The following contains spoilers for Spectre. You have been warned.
Danny: Alright, let’s get this discussion rolling. I want to begin with discussing the disappointing start to the 24th bond film Spectre. It only opened at $73 million, $15 million less than Skyfall ($88 million). By all intents and purposes, this should have been a runaway record breaking film in the Bond franchise. I’m curious to hear your thoughts Erik.
Erik: $73 million is still pretty nice, especially during a season which has had some real underwhelming openings (Steve Jobs amongst them) for films that weren’t called The Martian. Still, I’m not really the type who spends much time contemplating the financial side of film. If I had to take a guess at why Spectre under-performed a bit, I’d go with the fact that it’s been three years since the last James Bond. True, that’s not a long time at all for sequel to come out, but I feel like the Bond series and character is one that needs to ride the immediate momentum of the prior film’s success. While it is true that there was a greater gap between Skyfall and Quantum of Solace than Spectre and Skyfall, Quantum was a bit of a disappointment (at least for longtime Bond fans like me), so I think people were aching for an objectively good 007 outing. When the not bad, but average reviews started rolling in for this one, perhaps some people gave it a pass, because they were like, “well at least we’ve still got Skyfall.” And that’s why I don’t do financial analyses.
Danny: I agree about the financial side of things; sometimes that can be overrated. The dip between Skyfall and Spectre reminds of the dip between J.J. Abrams’ first Star Trek and the sequel Star Trek Into Darkness. The box office gross and reviews were down, but all in all, the movie was a success. I expect the same for Spectre. As for the film itself, I found it thoroughly entertaining, but it wasn’t as good as Skyfall. One point that has been talked about ad nauseum was the secret evil organization trope. Just a few months removed from Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, it felt repetitive returning to same plot device (although slightly different). The action sequences were terrific, and I loved the opening continuous shot in the parade, but the plot itself felt half-baked and like something I had experienced before many times.
Erik: Hey, the James Bond series was doing evil organizations before Tom Cruise could chew solid foods, so they always get first dibs on that trope. As someone who remembers the first time members of SPECTRE were sitting around a table planning world domination, I was very excited to see them back in action. In fact, I thought the part where Bond is spying on their meeting was one of the best in the film – tell us your credentials, indeed. However, while I do think they did I good job of building up the mystery around SPECTRE and making them seem really ominous, I think they could have done more to show their threat level in the later parts of the film. We get a lot of talking about how dangerous they are and what their plans could mean, should they come to fruition, but we don’t see a lot of it. Mr. White (Jesper Christensen) said they were so evil, even he couldn’t stand to be a part of them anymore, but they don’t really seem any worse than the group he was working for previously – Quantum. Which is a real shame, because his betrayal of them is one thing that helps set the plot in motion.
Danny: I do think Spectre did the whole evil organization quite good. Integrating the trope with modern technology and the Big Brother aspect was nicely done. Obviously other movies have done the whole big brother trope before – that was driving force in Age of Ultron’s plot – but Bond is on another level with evil organizations, as you mentioned. Even though that trope has been a staple for previous Bond films, it seems newer films have adapted that device and used it over and over again. I thought Christopher Waltz did a good job as Blofeld – long lost evil step-brother of James Bond. I have to say, aside from his monologue, I was expecting him to be more menacing than he was. He certainly joins previous Bond villains in the pantheon of mained faces, but that wasn’t until the final climax. I felt Javier Bardem played a more menacing villain, Blofeld just had the whole family dimension in his side. Dave Bautista didn’t have a single line in the film, but he singlehandedly provided a grittiness to Bond villains I had never seen before. At times he felt like an unstoppable force, which raised the stakes for Bond, as it seemed he met his physical match in many battles with Mr. Hinx.
Erik: Alright, this is where I start getting into my fanboy gripes. While I did enjoy Waltz’s performance, I think I would have liked the character a lot better if he wasn’t supposed to be Blofeld. In the old Bond films, there wasn’t any hint of link between him and Bond. Part of what made him work was you didn’t get any big explanation of who he was. When he shows up for the first time (in person), you don’t know anything about him, he’s just this pale bald guy in a grey suit with a scar down his face stroking a white cat in his lap – sitting in a base inside of a volcano no less. Making a villain’s backstory part of the hero’s can be a risky move, as it often comes off contrived or pointless. I don’t think Blofeld becoming bond’s evil step-brother added much to his character. For one, there wasn’t much to the relationship. There’s no big event that links them together. Bond really doesn’t have much to do with Blofeld going to the dark side. I guess they were going for the idea that Blofeld was just born crazy, and didn’t need a rational excuse to murder his father, but the idea that he hates Bond and has been hounding him for years because he thinks his daddy liked his step-brother more… It doesn’t make him sinister, it just makes him a brat. Mr. Hinx though, I will agree was awesome. It also made me realize how much I missed the prominent villain henchman archetype, as we didn’t get any in the other Daniel Craig-Bond films. I think Hinx left such a great impression because Craig’s Bond has been presented as one who doesn’t rely on gadgets and tricks as much as his own physical capabilities. When you present a character who can take him on physically, it doesn’t leave him with much and thus gave their knock-down-drag-out brawl in the train (which I’m pretty damn sure was an homage to a similar fight in From Russia With Love) that much more tension.
Danny: Good points on Blofeld Erik. While the whole brother-dynamic in theory should add to the tension between Bond and Blofeld, their lack of history or any connection whatsoever made that storyline fall flat in my eyes as well. While Bond films have long been known for their Bond girls, I couldn’t help but be peeved with Monica Bellucci’s character. She served no point other than telling Bond where and when the SPECTRE meeting was taking place and sleeping with Bond. And yes, I do know the Bond franchise had made this a regular occurrence, juxtaposing with Lea Seydoux’s character that seems to tame the great James Bond only makes this mistake more obvious. Her character could have been written out and we would have never missed her. After Bond and she slept together, she isn’t even mentioned. Just felt like a waste of screen time for a character.
Erik: Okay, so we’re getting into the Bond Girls now. Christ, this was one of my biggest problems with the film. Seydoux’s Madeleine Swann was presented as this great love in Bond’s life, essentially the biggest since Vesper Lynd (Eva Green) in Casino Royale. She’s the one who, as you say, “tames” Bond, the one who saves him from himself. Here’s the problem: Daniel Craig is in his 40’s, and looks like he’s in his 40’s; Lea Seydoux, regardless of her actual age (30), looks like she’s in her mid 20’s at most in this film. Couple that with the fact that up until the moment they fall into bed together, I was not getting any romantic vibes off of them. Their relationship seemed more like a surrogate father and daughter. Up until said bed falling, I was thinking that is a really interesting and mature dynamic to throw into a Bond film. It makes me think back to For Your Eyes Only where in a relatively minor scene, a young girl all but throws herself at Bond (Roger Moore, in this particular case) who was clearly pushing 50 at this point. And what does Bond, slayer of women do? He politely turns her down. It doesn’t help that they cast an actress more age appropriate for Craig in Bellucci, but relegated her to quick fuck status. It’s not often a Bond film misuses both talent and beauty. Now that I think about it, the whole love story could have been great if they’d put Bellucci in Seydox’s role, and made her White’s ex-wife instead of estranged daughter.
Danny: It seems that one of the biggest issues with Spectre was its need to create the greatest villain and greatest love of Bond’s life without truly developing those characters. I thought Vesper Lynd’s character was more fleshed out than Seydoux’s, where it seems that the two (Bond and Madeleine) connect due to their ties to the spy world rather than love. The whole Bellucci-as-Seydoux’s-character idea has potential. Just like any typical Bond film, this one had beautiful women, cool cars and fancy tech gear, but one point where I lost my suspension of disbelief was when Blofeld fails to remove Bond’s watch when he is torturing him. Maybe I’ve seen too many Bond and Mission: Impossible films, but when I first saw that scene my first thought was, “Come on! You didn’t remove the watch?” It sort of reminds of me of Austin Powers joke that Dr. Evil insists on killing Powers in a creative way, only to open the door to his escape. I tried to brush it aside, but it just seemed really stupid for a mastermind criminal to let something like that go. Where there any other aspects of the film that caught your attention Erik?
Erik: Like you, I did really like the pre-credits opening sequence. In fact it might be one of my favorite openings for any Bond film. The gorgeous setting, the tracking shot, that bit where Bond just casually walks out of his room and across the rooftops, and a pretty damn cool fist fight inside a helicopter to top it off. It’s funny the contrasts between this film and the last. I thought Skyfall’s opening was one of its worst parts, but loved this one. I liked the subversions of the typical Bond romance tropes in Skyfall, but thought this one’s were sorely lacking. I liked the main villain’s personal connection to a main character in Skyfall, but thought it hurt Spectre’s antagonist. And finally, Adele’s Skyfall might be one of my favorite Bond themes, but I thought Sam Smith’s ditty was way off the mark. What did you think of the famed Bond opening credits and song sequence in this film Danny?
Danny: Although this type of shot has been around for some time (the first one I remember seeing was Goodfellas), but after Birdman, it now seems this is all the rage – with good reason. I thought the entire scene was lifted high with the Latin (opening) score that uses a lot of percussions to carry the long shot from beginning to end. As for the Sam Smith song and title sequence, I thought it was bit overdone. In fact, it reminded me of another Daniel Craig film that uses a lot of dark tones and smoke figures- The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, but I thought that opening scene fit that film better. Sam Smith can sing, but I think possibly the producers were trying to recapture some of that Adele magic in getting Smith to sing the theme song.
Erik: God I miss the days when a Bond theme could just be about how awesome the main villain is (see: Goldfinger, The Man With the Golden Gun). I was hoping Spectre’s would be an anthem to the evil organization, instead it just sounded like a love song off Smith’s next album. You know On Her Majesty’s Secret Service had a sappy love song in it, but they had the good sense to save it for the middle of the film.
Danny: Not to digress too much on the financial side of things, but it felt as though Daniel Craig and Sam Mendes only returned for Spectre due to Skyfall’s massive success ($1 billion worldwide). If in fact Spectre fails to reach those numbers, I think that would seriously hurt the possibility of a fifth Daniel Craig James Bond film. What do you think?
Erik: From what I’ve heard, profit or no profit, Daniel Craig isn’t too keen on returning to the role. The film itself felt like a big sendoff for Craig – 007 basically retires at the end. Honestly, considering his age I think he’s done more than enough for the franchise – Casino Royale and Skyfall are two of the best Bond films, in my opinion. I can’t wait to see who will play the role next (part of me still believes Idris Elba has a shot).
Danny: Spectre does feel like a send off for Daniel Craig and his iteration of James Bond. Craig did usher in one of the best eras in the 007 franchise’s history. I do think Idris Alba would be a great choice for the franchise. He has a lot of personality and charisma that is fitting for James Bond.