Bond Blowback

film-lead-1546-spectreIs ‘Spectre’ really the ‘worst Bond in 30 years?’ Don’t believe the anti-hype

And once again, the Englishman saves the world. Spectre has the second biggest opening of any of the 24 canonical EON Productions James Bond films. To inflame the Bond fever, some 15 earlier 007 films are now streaming on Hulu Plus, including the magnificent 1969 cult Bond On Her Majesty’s SecretService, an early attempt to bring Bond back to earth and to make him as much a lover as he is a fighter.

Spectre is a matter of controversy—“Worst Bond in 30 years,” cries one critic, Scott Mendelson of Forbes. This, even though Spectre delivers what the fans had wanted for decades: the resurrection of the British secret agent’s greatest enemy, Ernst Stavro Blofeld. The Professor Moriarity of the Bond saga, Blofeld is played this time around by Christoph Walz.

Even people who dislike the rest of Spectre admire the lavish opening sequence in Mexico City during a Dia de Los Muertos parade, shot seamlessly in a way that’s been compared to the endless tracking in the movie Birdman, and finishing with a fist fight in a helicopter over a crowded Zocalo. Bond’s been to Mexico before, in the pre-titles of Goldfinger (1964) and in License to Kill (1989). The parade of skeletons deservedly welcomes this killer, who has come in so many faces over the course of the last 50 years. He keeps coming back from the dead, surviving “this ever-changing world in which we’re living” to quote that awful Paul McCartney song from Live and Let Die.

Craig is peerless in highlighting Bond’s suffering. Homely yet handsome, like Clark Gable, well-built and bemusingly human, Craig wears the mask of Bond perhaps better than any actor, though Connery’s particular heft in the part keeps drawing you back beyond the technical limitations of the 1960s Bonds and the awkward sexuality. And yet Craig may be on his way out. Time Out London’s Dave Calhoun recently asked him about his plans for the next Bond movie, and Craig reacted like a man discussing the prospect of Monday morning’s work during a Friday night at the pub: “I’d rather slash my wrists” than revisit the role, he said.

But Craig cares about the role—a sentiment he makes clear later on in the less frequently quoted part of the interview. Giving hypothetical advice to the next actor to take up the mask of James Bond, Craig said, “You’ve got to step up … people do not make movies like this anymore. This is really rare now … you’ve got to push yourself as far as you can. It’s worth it. It’s James Bond.”

Bond mirrors what Robert Warshow said was the essence of the Western movie hero: “He has his own kind of relevance. He is there to remind us of the possibility of style in an age that has put on itself the burden of pretending that style has no meaning.”

And Spectre is rich with style. Maybe the best moment besides the Zocalo scene is the one that gives Craig’s Bond and Léa Seydoux’s lovely Madeleine Swann some negative space, when they wait at a train station in the desert, soon to be the guests of the natty, cheerful and criminally insane Blofeld. The madman has his musings about the best way to torture, in uncredited dialogue by Kingsley Amis. (Amis wrote a very good Bond novel once, Colonel Sun.) Waltz is a sterling Blofeld, the living embodiment of the eye that never sleeps, the ear that hears all.

Leaving the movie, I am stopped in my tracks by the image of Craig on the Spectre promotional poster—so magnificently insolent and slouching next to the splendid Seydoux—and I think of Shakespeare: What, my dear Lady Disdain! Are you yet living?

The studios make blockbusters, but they don’t make larger than life movies. Craig was right: “People don’t make movies like this anymore.” When was the last time you saw a movie star hold his space like that, without irony or apology? The posters, lining the ever-emptier hallways of multiplexes, do what a movie ought to do. That is, to summon its fans from whatever morass life has caught them in, to provide wickedness and peril.

SPECTRE With Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Ralph Fiennes and Monica Bellucci. Directed by Sam Mendes. Rated PG-13. 148 minutes.

SECRET AGENT, MAN Daniel Craig once again plays James Bond in ‘Spectre.’

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