Friday, November 20, 2015

Worth Mentioning - A Matter of Perspective

We watch several movies a week. Every Friday, we'll talk a little about some of the movies we watched that we felt were Worth Mentioning.

Cody gives some preliminary thoughts on the new James Bond film, SPECTRE.

SPECTRE (2015)

In the latest installment of this spy franchise that stretches back to the 1960s, a villainous organization that hasn't been featured in the series for decades gets rebooted for the modern age. When the agency he works for is shut down at the crucial moment when he's drawing close to locating the leader of the evil organization, a highly capable spy has to take it upon himself (with a little help from his friends) to bring the villain to justice, embarking on an unsanctioned adventure that takes him through Austria and Morocco on the way to a climax on the streets of London, England.

Described in broad strokes like that, SPECTRE is the exact same movie as Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation. What's somewhat surprising is that I found the Mission: Impossible take on the concept to be the better, more enjoyable film of the two. I don't really like to compare movies of different franchises like that, but in this case the similarities are undeniable, as is the fact that I had more fun watching Rogue Nation earlier this year than I had with SPECTRE.

SPECTRE had a disadvantage from the start, though. That disadvantage being, and it's odd to say, how big of a fan I am of the James Bond franchise. I have no attachment to the Mission: Impossible source material, I only just recently watched the pilot episode and a handful of episodes that followed, so the re-introduction of The Syndicate in Rogue Nation really meant nothing to me. But I have a strong attachment to the James Bond movies, and strong opinions - probably stronger than is healthy - about how things should be handled. Strong opinions about things like the SPECTRE organization and its leader, Ernst Stavro Blofeld.

I was hyped to see SPECTRE (the movie). Of course I was. It's a new Bond movie! But my anticipation level was lower than it had been for any new Bond movie since I became a fan of the series just before the release of GoldenEye twenty years ago. My enthusiasm took a hit as soon as the title was announced. As soon as it became clear that Blofeld was coming back. This is something I dreaded. I feared it was coming. Skyfall co-writer John Logan was once quoted as saying that "Bond should always be fighting Blofeld", and after decades of not being able to use Blofeld and SPECTRE, as they were owned by Bond creator Ian Fleming's Thunderball co-writer Kevin McClory, the producers of the Bond series obtained the rights to them from McClory's estate in 2013.

I didn't want to see the return of Blofeld. He feels very "been there, done that". We've seen this guy, several times. I want new stories, new villains, new plots. Blofeld overstayed his welcome and was run into the ground over forty years ago, he is beyond tired. It is my opinion that the character is extremely overrated. He was at his best when he was being kept hidden while presiding over meetings in the early films. Donald Pleasence did a fine job playing the character when his face was revealed in You Only Live Twice, Telly Savalas perfected the role in On Her Majesty's Secret Service, then the way Blofeld was handled in Diamonds Are Forever was nightmare city. He's not as great as he's made out to be. Bond has gone up against many better villains than him, including one Logan wrote himself - Silva in Skyfall was not only a better villain than Blofeld was in most of his past appearances, he was a better villain than the Blofeld of SPECTRE.

Yes, Blofeld is brought back to the screen in the form of the great Christoph Waltz, but the bungling of the character has already started all over again. The movie goes into a steep decline once Bond and Blofeld are face-to-face, the decline starting right around the time when it's confirmed that Bond and Blofeld knew each other in childhood. It's so ridiculous that was written into the film. One of the dangers in bringing Blofeld back was the fact that the character had been so thoroughly spoofed as Dr. Evil in the Austin Powers movies, and yet when they do bring him back, rather than avoiding all comparisons to the spoof, SPECTRE uses the back story of Austin Powers and Dr. Evil for James Bond and Blofeld.

Waltz was a strong choice for Blofeld, it's not his fault that the movie starts to fall apart as of his big monologue.

There are awesome moments in the first two thirds of the movie, but SPECTRE went through some serious problems in the scripting stage - so serious that it's not likely that Logan will be returning to write the next Bond movie, despite having been signed on to do so. So serious that Bond regulars Neal Purvis and Robert Wade were brought on board to rewrite the script (along with uncredited Skyfall co-writer Jez Butterworth) even though it had been announced that SPECTRE would be the first Bond film since Tomorrow Never Dies that they would have no involvement with. Purvis, Wade, and Butterworth tried their best to salvage the script, but problems still made it to the screen, most notably in the final third. Not only does it contain the awful "foster brothers" twist, but the climax also feels tacked on. Like when a movie goes through extensive reshoots and there's a jarring shift into the section that was shot after the fact. Well, this wasn't a reshoot, but it still has that sloppy added on feeling, existing only because they had an idea for a set piece that they didn't want to let go of.

So I didn't want Blofeld back. Blofeld came back. We got through his re-introduction, and even though I wasn't happy with it, I should feel some sort of relief, right? They can't re-introduce him twice, so I can look forward to whatever new story might be in store for us with the next film. Unfortunately, I'm looking forward to the next film with more dread, because the filmmakers seem to be building up to something that I want to see even less than I wanted to see the return of Blofeld. They're not building up to a new story, they're building up to a remake.

The James Bond franchise was rebooted with Casino Royale in 2006, and I liked this reboot idea much better when it offered the filmmakers the opportunity to do things a little differently, to take some chances, to experiment a little. I liked it when it was offering new stories, and with a little fanboy nonsense you could still imagine that in between movies Daniel Craig's Bond was going on the adventures we saw Sean Connery, George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, and Pierce Brosnan go on. When there was the thought that if you applied the "floating timeline" theory to them, those stories could still exist in the new continuity. The reboot continuity could have kept on forging a new path. But somewhere along the line, the franchise got a bit too wrapped up in admiring its own tail. Now this continuity has started down a road that I'm not enjoying following so much. The more the filmmakers seem determined to retread things from the past, the more they lose me.

I love watching Daniel Craig in the role of James Bond. I want to see him do his own thing, I don't want to watch him relive moments we've already seen Sean Connery and George Lazenby deal with.

SPECTRE is by far my least favorite of the four Craig films. Keep in mind that's coming from someone who absolutely loved the much-maligned Quantum of Solace, so that's not as much of a slam as it would be from a QoS hater, but still, I rank Casino Royale, QoS, and Skyfall all very highly, while I would rank SPECTRE somewhere in the lower half of the entire series.

Maybe if I was a viewer who was only familiar with the Craig films, and thus had no idea what all this Blofeld business was, I might have enjoyed SPECTRE like I enjoyed Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation. As it is, there was just too much baggage.

Sometime next year, I will be doing an in-depth examination of SPECTRE, just like I did for all of the other Bond films for the "50 Years of 007" articles here on Life Between Frames.

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