Oscars 2016: Spectre


The Film? Spectre

The Pitch: James Bond does James Bond stuff and looks thoroughly miserable doing it

Number of Nominations: One.

Which category? Best Song.

Will it Win? Christ, I hope not

By now you have probably heard Radiohead’s “Spectre”, the song that the band submitted to producers as a possible Bond theme … and which was rejected. God knows why – it’s a pretty bloody good song, and it at least is named after the film. However, the Bond people decided to go with Sam Smith’s “Writing on the Wall” … and it’s awful, a forgettable piece of forgettable shite. I have no idea why it’s nominated as Best Song.

Before Daniel Craig’s performance as James Bond, and before Skyfall in particular, a Bond movie was just a Bond movie: beautiful women, exotic locations, diabolical villains, lumbering henchmen – wash, rinse, repeat. Skyfall was something else – not only was it by far the best-looking of the series (thanks, Roger Deakins), it was also the glummest, and what with the bombing of MI6 headquarters, and the death of M, it would have been a fitting end not just to Craig’s dour, rough around the edges interpretation of 007, but a fine way to end the series itself.

Instead, Skyfall ended on something of a reboot (if such a thing is possible). 007 had a new boss, Ralph Fiennes, whose office looked reliably old-fashioned all the way down to the leather on the door. When I saw that I thought the franchise would go back to its roots and begin recycling old stories, probably with a new Bond.

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With Spectre that has sort of happened. Craig is still around (and rumoured to be considering one more outing). The looming threat is the nasty SPECTRE of the title, an organization that has not appeared in a Bond film since On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, and which is led by the mysterious Franz Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz), who is often seen deep in shadow and who seems to know Bond personally.

On the off-chance you have not seen the film, skip the next paragraph.

Oberauser is his real name but he prefers to go by … Blofeld! Of course he does. As soon as the film’s title was revealed, everyone began speculating on the return of the evil mastermind. He even has the white cat, and late in the film he gets the ugly scar. But there’s more, and this is where I started to wonder if the Bond writers are taking the piss: Blofeld is Bond’s adoptive brother, thought to have been killed in an avalanche many years before, and who has been responsible for all of Bond’s problems.

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This backstory, which the film takes ages to reveal, is intended, I suppose, to give the story some heft, another legacy of Skyfall, and it turns out that Spectre has connections to Craig’s previous Bond films. You can catch glimpses of Mads Mikkelsen, Eva Green, and Javier Bardem in the opening titles, and Bond’s mission is kicked off with a message from the previous M (Judi Dench) from beyond the grave. But I would have preferred, frankly, less solemn exchanges about the past and more, well, more Bond stuff.

Not that it doesn’t have some good sequences in its two and a half hours (two and a half hours!) The film opens in Mexico City on the Day of the Dead with a fantastically choreographed single tracking shot. There is a thrilling car chase in Rome and a decent fistfight on a train. There is also a rather silly (in the best Bond fashion) car-plane chase in the Alps.

Interestingly, this may be the first time that a Bond film has given other characters important stuff to do beyond the usual ‘now pay attention, 007’. Moneypenny (Thandie Newton) helps Bond, as does Q (a very funny Ben Whishaw, who has the film’s best line). Even Fiennes as M gets to do some running around and get in a bit of fisticuffs (something you’d never imagine Bernard Lee doing). Fiennes spends much of his screen-time crossing swords with a smarmy Whitehall type (Andrew Scott, rather good). Moneypenny, incidentally, has a love-life, and is no longer pining for James (if only she could get M to remember her birthday, though).

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Much was made of Monica Bellucci’s involvment – she is a year older than Craig and was insistent that she is a Bond woman, not a Bond girl. And while it is refreshing to see 007 bed a woman of his own generation instead of a girl young enough to be his daughter, what a shame that the film pretty much wastes Bellucci, whose presence in the film amounts to little more than a cameo.

Similarly under-used is Christoph Waltz, a man seemingly born to play a Bond villain. He has a couple of good moments, and you can sense him longing to start chewing the scenery, but the film doesn’t let him make an impression as a truly great Bond villain (although, and this is something of a spoiler, it’s evident he will return).

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As Bond, Craig looks weary and sullen, although he does allow himself a wry half-smile now and again. If Spectre is his last go at the role, he ‘s going out on a high note, driving off with the girl (Lea Seydoux) in his beloved vintage Aston Martin. And he might just want to get out now, if only so the Internet can get in a tizzy about who should replace him. Four times as Bond is enough for Craig, I think. The writing’s on the wall indeed.

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