James Bond: The Daniel Craig Era (Part IV: Spectre) (Spoilers)

After the series’ high success that was Skyfall, news that the majority of the major cast and pretty much all the behind the scenes crew would be returning for Spectre had a lot of people very, very, very excited. And with the revelation that frequent Quentin Tarantino collaborator, the immensely talented German thespian and actor Christoph Waltz would be playing the film’s main antagonist, with a secondary antagonist role played by Sherlock villain Andrew Scott, the hype and intrigue for this movie grew even more.

When the teaser trailer for the film released in early 2015, we were promised a mystery, a personal story, a conclusion to the events that began almost a decade earlier in 2006 with Casino Royale. The teaser played everything out just right, and kept every solid plot detail quite close to the chest while still getting the audience invested and intrigued. It really is a great trailer.

With a script once again written by the people behind Skyfall, John Logan, Neal Purvis, and Robert Wade, it seemed unlikely that anything could go wrong. Skyfall succeeded in nearly every area, especially exploring the roots and emotions of the Bond character and exploring the franchise on a much deeper thematic level. In order to be a success, Spectre simply had to continue this trend, combining these aforementioned elements with brilliantly produced and shot action sequences.

Skyfall cinematographer Roger Deakins was unavailable to return for Spectre, most likely due to his work on the brilliant Sicario, so the immensely talented and regaled cinematographer handed the reigns off to his Swedish counterpart Hoyte van Hoytema, who is just as talented, if not more so, than Deakins himself. Van Hoytema is known for acting as director of photography for such beautifully shot films as the award-winning 2010 sports drama The Fighter, the critically acclaimed 2011 Le Carre adaptation of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, the Academy Award winning, Spike Jonze-helmed 2013 science-fiction romance comedy-drama Her, and 2014’s Interstellar, for which van Hoytema was nominated for a BAFTA award. Spectre was shaping up to be a film that could easily match, or even surpass, Skyfall.

Spectre begins with what I and many others consider to be the best cold open to a James Bond film yet. The Day of the Dead sequence begins with a four-minute long single take tracking shot, followed by a pulse-pounding escape and eventual fist fight in an airborne helicopter.

From then on, the film starts to go downhill. Adele’s Skyfall was an excellent combination of previous classic themes, and was combined with an excellent, creative, trippy, and engaging sequence that delved deep into Bond’s fractured psyche. Sam Smith’s Writing On the Wall and its accompanying credits sequence, though well-performed and well-designed, lacks any sort of investment the previous film provided. Smith has no emotion or true enthusiasm in his vocals, and the opening credits sequence, filled with what I can only describe as weird tentacle stuff, does nothing except confuse me.

Bond is reprimanded for his conduct in Mexico, which was an off-the-books assassination assigned by Dench’s M posthumously. Bond heads to the funeral of the man he killed and porks his widow, played by Monica Bellucci, only after killing two men who break into her apartment. Yes, even for a James Bond film, the scene is about uncomfortable, nonsensical, and creepy as it sounds. Bellucci tells him about a meeting of the mysterious SPECTRE organization, revealed to be the mastermind beind the Quantum suborganization. It is at this meeting that Bond meets Franz Oberhauser, played by Christoph Waltz. Bond escapes with a SPECTRE ring and is able to track down Mr. White, now a fugitive in hiding dying from radiation poisoning. He kills himself with Bond’s Whalter before making 007 promise to protect his daughter, played by the beautiful Lea Sydoux.Bond is then sent on a rather forced and trite journey to take down Oberhauser, revealed to be the son of Bond’s surrogate father; the Oberhausers were a wealthy family and friends of the Bonds who took James in after his parents’ death. Franz killed his parents, making it look like an accident, and inheiriting their wealth. He also changes his name: Ernst Stavro Blofield. This twist is entirely predictable with no mystery surrounding it whatsoever, and the reveal isn’t treated as shocking or relavatory in the slightest. With the film’s title a reference to the organization headed by Blofield, everybody knew off the bat that Waltz’ character was Blofield, but his connection to James could have been something shocking; a twist. There is no twist in here and the plot is entirely predictable and uninspired. In Skyfall, though there were no “twists” perse, it wasn’t predictable. It was fresh and exhilarating. Except for the widow thing, I was able to call every single point of plot progression before it occured.

This time around, the script does not even touch on any deep meanings, nor does it progress Bond as a character. Blofield’s role as “the author of all your pain” barely effects Bond and provides him with little to no overriding motovation or even emotional intensity. The plot, which should have been a shocking, emotionally charged hunt for the man who ruined Bond’s life at every turn, is instead a formulaic, by-the-numbers, rather episodic-feeling, and boring affair. Considering this is by the same team as Skyfall, and that Spectre was marketed as a culmination of the events of Bond’s past in this continuity, I cannot begin to imagine why the writing team did such a disappointing job, especially considering the brilliance of their previous effort.

For some very odd and rather disheartening reason, it is clear that no one’s heart was in this. Aside from the admittedly epic opening, all the action is rather standard; the direction is technically efficent, though not very creative. Van Hoytema does give us some brilliant shots, although the notable ones are few and far between. Craig used to view the role of Bond with great enthusiasm, but has gone on to state that he’d rather “slit his wrists” than reprise the role again, along with some other striking comments. He phones it in as Bond here. Lea Sydoux is given nothing to do but stand there and be pretty. Christoph Waltz could be a great Blofeld, if the writers gave him anything interesting to work with. Everything about Spectre is, frankly, a little boring, which is actually hugely disappointing to me, given it had so much potential if people had just given a crap.

Spectre was in production during the infamous Sony hacks of 2014/2015, and a copy of the script and critiques of it were obtained. It would not suprise me if this greatly hindered production and had something to do with the failure to reach its potential. Upon the news that Spectre is the most expensive movie in the Bond franchise thus far, and one of the most expensive movies ever made in general, I am a little worried that the Bond franchise as a whole might end up going out on a low note. It’s been almost 54 years, and all good things must come to an end, but not like this, I plead.

Spectre is not a bad film by any stretch of the imagination. It is a very well-done film from a technical, exclusively filmmaking standpoint, and is entirely worth your time if you need a movie to watch. It is, however, a rather gigantic disappointment given the talent involved and the legacy of what came before, much like Quantum of Solace, only much worse, in my opinion. I am aware that, oftentimes, expectations do not match reality, but Spectre did not only not reach my expectations, it managed to be totally overshadowed by other films that year, including Mission Impossible: Rouge Nationa series who’s high octane, impressive stunts were no doubt inspired by the long-running Bond franchise. I hope that the series will once again pick itself back up, because the grandaddy of spies being outshone by a series inspired by it and a movie that satirically praises it is not a good sign.

James Bond: The Daniel Craig Era (Part II: Quantum of Solace) (Spoilers)

2008’s Quantum of Solace was the long-awaited sequel to Daniel Craig’s excellent first outing. The film was directed by Marc Forester with a screenplay by Paul Haggis, Neal Purvis, and Robert Wade. Quantum of Solace picks up immediately after the end of Casino Royale, with Bond having captured the mysterious Mr. White in the closing moments of the film. Opening with a riveting car chase and a decent hard rock theme performed by Jack White and Alicia Keys, it all goes downhill from there.

What made Casino Royale stand out for many among the previous films in the franchise is the fact that it actually cared about Bond, M, Vesper, and even Le Chiffre, as people. Following Vesper’s death, it feels as though Quantum of Solace should be a continuation and escalation of that. It isn’t, and that is where the major disappointment lies. Casino Royale set up 007 as a human being, with thoughts and emotions apart from his service to Queen and Country. James fell in love, and despite whatever he says to the contrary, he should want revenge for Vesper’s death. The plotline to Quantum of Solace, however, does away with the emotions and raw intensity properly established in Casino Royale and, as a result, doesn’t go anywhere.

The conflict presented in Quantum of Solace begins after Mr. White escapes from MI-6 custody as fast as he was placed into it. He does so with the help of M’s corrupt bodyguard Mitchell, who was in Mr. White’s pocket from the word go. Bond chases Mitchell around Sienna and is ultimately forced to kill him. That makes M suspicious of Bond’s ability to remain professional, which is established by an interesting interaction between Bond and M earlier in the film.

“I need to know that I can trust you.”

“You don’t?”

“Well, it’d be a pretty cold bastard who didn’t want revenge for the death of someone he loved.”

The thesis that M puts forth is actually a very reasonable one, one that the film fails entirely to follow through on. Throughout the film, M expresses disdain and disgust for Bond’s actions throughout the film, as he appears to be racking up quite the body count for no apparent reason. She eventually has Bond arrested and detained, seeing him as a liability. The very stupid part about all this, from my perspective, is that Bond does not allow his emotions to affect his judgement in the slightest, and the people Bond kills throughout the course of the movie were necessary to complete his objectives. M’s distaste and distrust comes from nowhere but an (admittedly logical) assumption with no real evidence to back it up. That is extremely out of character for her, and seems only to manufacture conflict for a film that doesn’t really have anything interesting going on.

MI-6 tracks a marked bill that was inserted into one of Le Chiffre’s money laundering accounts to a geologist connected to a billionaire environmentalist named Dominic Greene. Greene is a member of Quantum, the organization headed by Mr. White. Greene’s plan is to initiate a coup in Bolivia to gain control of the country’s water supply. Bond meets a former intelligence officer named Camille Montes, played by Olga Kurylenko. Montes has a personal vendetta against the general behind the upcoming coup. He killed Camille’s father, and then raped her mother and sister before beating the two of them to death. Her character is the only one who presents any kind of emotional development whatsoever. Bond nor M, the two major players in this saga, show any kind of character development from where they left off during the end of Casino Royale. Bond shows no clear emotional drive for revenge, and except for escaping MI-6 custody to stop Greene’s scheme, remains entirely loyal to M and the British Government. Greene’s scheme is neither connected to White or Vesper aside from being a member of Quantum, nor does it seem particularly evil or threatening. As a sidenote, there is also a vauge hint of a sideplot involving the corrupt C.I.A. section chief of South America, and Felix Leiter’s boss, agreeing to work with Greene in exchange for oil. The chief only appears for a singular scene, Leiter for two, and nothing of consequence comes from their involvement.

Quantum of Solace, for what it’s worth, does have some very well-done action. The opening car chase is great and so is Bond’s hunt for Mitchell throughout Sienna. The film’s potential as a continuation of the new environment and new character dynamics established in Casino Royale is squandered by ignoring any and all emotion that would be expected in such a sequel, instead opting for a generic plotline that provides little to no investment for the audience, not providing any kind of closure or emotional reaction of any kind for Bond excluding the end scene.

Not only does this scene feel entirely out-of-place, forced, and somewhat random considering that the only setup we are given is ten seconds of exposition at the beginning of the film, but it also seems eerily similar to the scenes from the end of The Bourne Supremacy and the beginning of The Bourne Ultimatum, the latter of which came out just one year prior to Quantum of Solace’s release, with the only difference being Bond’s intent for revenge, which was not at all established until this point, and Jason Bourne’s quest for forgiveness.

Quantum of Solace is by no means the worst Bond film. It is perhaps the most disappointing given its potential, however. It is a watchable, adequate, serviceable, yet extremely forgettable film that wasted nearly all of its potential. The surprisingly creative action sequences are still all too brief, and unlike films like John Wick or Mad Max, are not nearly creative enough, entertaining enough, or groundbreaking enough for the film to rise above the surprisingly generic and average screenplay. This waste of potential was certainly reflected in the mixed critical reception of the film and lower than expected box office returns. The relative failure of this film is undoubtedly what led to MGM facing another bout of serious financial struggles that took them a long four years to resolve.