When you hear the name James Bond, what automatically comes to mind? Is it the fancy cars? Is it his iconic martini that should be shaken, not stirred? Or, is it his suave personality? Perhaps it’s a certain actor you think of? Sean Connery, Daniel Craig, Pierce Brosnan, and Roger Moore are just a few of the illustrious actors who have taken the role over the years.
There is no doubt that James Bond is a cultural phenomenon spanning over sixty years of pop culture, and it doesn’t look like the franchise is losing any steam any time soon. The theme songs for Skyfall and Spectre both won Oscars, the Bond girls became more high profile (see Eva Green and Monica Belluci), and there seems to be nothing that the Bond franchise can’t do. The films contain spectacular and often unbelievable chase scenes, cool gadgets supplied by Q, and sometimes a cultural relevance to the things that are happening in British and worldwide society (see the Nine Eyes program in Spectre). But, when does the spectacle need to end?
James Bond films have always contained some level of spectacle, be it the exotic sports cars of classic Bond era films or the reality-bending gadgets from Brosnan’s era’s films. The Brosnan era films were often seen as lesser films by the critics. Box office receipts often reflected that Brosnan was a favorite Bond of the people, but the scripts were becoming more and more convoluted as Bond began relying more and more on the gadgets provided by Q. They were an uneven mess. So it was no surprise that when Casino Royale burst onto the scene in 2006, it was billed as a reboot of the character and the franchise, and it was a welcomed reboot. Gone was the outlandish and unbelievable technology. Gone was Brosnan, and gone was the continued continuity from Brosnan’s era.
Enter Daniel Craig. He was a breath of fresh air as Casino Royale saw Bond at the beginning of his double-oh career. This Bond had no gadgets and a chase scene through a construction site in Madagascar that was believable and a wonderfully choreographed parkour scene that deserves more attention from a filmmaking standpoint. In fact, the entire film deserves more attention. But that’s neither here nor there. What matters is, Casino Royale brought us into a Bond era that was rooted in realism. It was strong. It was brutal. It was needed. However, as the Craig era of Bond continued, the films have slowly devolved into ridiculousness. I’m not talking about Skyfall or Quantum of Solace; I’m talking the latest Bond film, Spectre.
Spectre wasn’t a critical failure, and neither is it the lowest scoring Craig era Bond film on RottenTomatoes but it is “admittedly reliant on [the] established 007 formula”. Where Casino Royale’s chase scenes were believable, Spectre’s are not. Nowhere, in reality, could a man fly a plane down a hill covered with trees with barely any wings left and no engines no matter how skilled a pilot he might be. It’s a sequence that feels completely unneeded in the grand scheme of things.
Not only is the chase scene unneeded and ridiculous but Spectre was boring and almost unbelievable in terms of writing and characterization. Compared to Casino Royale, Bond is basically run of the mill in Spectre and the story suffers from the inclusion of Ernst Stavro Blofeld, a Bond villain recycled from previous films. It should be noted that Blofeld hadn’t been in a Bond film since 1971, and that’s not counting a voice-over cameo and the non-Eon produced Never Say Never Again.
According to a quick search, many of Blofeld’s characterizations have become “tropes in popular fiction, representing the stock character of the supervillain”. That is certainly the case in Spectre. For Spectre, Blofeld got a new identity, Bond’s adopted brother. For me, after having seen the brilliance that is Casino Royale and Skyfall, the inclusion of Blofeld, especially as Bond’s adopted brother, feels trite in an era that has otherwise been a breath of fresh air. A lot of it has to do with the poor writing in Spectre. Gone is the jaded, beaten, and world-weary Bond of Skyfall. What is present is a Bond who is a womanizer, having sex with one too many Bond girls and falling almost instantly in love with Lea Seydoux’s character Madeleine. Sex is a staple in Bond films, I understand that, but in the context of the previous films, him falling in love with Madeleine makes absolutely no sense and is poor writing, especially considering just how quickly it happens.
But, I digress. Spectre is a train wreck beyond the sex and Blofeld. You can read my review here. To summarize: the writing is uneven, the film is boring and not even Christoph Waltz could lift Blofeld from the doldrums of flatness and over the top cliché. To be honest, Spectre is one of those films that really ends up being a disservice to Craig as Bond, especially as it came off the heels of Skyfall. Not only is it a disservice to Craig, but it’s a disservice to the fans as well. Seeing as the next Bond film will be Craig’s last, it’s really sad that such a penultimate installment of his era is so mired in formula.
That is why it is so important that the spectacle end. The next Bond film should really be more about how Craig’s Bond is a blunt instrument, not a suave agent. It should be less uneven, and it should be tight and bare knuckles like Casino Royale was and a little bit like Skyfall was. What makes Craig so great as Bond is his ability to be sharp, rough, burly, and intense but also his ability to be multilayered in terms of emotions. It’s no surprise that Craig’s Bond has been our most “rounded” Bond. Perhaps that’s why Spectre was such a disappointment. Either way, I propose a return to a Casino Royale-esque film for Craig’s final outing. Let’s allow Craig to portray emotion as Bond, and maybe let’s keep Blofeld in an eight by ten, inaccessible cell for the length of the next film as well, shall we?
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