The Return of Roger Moore’s James Bond in the New “Spectre”…and That’s A Good Thing
DISCLAIMER: The writer of this review considers those that get mad about spoilers to be terrorists. In his view, they are holding the entire planet hostage from the use of freedom of speech. So if you don’t like spoilers, don’t read on. This is your only warning.
As I’ve said in previous movie and episodic reviews on this site, when it comes to fictional franchises that I love, I turn myself into a veritable encyclopedia on the franchise. Books, comic books, video games, soundtracks…whatever I can get my hands on that add (canonically, usually) to the universe that I love, I soak it up and retain. You go see a movie with me, and you’re not only going with a dashing fellow, but you’re also going with a walking wiki on the franchise.
And it is very much the same with me–in fact more so than most–with the James Bond franchise. I remember once as a teenager, when GoldenEye was coming out, explicitly saying to my mother, “I like 007 more than I like Star Trek!” Now, I think I was speaking from a point of sheer excitement, because I don’t feel that way exactly, but I do still think quite highly of the James Bond franchise, and read (yes, original 007 books are still written, along with a great new comic book series by IDW) and see everything that comes out of it. Interestingly, as I am a liberty-minded individual (an anarchist, actually), I’m not the only lover of liberty that has a deep appreciation for the adventures of 007. Ayn Rand–famous for her philosophy of “Objectivism” (which I identify strongly with…just not in the cultish way…I’m what they call a “small ‘o’ objectivist”), and writing the masterpieces The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged–considered the James Bond books in particular to be some of the finest and most heroic literature to date. And those that are interested in her work know one thing: It’s almost impossible to please Ayn Rand. So her appreciating the character is saying something.
She had an appreciation for espionage stories in general, which I share with her, too. For whatever reasons (and they are legion), I am a huge fan of espionage books and films (and if you listen to my science and tech podcast–Sovryn Tech–this fact is on full display in an interesting way), 007 being at the top of list. And with James Bond’s over 50 years now of films and other media, there’s certainly plenty to appreciate.
And before I get into this latest entry into the “Bond universe”, I suppose many are wondering about two questions:
- Who is your favorite Bond?
- What was your favorite Bond movie?
To answer the first question, I’ll give the you full list (minus the guy that played Bond in the original Casino Royale) in the order of greatness, in my opinion, with #1 being the best:
- Roger Moore
- Timothy Dalton
- Pierce Brosnan
- Sean Connery
- Daniel Craig
- George Lazenby
I know, you’re already thinking that not having Sean Connery at the top of the list is some kind of sacrilege. Well, that’s what everyone says, and most people don’t even know what car 007 is driving in various films, so why the Hell would I trust their opinions about who the best Bond is? Ridiculous.
As for the “Best Bond Film” award, well, that’s a tough one to answer definitively as each actor brings a different flavor to the table when it comes to their tenure in Bond film history, so I’ll give you my top three here:
- The Spy Who Loved Me
- The Living Daylights
- The World is Not Enough
I could do write-ups on each one of those movies and why I think they’re the best Bond film, but that’s not what we’re here for today, so I’ll save that for a future blog post on this site.
Alright, let’s get in to reviewing this 24th entry of arguably the most successful movie franchise in history: Spectre. But I will tell you in brief right up front, this was a good Bond film. Not a great Bond film, but a good one. So let’s break it down into sections.
I like to start every review with covering the music. For Bond movies, the music has a special importance, but for every video production of any stripe, sound and music is often what makes it work. If the music sucks or is meaningless, there’s a good chance the movie will match.
Thomas Newman–in his second outing with James Bond movies, having scored Skyfall–does a fine job with the scoring of Spectre, and I think its original cues actually play off of the panache that Bond movies regularly deliver better than he did with Skyfall. Recent Bond movie scores have been a little more low-key, just as Daniel Craig’s acting of James Bond has been, so for Newman to deliver a score that is significantly more upscale than as late is welcome. Frankly, it might be the best Bond score since David Arnold’s Die Another Day.
But like I said, with Bond movies, the music has a little extra meaning than most films…and this is due to the “Title Song” for each film. Bond films have had some of the greatest artists of all time perform for their opening numbers–from Tom Jones, to Tina Turner, to Madonna, to Shirley Manson, to Chris Cornell, and more–and while I’m not readily familiar with the artist that performed the opening track for Spectre–Sam Smith (who is a Brit, himself)–his performance of “Writing’s on the Wall” is solid, and the instrumentals of the song work beautifully throughout the entire film.
However, opening songs for Bond films don’t just work as good songs: They also show off the more risque and interesting parts of the James Bond franchise. While separate music videos for MTV are often made for these songs, the into credits for Bond films are as much a work of art as the songs that play during them, and Spectre was no different, in fact it may be the best credit sequence in the series’ history. As usual, there are half-naked or naked women everywhere in it, and a very ripped Daniel Craig (something I’ve welcome about him since he took on the James Bond mantle, which no other actor seemed able to deliver), but there’s also the symbol of the titular evil organization of the film: the octopus. With tentacles everywhere in the sequence, it isn’t long before during the song there is an octopus with its tentacles all over a woman who is in the throws of pleasure. This might be the first time in Western mainstream cinema that “tentacle porn” was on the big screen, and likely many moviegoers had no clue that it was in front of them. Other than that–which was no small thing–the opening credits were standard fare for a 007 movie. And nothing wrong with that.
Well, it’s not like James Bond movies are always effects-laden works, but when you consider classics like Moonraker and it’s space station, The Spy Who Loved Me and that submarine Lotus, or even the cloaking car in Die Another Day, Bond films certainly have their share of high-end effects. As I often say, modern movies really can’t do effects wrong since the advent of CGI, so unless there is something really special or glaringly wrong, there’s not much to say on special effects. And really, Bond movies are more about its stunts than its actual effects. Suffice to say, Spectre was flawless in its visual presentation.
This is another spot where Bond films can get some special consideration. First, you have to compare the actor playing James Bond to all the other actors that have played James Bond. Then you need to talk about the infamous “Bond Girls” in the film and how they rate. And then if there are new actors playing any supporting rolls (like the character of Q, or M). And then, of course, how does the villain hold up? To think, we haven’t even gotten to the plot of the movie yet!
First, James Bond, himself. Daniel Craig has been a fantastic Bond since his first outing nearly a decade ago in 2006’s Casino Royale. Apparently he’s getting sick of the role, but his acting certainly does it show it (and he is still contracted for one more film out of five). He has probably been the most “physical” Bond in the history of the franchise, and the realism that he delivers–from doing his own stunts, to the great shape he keeps in–is always welcome and gives the franchise an air of authenticity that it didn’t carry with the works of, say…Roger Moore. But the irony in Spectre is that Craig is very much dropping the “dark assassin” attitude of his previous films, and is firmly settling in to the role of a more Roger Moore-styled, over-the-top 007 in this film. And I like it. He can do it. The blue eyes and the wry smile of Craig makes it work really well. And he impressively fits into any locale (of which there are varied ones in Spectre) like a chameleon. He really delivers. Again, he’s not my favorite Bond, but that doesn’t mean he’s not good at what he does with the character. I’d really appreciate one more film with him at the helm.
Now, the “Bond Girls”. There are two in this film, which depending on who you are as a fan is either a good or a bad thing. I fall in the latter camp. Bond films, in my opinion, should be loaded with Bond Girls, not just two (but then I guess we’re getting into what defines an actress as being an official Bond Girl). And I grant you, many Bond films only had one Bond Girl (besides the ever present Moneypenny, of course, Bond’s secretary), but I always found those movies lacking (with many critics feeling the exact opposite…go figure). So the stunning Monica Bellucci is the first Bond Girl of Spectre–whom some may remember from the later Matrix films–and she is sadly only very briefly in the film, and is then completely forgotten throughout the rest of it. Kudos to the crew of Spectre for letting Bellucci show her actual age (slight wrinkles and all), and for making it clear that Bond and her got it on, as Hollywood generally seems to pretend that any woman over 35 is a worthless hag, and I completely disagree. There are plenty of women–not just actresses–that are way older, and Monica Bellucci proves it in Spectre. As for the other Bond Girl in the film, Léa Seydoux was good to see in a major film again after her great performance in Ridley Scott’s undervalued Robin Hood. Seydoux tries to be a “anti-Bond Girl” in Spectre, and pulls it off for a good chunk of the movie, which was pretty refreshing, but in the end she needs to be saved like most Bond Girls (not every Bond Girl fell into this “trap”, fortunately). In film (and in life) I appreciate women having a real strength of character and ability, and Seydoux had this for a good while and was very believable in doing so, even going so far as leaving Bond towards the end…but that’s when the typical Bond Girl flavor came in. Oh well. In the longest Bond movie to date–which Spectre is–you’re getting a lot of “life” out of each character, so I enjoyed the different facets for when and what they were. Also, honorable mention to Naomie Harris playing “Moneypenny” (who was given a significant role in this film, which was a nice change of pace), as she delivered real life into the character.
As for the villain. The rebooting and re-introduction of the organization Spectre (which was likely only stopped being used due to a major copyright issue with organization in “the real world” that was only recently settled…intellectual property ruins everything, folks), and it’s historical leader–Ernst Stavro Blofeld–was done in a very Illuminati-esque fashion that stylistically worked, but I felt that Christopher Waltz (as great as an actor as he is) just didn’t fit Blofeld. He didn’t seem serious enough for some reason. That said, the other main villain–played by the amazing ex-fighter and ex-pro wrestler, Dave Bautista–had far more presence, and was significantly more threatening (in many ways due to Bautista’s massive physique). And Bautista’s character says almost nothing, but delivers the villainy, again, with mere presence. That’s real acting, folks, and Bautista delivered on it.
Bottom line on the acting, everyone was solid, even if at points they felt out of place (like Christoper Waltz).
Alright, so this is where Spectre falters a bit. Like I said, this is the longest Bond movie to date, and it definitely would have been a better story if it were tightened up a bit. Generally, I like as much visual content as possible in films, but when it comes to movies that take place in the present day, the world that I’m seeing doesn’t need to be fleshed out, so keeping the action and story really tightly knit is desirable. Spectre was not tightly knit. That’s not to say the story was bad. It is a direct sequel to the excellent Bond adventure, Skyfall, and picks up well from where that left off. The Daniel Craig movies have had lots of continuity, which wasn’t really done in the past with the Bond franchise (at least not very well), so that’s a welcome addition. But there’s not much to say with the particulars of the story, other than you find out who and why Blofeld is who he is. The character of Bond isn’t really built upon here, but in many ways the character is a pull-back to a less serious time, and this is where Spectre actually shines, in my opinion…the movie is rather over-the-top and cheesy as Hell. It feels like a Roger Moore film. And I like that. While earlier Craig films harkened to the Sean Connery and Timothy Dalton days, Spectre makes no bones about going to rather exotic locales and scenes with massive amounts of “extras” (meaning, actors that just take up space). The technologies in the film, from exploding watches to ejecting car seats, are absolute rips from the Roger Moore days. And Dave Bautista’s villain character is easily the modern day Jaws character.
Again, I think this is okay. Granted, yes, I grew up when the Roger Moore 007 films were the order of the day–so you may think that gives me an automatic nostalgic fondness–but I’ve genuinely never understood what the big problem was with his direction of the franchise. Let’s have the big stories. Let’s have ridiculous technologies. They’re movies for fuck’s sake, not documentaries. And the Ian Flemming novels were never meant to be that deadly serious. And let’s have as many women as possible in the film. The more women in the film, the better the chances that one of them will get written as a strong, intelligent character that we–and James–can really fall in love with (a problem with Hollywood, in general). Go over the top, all the time, every time. The world doesn’t have to so depressing and serious all the time. It’s okay to be cheesy. And it’s okay to have the classic Aston Martin DB5 make an appearance (which I thought was great, though I would still love to see the Bentley make an appearance, which was Bond’s car of choice in the original novels).
Now, one of the more ironic and interesting aspects of Spectre‘s story is the “anti-surveillance society” message within. A subplot of the film, though related to the main plot of the organization Spectre’s plans for the world, is the creation of a “Nine Eyes” alliance between various nations to create a centralized database that collects all of the data about everyone on the planet. The irony, is that MI6 (the organization that Bond works for) is against this whole idea. The spies are effectively against mass spying. Yes, that is ironic. Bond and company are also against the use of drones, and other automated systems. But the justification laid out by the good guys in the film was interesting: You need the human element to really be able to decide what to do in any life or death situation, or whether infringing on privacy is necessary or “right” to do. I appreciated the message since it seems so rare in a Hollywood that pushes nonsense like Batman needing access to the world’s smartphones to find the Joker (and no, Spectre‘s message wasn’t “anarchy perfect”, but it was good to see a film saying that mass surveillance was anti-thetical to human freedom, even within a Statist paradigm). And of course the good guys in Spectre were right to point out that when you build a centralized, mass surveillance system, there’s the chance that it could be used by the bad guys (in this case, Spectre).
But so much happens throughout the film, you feel like you’re getting two movies in one, but only one of the movies has an ending, so I could understand where viewers could leave the movie in confusion. What just happened? What about this character? And so on. And with Daniel Craig tired of playing 007, maybe he just wanted to try and tie up some loose ends and get as much of his rendition of Bond in as possible since this may be his last film in the role, even though he’s contracted for another.
Again, though, the story wasn’t bad, it just seemed like there was so much, and not enough resolution to it that you walk away with a little sense of lack. But it’s certainly not a lack of action, there’s plenty of that to be had in this film, and it does service to the James Bond franchise with the thrills and unique delivery (particularly with all of the flying vehicles in the film…you’ll see what I mean).
Is it the best Bond film? Not by a long shot, and it definitely sits on the lower end of Bond goodness, but that doesn’t mean it was a bad film, at all, because it wasn’t. Bond movies just come with a special standard that no other franchise shares or compares to (not even the excellent Mission: Impossible films).
I do think this will be Craig’s last Bond movie, and with the next film being the magic number “25” in the series, they will likely pass the franchise on to a new action. If I were to guess, they’d cash in on someone even younger (significantly so), and might even try rebooting the series again (which is what they did when they put Daniel Craig in the role). I think this would be a failure, but there’s no way that Hollywood would miss out on the chance to cash in the hype of, “Hey! This is the 25th in the series!”. It’s guaranteed money, really, 25th film or not.
If you want more traditional bond, I couldn’t recommend some of the recent (and not so recent) novels that have come out over the years that weren’t by Ian Flemming. Ice Breaker and Trigger Mortis immediately come to mind as excellent entries into the series that hopefully become full Bond movies some day.
Which, while I have you here, the storylines that were developed for EA’s run of video games with the James Bond franchise are extremely overlooked. The games themselves are fantastic plays to this day, actually (and also feel very Roger Moore-esque, even though none of them “star” him, underwater cars and all), and have real potential to make for great films. Nightfire, Everything or Nothing, and even the Daniel Craig-led Blood Stone were all phenomenal Bond experiences that deserve a second chance. Even the GoldenEye sequel–Rogue Agent–was awesome (as was the GoldenEye remake, by the way, if you’ve never played it), and bringing on a new Pierce Brosnan-styled Bond series of films would be welcomed by me.
Anyway, if you love James Bond movies, Spectre won’t disappoint, but it likely won’t top your list.
ANOTHER DISCLAIMER: The ZOG Blog is the part of this site where Dr. Brian Sovryn can talk about anything. From pop culture, to philosophy, to just sharing updates with what’s going on at Zomia Offline Games and with other projects. Enjoy!