Friday 4 November 2016

BlogalongaBond / Spectre:
The Author Of All My Pain

Thunderball. Moonraker. Die Another Day. What do these three James Bond films have in common? Two things: firstly, they are the fourth outings in the tux for Sean Connery, Roger Moore and Pierce Brosnan respectively. Secondly, they're all rubbish.

See if you can guess where I'm heading with this.

Spectre was a big deal for me. Skyfall seemed to get so much right in terms of balancing old and new, tradition and surprise, character and Massive Fuckoff Explosions, that to get Sam Mendes back for another go seemed like an idea that could not possibly fail. Furthermore, through a combination of incessant Bond waffle from my direction and sheer dumb luck, I found myself reporting on the film from the Mexico set for Empire magazine, a bucket-list event which to this day I can't quite believe actually took place. But it did, I've got hundreds of photos to prove it. Come round one day, we'll have a slideshow.
He was even happier to see me than Pierce Brosnan was that time

So I was invested in Spectre. I knew it would be amazing. It would be the Bond film I could download into my grandchildren's brainports and say: "Hey kids, Grandad stood just out of shot there, dribbling even more than he does now!" But in my excitement I had forgotten two things: one, Spectre was Daniel Craig's fourth Bond film and therefore automatically cursed, and two, I don't have any children and at this stage am extremely unlikely to conjure any up. But that's a blessing, because now I won't have to witness their offspring's hollow-eyed disappointment as they realise I was present at the scene of one of the worst crimes in Bond history and did nothing to stop it. For Spectre is not just Daniel Craig's worst Bond, it's possibly the most crushing disappointment in the series' lifetime.

I outlined a lot of what Spectre gets calamitously wrong in my immediate reaction, bashed out after a preview screening just over a year ago, so I won't repeat myself here. Not much, anyway. I saw the film again a few days later at the premiere, and, having dramatically lowered my expectations, found it just as flawed but not quite so distressingly average. But in the past twelve months I haven't been able to face it again. In fact such was its impact on me that, aside from a desperately needed go on Licence To Kill to remind myself why I love James Bond, I haven't watched a single 007 adventure in all that time. That is unheard of in these parts, let me tell you.

So exactly one year to the day since my first viewing, I gave Spectre another go. Surely, with a year's distance between us, the Bond films and I could reunite, rediscover what we did for each other and enjoy some unbelievable yet firmly metaphorical make-up sex. When I casually mentioned on Twitter that I was planning a rewatch, I received a smattering of ambiguous responses:

I felt like people were trying to tell me something, though I couldn't quite put my finger on exactly what it was, so I pressed on with an open mind and a full wine glass. Alas (and I wish Twitter had made some effort to warn me), it turns out Spectre is still a distressingly average film, and therefore an unacceptably substandard Bond film. I'll be surprised if I ever get round to watching it again. So what went wrong? Apart from - as mentioned in my previous review - the monotony of the narrative, the awful theme song, the unsettling location-hopping, the appalling treatment of Monica Bellucci, the shittest henchman since the one nobody remembers from Tomorrow Never Dies, the sterile fights and chases, the cack-handed retconning of the previous three films, the repetitive guff about the 00 section being obsolete, the inexplicable volte-face of Madeleine Swann's attitude to Bond, Christoph Waltz's bored performance and Thomas Newman's unforgivably lazy score? I could go on, but I won't.

Like most Bond films, Spectre gives its opening sequence everything, and I do love that four-minute unbroken shot, despite the knowledge that it was stitched together from four takes, shot weeks and miles apart from each other. But like the building Bond manages to blow up, the film comes crumbling down around his ears from there on. The helicopter sequence is the first warning sign: the fight choreography is dull; you can practically see the green screen out of the window; the lack of music under it removes any sense of danger (and when the score does begin it's a cue lifted directly from Skyfall); the much-trumpeted loop-the-loop is shot as if by a bystander on their phone (obviously not the Sony Xperia Z5) and cuts away before it even finishes. And then Sam Smith comes along to squeak a strong contender for the series' worst theme song over some mild tentacular erotica, as if everyone involved in the film has lost their fucking mind.
Hentai another day

There's some enjoyable, albeit brief, fan-service in the first act: the first antagonistic meeting between Bond and M in a wood-panelled office since The Living Daylights is most welcome, and only the third recorded sighting of the inside of Bond's flat is a fun bit of production design. Intended to mirror the psyche of Craig's Bond (sparse, functional, unemotional), the set does a similar job to those that reveal Connery's 007 in Dr. No (classic, angular, golf-oriented) and Moore's in Live And Let Die (vulgar, gadget-obsessed, bit porny). Even the Order Of Temporary Guardianship Moneypenny drops off is worth pausing the Blu-ray over, containing as it does the names of Bond's Aunt Charmian and Hannes Oberhauser, both characters from Fleming's books (although Oberhauser was never Bond's legal guardian and he certainly didn't have a snot-nosed son called Franz who went mental when James turned up).

After that, sadly, everything else is lacklustre and uncharacteristically inert, as if someone's forgotten to wind the film up before letting it go. Much of Bond's dialogue consists of clipped, cursory answers like "I can hardly wait", "That sounds marvellous", "I completely understand" or "Of course", delivered in a way that's meant to sound sardonic but just comes across as bored. Rubbish thug Mr Hinx has the mysterious power to make all the extras in his set-pieces disappear (where is the population of Rome at midnight? What happened to all the people on the train?). The biggest explosion ever captured on film somehow manages to be so flat that it barely ruffles Léa Seydoux's hair.

Then there's the hamfisted unpicking of some of the good work done in the previous films, perhaps best exemplified by Q branch rebuilding the Aston Martin DB5. The destruction of one of Bond's most iconographic elements in Skyfall was so ballsy and laden with feels that it really hit me in the nuts (in a good way, if that's possible), so to just glue it back together like a child's broken toy is frustrating and pointless. Systematically depriving Bond of the few things he cherishes - his true love, his car, his boss - has been a sadistically enjoyable motif of the Craig era, but Spectre loses its nerve in its rush to return to Old Bond. (Interestingly, an early draft had Rory Kinnear's Tanner as an MI6 mole, which would have taken the concept even further, but ended up being one of the few absolutely terrible ideas that was dropped before filming. In the books, Tanner is Bond's only real friend in the Service, and although the films have left that relationship woefully underserved so far, that would have been A STEP TOO FAR DAMMIT)

As for the film's Big Reveal, well. One of those early drafts had Blofeld as an African warlord (to be played by Chiwetel Ejiofor, rumour has it), which may have set him up as Just Another Villain but at least we wouldn't have had to put up with all that brother bullshit. More importantly though, the character was introduced early in the script, thereby negating all the is he / isn't he bollocks we had to put up with in the year running up to Spectre's release, as if the Star Trek Into Darkness Khan fiasco had never happened. What's the point of Oberhauser revealing that he has another name? NO POINT. It means nothing to Bond, because he's never heard the name before; only we, the audience have. And we, it seems worth pointing out, are not characters in the film. It would have made more sense for Waltz' character to call himself Blofeld for the majority of the film, only to reveal himself as - ZOMG - Bond's surrogate sibling all along; at least that would have had some dramatic impact.

But Spectre's biggest crime is its feeble attempt to slot into the plots of the previous three films; a device so lame in its inception and execution that it is an unfathomable mystery why nobody in the film's production ever stopped to think about just how dumb it was. Oberhauser / Blofeld's "It's always been me" speech is such absolute bullshit it makes me cross just thinking about it. It makes literally no sense that he was in any way behind any of the events of Casino Royale, Quantum Of Solace or Skyfall, and the very notion not only makes Spectre look stupid, it retroactively renders those three films nonsensical too, which really is quite the achievement. And let's not even get into Blofeld's dunderheaded plan to tell Bond everything, then make him forget everything (wuh?), then kill him (eh?). People complain about the villain in Quantum Of Solace, but at least that guy wasn't a total fucking moron.

That said, it could have been worse. Spectre's script was notoriously leaked during filming, and while I would never condone obtaining and reading it, I did somehow come across a bunch of other ideas intended to demonstrate how Blofeld had been the author of all Bond's pain. They didn't make it into the finished film, but maybe they should have:

Ten more examples of Bond's pain which were authored by Blofeld:
  • Just after the black-and-white bathroom fight at the beginning of Casino Royale, Bond goes to the toilet only to find that someone has recently done a poo and not flushed it. That person... was Ernst Stavro Blofeld
  • At some point between the events of Casino Royale and Skyfall, Blofeld moves the steering wheel of Bond's Aston Martin DB5 to the other side to fuck with his mind
  • Blofeld edited all the action scenes in Quantum Of Solace to try and stop people seeing how good Bond was at fighting and that
  • It was Blofeld who hid the stationery in Bond's hotel room in Quantum Of Solace. Unfortunately his plan backfired; little did he know that the absence of a free pen and notepad was exactly the kind of thing that made Agent Fields' fanny damp
  • For most of the last four 007 films Blofeld is standing directly behind Bond, mockingly pulling his own ears out and making a pouty face. You just can't see him because he's smaller than Bond
  • One night in 2010 Blofeld crept into Bond's tailor's and altered all his measurements so that none of his suits would fit
  • When Moneypenny accidentally shot Bond off the train in Skyfall, it was Blofeld who - just offscreen - whispered the word "bumtrumpet" in her ear and made her do it
  • For most of the first act of Skyfall, Blofeld repeatedly hides Bond's razor
  • Just before Bond does the gunbarrel walk at the end of Skyfall, Blofeld put a little bit of olive oil on the floor, making Bond do a silly little wobble
  • In order to make Bond's heroic deeds appear dull and uninteresting throughout the events of Spectre, Blofeld wrote the score

From now on, then, I would like to impose a rule on the James Bond films: each new actor who plays Bond must do three films in ten years. No more, no fewer. A cursory glance at the Bond back catalogue demonstrates the genius of this idea: no Thunderball, no Moonraker, no Die Another Day, no Spectre, plus we'd have had one more film with Timothy Dalton in it (ignore George Lazenby, he buggers up my otherwise foolproof plan). As much as I've enjoyed Daniel Craig as Bond (he's far and away the best thing about Spectre, even when he's at his most monosyllabic), I think it's time he went. And he can take the bloody DB5 with him.

Ralph Fiennes
Fiennes is bloody great as M, isn't he? He's basically playing the role exactly as Judi Dench did, his infuriation with everyone outside his immediate team palpable and his short-fused tolerance with Bond barely concealed. But his military background means he gets to throw a punch every now and again, and although I don't need to see future scriptwriters crowbarring an action sequence in for him every time, I'm happy to see him get his hands dirty once in a while.

Ben Whishaw
Whishaw, meanwhile, is the perfect Q right now. Ignoring the aforementioned DB5 nonsense, Spectre's Q Branch scene shows his comic skills off wonderfully, and his relationship with Bond is fascinating: he's not impressed by what he does but he's a little bit scared of him. Also he is very concerned about his job and his cats, and those are noble attributes. Plus OH MY GOD THAT SWEATER

And finally: There is no 'And finally'. As if to hammer its rubbishness home, Spectre doesn't even have a decent double entendre making reference to James Bond's penis. What a load of old cock.

BlogalongaBond might return

What the hell is BlogalongaBond? I'll tell you.
Further BlogalongaBondareading here


  1. Really enjoyed the list at the end.

    I wonder if anyone who saw the film ever thought for one second that Andrew Scott might NOT have been a Spectre agent.

    Roger Moore said Spectre was "the best Bond ever."

  2. I still like it more than the tedious plot hole mess that is Skyfall.

  3. Was hoping to see BlogalongaBond return, happy days!

    Anyway, while I personally can't agree with all of your arguments (I've seen Spectre 5 times, and have found it reasonably enjoyable each time), I can completely understand your justification for them. The Blofeld-Oberhauser reveal was completely mishandled, Andrew Scott's C is the most obvious "evil mole" character I've seen outside of 24, and the return of the DB5 is so pointless it beggars belief.
    That being said, the Mexico PTS is plenty fun, the MI6 supporting characters are solid, the new cues Newman actually produced are lovely (Los Muertos Vivos Estan, Donna Lucia, & Madeleine, to name my faves), and the actual climax in London is exhilarating enough to compensate for the anticlimax that is the crater base sequence. Overall though, definitely Danny Boy's least-excellent outing as 007.

    Also, can I get you a time machine to go make that "3 films per actor" plan a reality? That way Dalton can do Risico in '91, and Lazenby might just manage a straight adaptation of the Blofeld trilogy :)

  4. Was wondering if Spectre would get blogabonded. its been a long time..and we are.

    You make it sound like the Batman & Robin/Superman IV of the franchise (and is Moonraker that bad?) Maybe the awesome cool mysterious trailers built up expectations to high for TIS? Saw it very late on at cinema (Jan 2016) and havent bothered to buy the blu yet. Can't remember the movie in too much detail but wasn't that fussed on it but still preferred it to Quantum..quite liked the eerie mystery feel, the Eyes Wide Shut meeting, the nods/connections to previous films (finally clearing up Quantum), the snowy scenes, and Hans Landa as the author of all bonds pain. Surely it can't be that bad a second time man damnit!

    yes the Blofeld mystery box thing was straight out of Trek to Darkness.. can totally picture Wilson/broccoli watching how Cumberbatchs villain was kept 'secret' in the media and then how it came out in the film and going we are so doing a Khan on blofeld!

    I can't for the life of me remember how the sam smith song goes now.. its amazing as it was drilled into my (and everyone else on earths) skull only last year..I know its just a click away to remind myself and was about to, but then thought do I really want to do that? The answer was no..

    Wonder if Craig will decide to scoop up that 150m and do another one (or 2)?..think he will. Surely an announcement on he status of Bond 25 is due soon?

    Wonder if EON well invite TIS back to the bond set for Bond25 after taking a giant crap on Spectre (twice now)

  5. I'd commend the costume department too, some stylish outfits all over this film. And bold use of the 'tactleneck'. Although remove a star for the ludicrous number of outfit changes (did they go tuxedo shopping before getting on that train?)

  6. Seems like as good a place as any to bang on about what may be my biggest bugbear with the modern Bonds: the death of the stunt spectacular.
    See, when I was growing up the thing I associated with Bond almost more than anything was the jaw-dropping stunt, the sort of thing that made you think there ought to be an Academy Award for being a nutcase with a death-wish. From the beginning of the seventies to the end of the nineties, pretty much every film had at least one stunt that made you want to stand up and applaud.

    It arguably culminates in the bungee jump from GoldenEye, the biggest "stop what you're doing and check this shit out" stunt since The Man With The Golden Gun. After that, you get some rather contrived business with a bike, helicopter and massive banner in Tomorrow Never Dies, then in TWINE they start the modern standard of having a great overall body of stunt work without anything that stands out, makes you shiver and think, "rather you than me, mate". Then we get the giant shitfest that is CG Bond parasailing down a collapsing iceberg in DAD, the sort of thing the old films used to do for real. Which was bullshit, as we all know. I really don't need to see the actor's face to make me believe the stunt, particularly if it's badly comped in - if I can see someone (whoever that may be) doing something crazy, I'm a happy man (viz AVTOAK, in which the filmmakers totally give up trying to pretend Rog is doing anything more taxing than firing rocksalt out of a shotgun). Despite an honourable mention for the crane jump in Casino Royale, the Craig movies have mostly continued this trend (case in point: the wholly CG falls in Quantum and Skyfall). The improvement in bluescreen tech is no doubt one of the biggest drivers behind this change.

    I suppose I shouldn't complain too much; these days we still have someone doing utterly batshit things to earn my tenner, he just happens to be called Tom Cruise.
    I mean, I'm not saying I need to see someone recklessly endanger their lives for my entertainment, I just... no wait, I guess that is what I'm saying. Oh well, rant over.

    TL;DR: I miss BJ Worth.

  7. What I really really want to know is this;

    What the hell happened to the twelve young women, the "Angels of Death", who are patients at Blofelds mountaintop lair/clinic who are 'cured' of their chicken allergies? Did they go home and 'spread the word' with their make-up kits? They certainly left before Blofeld played chicken with a tree!

    This has bugged me since about 1994 and for many I'm sure since 1969. I really want to know what happened to the planet?

    Oh yeah. Spectre was a bit pants. Damn, that was hard to say!

  8. maybe Craig should hang up his PPK and go and be the villain in MI:6 or something?

    btw where is Never Say Never Again in the blogalongabong project?

  9. The only problem I had with Spectre was Thomas Newman's lazy copy and paste job with Skyfall's score. Shameful. John Barry is rolling in his grave.

  10. I think the main problem with 'Spectre' is that Blofeld doesn't work in it. Of course, Blofeld (and SPECTRE) was the one villain Albert R. Broccoli didn't have the rights to - it was only before 'Spectre' went into pre-production that the producers managed to buy the rights from Kevin McClory's estate. And it very much feels that they made Blofeld the baddy not because they should've, but because they could've - that they were so excited after finally regaining the rights to Bond's Moriarty-figure that they just made him the villain without thinking whether or not it was the right thing to do.
    Actually, it feels that they wanted to use Blofeld and SPECTRE since 'Casino Royale', but because they didn't have the rights then, they had to make do with Mr. White and Quantum instead, and that once they got the rights, they changed it to make it look as if that's what they had been doing all along to make up for lost time. The solution to both of those possibilities would have been to simply wait. They should have wrapped up the Quantum storyline and started again with SPECTRE. Blofeld deserves a well-written arc. Heck, Fleming gave him one.
    (Also, now that they've brought back a classic villain, this opens up an interesting quandary: will they do it again? Does the reboot mean a repeat of other classic villains such as Dr. No or Goldfinger? Because I for one certainly hope not. Variety is the spice of life and so on.)

  11. Got it worse than you: Spectre literally killed 30+ years of Bond fandom I had in me. Saw it once, dismayed, and couldn't stand a single Bond film since. What an awful solid piece of rubbish!

  12. Spectre really is the last Bond for me. Like the last militant feminist Star Wars films killed that particular franchise for me also, Spectre was the nail in the coffin of a passion I had held since the age of 5. I might see the ones after to fill in a rainy afternoon but it will never be the family event it once was, though to be honest it hasn't been that since the mid 90s.

    By the way, my family love your Blogalongabond, it has brought much mirth for the last few years. Your analysis is always brilliant even if your final ranking isn't an exact science (Moonraker and Thunderball fan here). In the final cut even the shittest Roger Moore film is still 100 times more entertaining than anything made after 1989.

  13. Craig has stayed too long in the role and after a strong start his films got progressively worse imo. Spectre was awful.