed title song.
Just when I never thought no one could ever better Madonna in producing a worse Bond theme song, Sam Smith went ahead and not only beat Madge, he pummeled her to the ground, kicking her in the ribs the entire time. Purportedly Smith helped write the song in half an hour and the demo alone was deemed worthy enough for release. Yeah, I can see one doing that successfully if you’re Frank Sinatra, which Smith most decisively is not. The Chairman would have ripped Smith’s leg off, bludgeoned him with it, and then get pissed off that Smith’s blood dared to end up on Frank’s carefully tailored shirt.
My first question is: how could a male voice so whiny and shrill sell so many albums? Why tap him as a Bond theme singer? Did the producers figure that with Daniel Craig conveying so much masculinity, they didn’t need someone with cajones to sing the song? Don’t get me wrong; there is a place for the lighter Bond song singer like Carly Simon or Sheena Easton. However, this song ranks as easily the worst of the Craig Bond themes, if not the worst theme in the entire series. And yes, I say this with the full knowledge that this is the same franchise that once hired Rita Coolidge.
So when all is said and done, I’m to believe that Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace, Skyfall, and this movie were interconnected all along and were all part of some amazing saga? Sure, I understand that 6 of the first 7 Bond movies were connected via SPECTRE’s organization running around and doing mischief, but they were all separate plots. The Craig Bonds were not some massive decade long event that was plotted out ahead of time either. This was all hastily strung together once EON got the legal rights.
More irritating is that there was no real need to link all of these movies together. Bond is Bond after all, a pioneering successful franchise with formulaic standalone entries. Back in the day, they even had the brass to not even do a direct sequel after Bond’s wife was killed in the closing minutes of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service! And now without any reason to do so, you’re going to tell us that Skyfall, which sometimes was confusing enough, gets forcibly lumped into this even more confusing overall mess? Argh.
I normally have no issue with Christoph Waltz’s performances. For instance, he was marvelous in Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. But here he plays Ernst Stavro Blofeld so low key, I’m not even sure his blood pressure is measurable or that he even has a pulse. Normally Bond as a character typically manages to stifle the bad guys’ evil plans so much that they make a mistake because they’ve become rattled and angered and flustered. Waltz merely shrugs things off with an attitude that conveys that he’ll wash the dishes later because he’s too busy folding laundry at the moment.
But we’re told that his Blofeld has been making Bond’s life hell retroactively over the course of the previous three movies. Supposedly he has either orchestrated or helped to orchestrate every problem that has affected Bond since Casino Royale. And just when Bond has him more than dead to rights at the very end of the movie…Bond lets Blofeld get arrested?!?
This is amazingly against character and especially against Craig’s interpretation of Bond. When Bond kills Blofeld in the books, he is so enraged he throttles Blofeld and literally strangles the life out of him. Here after Craig has demonstrated nothing but an “I’ll stop at nothing” level of pursuit over the course of three movies with relatively substandard lead bad guys. Now when Bond has the head bastard in his sights, he lets him walk? Ye gods, how maddening!
Sean used to kill people just so he could dip into his catalog of predetermined postmortem quips. They weren’t the main baddies or even the 43rd main baddie; Sean had a license to kill and he used it so often, his card would wear out every six months or so. In Never Say Never Again, Bond even came out of a partial retirement of sorts just so he could kill more people! Compare that to Spectre. The late, great Sir Sean Connery would only see this and say, “How shad.”
Beyond that, here are some other points written in bitter haste:
1) Ben Whishaw’s “Q” somehow cannot provide gadgets in order to protect himself, but he was fun as the voice of Paddington so I can let it slide.
2) I doubt if anyone but the diehard Fleming geeks caught that Hildebrand Rarity reference. It was I think the only time I laughed during the movie.
3) Monica Bellucci is completely wasted in a film that cares so little about her, her storyline just fades off unresolved. She deserved better methinks.
4) When you cast the guy that played Moriarty in Sherlock and think you can get away with having him be a surprise bad guy, you are fooling yourself.
5) And just gratuitously sticking an Aston Martin DB5 into another Bond movie doesn’t work anymore. Apparently the producers forgot something: I’ve bought Goldfinger on an infinite number of formats and can see that damn car in action in a much better movie.
While I understand that Craig was contractually stuck for his final Bond, the forthcoming No Time to Die (which at this point might as well get released by Summer 2026), I cannot suspend disbelief enough at Spectre’s ending attempt to drag this haphazardly connected storyline out to a fifth movie. It has been almost five years now and I’m still shaking my head about it. Also with the theaters being currently closed, I cannot just go see something else to get some much-needed, therapy-mandated funnel cake sticks with delicious dipping sauces!
And this above all, in an admittedly irrational and illogical way, is somehow Spectre’s fault too.