I enjoyed SPECTRE, I really did. I have seen it three times so far and it improves with every viewing. SPECTRE gave me many things I had wanted to see in a Bond film for years, particularly a sense of fun throughout the movie. It was also terrific to watch Daniel Craig relax into the role and bring true sophistication to complement his pugilistic prowess, proving he can take the smooth with the rough.
But SPECTRE was far from perfect. As I wrote in my review, I loved 90 percent of it while the other 10 percent frustrated me. There is a great deal of room for improvement, and though I doubt Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli will read this, here are seven things I hope to see (or not see) in the 25th James Bond movie. Many of my gripes about SPECTRE and the Daniel Craig era, turn out to be interrelated, and several of these problems were exacerbated by director Sam Mendes’ vision for the series. A new director may sweep these distractions away, or he may bring in a whole new set, as Marc Forster did with Quantum of Solace. Be warned that the following contains huge SPECTRE spoilers.
1) This time, it’s impersonal
Back in 1989′s Licence to Kill, it was revolutionary when James Bond defied M to pursue a personal mission of vengeance, consequently losing his license to kill. Now Bond defies orders every film and seems to resign every other film. He goes rogue so often that the term “rogue” has lost its meaning.
It would be revolutionary for the 21st century Bond to accept his mission at the beginning of the film and follow it through without going off on his own. If the scriptwriters worry this will be boring, they have forgotten that Bond’s initial mission briefing often was a minor intrigue compared with what 007 later discovered about the villain’s scheme. In Goldfinger, Bond was assigned to learn how Auric Goldfinger was smuggling gold out of England, not stop a plot to detonate an atomic bomb in Fort Knox. In Octopussy, Bond was assigned to find out why 009 was killed with a Faberge egg in his hands, not stop a plot to detonate an atomic bomb on an American military base in West Germany. (Bond villains of yore were determined to detonate atomic bombs, something I will get to later in the list.)
I’m assuming that Ernst Stavro Blofeld will return in Bond 25. Now that Eon has established Blofeld as Bond’s foster brother they already have introduced personal stakes to any future Blofeld story. Adding a further layer would be overdoing it. SPECTRE saw Bond leaning back toward the professionalism that used to define his character. Let’s see him embrace that again even as he takes on an opponent who used to be like a brother to him. While the old Bond would occasionally try M’s patience, he didn’t go rogue at the drop of a hat – not even Oddjob’s hat. The reckless, impulsive Bond has become tedious. It’s time for the ultimate professional to return.
2) Remember: They’re called James Bond movies, not MI6 movies
This one has been on my nerves for more than a decade now. After Judi Dench won the best supporting actress Oscar for Shakespeare in Love, the producers believed her M needed a bigger role in the Bond movies. Increasingly, the relationship between Bond and M took up more screen time until I started calling the movies the “James Bond and M” shows.
This growing attention to M manifested in two ways. The World Is Not Enough (in production when Dench won her Oscar) started the first trend. In this and every film since, Bond screws up early in the story (usually during the pretitle sequence) and spends the rest of the movie proving to M she could still trust him. This goes back to my previous complaint about undermining Bond’s professionalism, and it grew old quickly. It worked only twice, in Casino Royale, where Bond was reintroduced as a reckless agent who had just earned his license to kill, and in Skyfall, which finally moved the Bond-M relationship to the forefront of the story, giving it the dramatic weight it required. SPECTRE also trots out this annoying trope, but dismisses it fairly quickly, which is odd considering that Bond’s transgressions this time – destroying a building in the capital city of a friendly foreign power and then instigating a perilous fight in a helicopter hovering above a crowd of thousands – far exceed his earlier pretitle foul ups.
The second excuse to give M more screen time is bringing in a government official to put pressure on MI6. True, we got a taste of this in the Roger Moore days when Geoffrey Keen’s minister of defense became a series regular, but ultimately he functioned as a second M. In contemporary Bond, especially during the Craig era, a government minister is always hounding M and threatening to restructure the secret service.
The solution to this was simple: kill off Judi Dench’s M, something that nearly happened in Quantum of Solace according to screenwriters Neal Purvis and Robert Wade. When I began to sense that Dench was doomed in Skyfall, I rejoiced. I have nothing against Dench and I appreciate the innovation she brought to the series, especially in the first two Pierce Brosnan movies, but her character had become too prominent and the continuing attempts to ignite conflict between her and Bond had become strained. How many times did he have to earn her respect? With Dench gone, I thought the Bond and M Show was ending and the Bond show would return.
I hadn’t counted on Ralph Fiennes.
By hiring Fiennes as Dench’s replacement, Wilson and Broccoli chose to continue the problem just when the solution was in their grasp. In a way I can’t blame them. Thanks in no small part to Dench, the Bond films now enjoy a prestige they never had before and can attract Oscar-winning and Oscar-nominated actors to play the villains and supporting characters. If you can hire someone as prestigious as Fiennes to play M why shouldn’t you? I’ll tell you why. Because you can’t expect a prestigious actor to sit behind a desk and issue orders in the first scene after the titles and maybe show up again at the end. You could ask that of say, Anthony Stuart Head (who would have been my choice to replace Dench), but not Fiennes. Viewers expect more screen time for Fiennes, and perhaps the actor does too. I’ll bet his agent does.
In SPECTRE, Fiennes’ M gets his own subplot and his own adversary, Andrew Scott’s C, the now obligatory government official threatening to shut down MI6, a bit ironic since that was Fiennes’ function in Skyfall. While Bond is gallivanting off to Rome and Austria and Morocco, M plays a battle of wits with C in London, with Moneypenny (Naomi Harris), Q (Ben Whishaw) and Tanner (Rory Kinnear) as his accomplices. I admit that I enjoyed seeing the traditional secret service support staff getting off the bench and into the scrum, but I believe this departure will work for just one film. At nearly three hours SPECTRE is ridiculously long for a Bond movie and the producers cannot keep stuffing the running time with side plots for M, Q and Moneypenny. (I’m afraid it may be time to cut Tanner loose. Nothing against Kinnear, who is a fine actor, but with Q and Moneypenny back in the fold as of Skyfall there is no true purpose for the character anymore, even if he does date back to Ian Fleming’s novels.)
With Fiennes now in place as M, and Harris and Wishaw winning over audiences, I wonder if Eon can scale back their roles. It may be difficult, but it is necessary. James Bond needs to focus on the mission and not be distracted by office politics back in London. The filmmakers seem to have forgotten that Bond was created by Ian Fleming, not John le Carre.
3) Stay out of London
Imagine if after SPECTRE’s volcano base was destroyed in You Only Live Twice, James Bond sped back to London to deal with internal treachery in the secret service. That’s pretty much what happens in SPECTRE. For two Bond films in a row 007 does his usual world traveling then circles back to the UK to finish the job.
Maybe it’s just a Sam Mendes thing, but Bond never spent this much time in London previously. London was the traditional taking-off point for the Bond movies, but it seems to have become the landing pad as well. This goes hand-in-glove with MI6 being pushed into the foreground of the plots. Bond must return to London because the villain, in one way or another, is targeting his place of employment.
From the very beginning, one thing that defined Bond was that he spent most of his adventures out of England. Legend has it that after the publication of Moonraker, the only Bond book set entirely in England, Fleming heard from readers complaining that they read Bond to share his exotic travels. They did not consider Kent exotic.
I’m not sure why London suddenly has become so prominent in the Bond movies. I read an interview where Mendes said London is important to Bond’s legend. He’s got that wrong. Getting out of London is important to Bond’s legend. There are plenty of places in the world Bond hasn’t visited yet – Australia, for example – so he doesn’t have to keep coming back to his home town.
4) Get over the nostalgia bug
The Aston Martin DB5 features in exactly two Bond films of the 1960s – Goldfinger and Thunderball, released a year apart – and wasn’t seen for another 30 years. In the past 20 years, the Aston Martin has appeared in all but three Bond movies and in three of Craig’s four films. It has become more a part of Bond’s present than his past.
When the DB5 blew up at the end of Skyfall, secretly I was glad. At last, I thought, the filmmakers have decided to stop leaning on that particular nostalgia crutch, giving it a memorable send-off to boot. You can bet I was disappointed to see, against all probability, the car rebuilt in SPECTRE just so Bond could drive off at the end (if he had driven off in the white Lotus Esprit from The Spy Who Loved Me, I may have cheered instead of groaned).
It’s not just the Aston Martin. The last couple of Bond movies have been loaded with callbacks to previous entries. This was acceptable with Skyfall, which fell on the series’ 50th anniversary, but it got distracting in SPECTRE. I won’t attempt to list all the references to past films. It would take too long. The guys at the excellent James Bond Radio came up with an exhaustive reckoning in a recent podcast, and it’s worth a listen. Just to name a couple of the major references, the Alpine clinic recalls the one in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, and the train fight with Mr. Hinx combines elements from the train fights of From Russia With Love and The Spy Who Loved Me. And Blofeld receives a scar over his eye similar to the famous one in You Only Live Twice.
I suspect this urge to inject nostalgia is also Mendes’ doing. During an interview with the Empire Magazine podcast, Purvis and Wade said they intended the Aston Martin in Skyfall to be the one Bond won in the poker game at the beginning of Casino Royale. It was Mendes’ idea to make it the same car from Goldfinger, with the same gadgets and the same license number.
As a James Bond junkie I enjoy a good in-joke here and there, such as the “Hildebrand Prints and Rarities” sign on the safe house door, but SPECTRE is wall-to-wall with in-jokes. The Bond films are starting to wallow in their history, and I hope a new director will have the sense to end this trend. Bond is not a man who dwells on his past. His films shouldn’t either.
5) Make the villain’s threat physical
The villains’ scheme in SPECTRE is to launch a computer network. Yeah, yeah, it’s a sort of NSA on steroids thing and it will allow SPECTRE unlimited information access, but it’s still not the sort of thing to get the blood racing. We watch another one of those supposedly tense climaxes with numbers counting down on a computer screen and download bars filling up while the hero frantically types away on his keyboard trying to hack into the system. And this time those flying fingers belong to Q, who foils the villains’ plot while Bond is trapped inside the rigged-to-blow MI6 building. SPECTRE ends with Q saving the day and Bond saving his girlfriend.
The stakes in all the Craig films are low compared with most classic Bond films. In Casino Royale, the bad guys want to fund terrorism. Not carry out terrorism, just pay for it. In Quantum of Solace, the villains want to control Bolivia’s water supply. Not the world’s water supply, just Bolivia’s. In Skyfall, Silva is introduced as – yawn – a cyber terrorist, but it turns out his real goal is to kill M. Not to wipe out the population of London, just one woman. He succeeds, by the way.
The Craig films are supposed to be grittier and more realistic than the old Bond movies, but as it attempts to reintroduce the evil organization that helped define 007′s first cinematic decade, SPECTRE makes it painfully clear that the new Bond villains are amateurs compared with the old ones. Those villains often had access to nuclear bombs or space weapons and proposed to wipe out major population centers or, on at least two occasions, the world itself. They would not be impressed with water rights or the evil version of Google.
It’s time to jack up the stakes again. Perhaps the filmmakers fear that red digital countdown clocks and atomic bombs are hokey in the 21st century, but what they just gave us are numbers counting down on a computer screen. Make the danger palpable next time. The danger should be physical with Bond overcoming great odds to defeat the villain’s scheme at the last moment. And make sure Bond is the one who triumphs, not the guy who supplies his gadgets.
6) Please, no Swann song
After four films, Daniel Craig finally gets the girl at the end of SPECTRE. He and Madeleine Swann (Lea Seydoux) happily drive away in his Aston Martin as the credits roll. Fan speculation suggests this happiness won’t last. The theory is Madeleine will be killed in the opening of the next movie, setting up a return match Bond and Christoph Waltz’s Blofeld.
This theory is credible for several reasons. First, it is something director Peter Hunt at one point planned to do with On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Although the book ends with Bond’s wife, Tracy, being gunned down by Blofeld en route to their honeymoon, Hunt thought it would be better to end OHMSS with Bond’s wedding and save Tracy’s death for the pretitle sequence of the next film, Diamonds Are Forever, setting up a final showdown between Bond and Blofeld. George Lazenby’s refusal to play Bond again scuttled this idea, though Hunt may have changed his mind anyway. Screenwriter John Logan, who wrote the initial draft of SPECTRE, intended it as the first of a two-part story, so it isn’t unreasonable to guess he was inspired by Hunt’s suggestion to make OHMSS and Diamonds Are Forever a two-parter.
If you watch SPECTRE’s ending armed with this information, you can see Madeleine’s death is being set up. When Blofeld, who earlier said he was the reason all the women in Bond’s life died, has been captured on the bridge, he seethes as he watches Bond and Madeleine walk off arm and arm. He has that “I’m plotting vengeance” look in his eyes. Sorry, eye.
The movie really would have telegraphed her demise if it had stuck to earlier drafts of the script where, in the final line, Bond tells Madeleine, “We have all the time in the world.” (A fact I learned from the James Bond Radio podcast about the Sony leaks. Those guys are informative.) As Bond devotees know, “We have all the time in the world” is the final line in OHMSS, and if Bond had said it at the end of SPECTRE, he might as well have started carving Madeleine’s tombstone.
So the evidence is strong that Madeleine Swann may return in Bond 25 only to die in the opening minutes, and I know many of my fellow Bond fans are quivering at this possibility, but I don’t share their excitement. I think killing Madeleine at the start of the next movie is a terrible idea. It is a terrible idea for many reasons.
First of all, as I said before SPECTRE is the first time Craig’s Bond finds the romantic ending all his predecessors except Lazenby routinely enjoyed. Vesper in Casino Royale and Severine in Skyfall both died and Camille in Quantum of Solace just wasn’t into him. Craig finally gets to enjoy one of the perks of his job, and it seems cruel to take that away from him. Moreover, it seems cruel to kill off an appealing heroine for the sake of a plot point.
Also, it would be redundant. As Blofeld points out, Vesper Lynd was “the big one,” and Bond already has suffered one tragic loss. Killing Madeleine won’t do anything to further shape Bond’s character. It would literally be overkill. I was never convinced that Bond had fallen deeply in love with Madeleine; I don’t think anyone was. I have read complaints that Craig and Seydoux didn’t have chemistry, but their chemistry is fine for a standard Bond love affair. It’s a third-act contrivance of the script that she suddenly becomes the new love of his life and that he is willing to leave the secret service for her (though his quitting is never explicitly stated). As much as the script wants us to believe otherwise, Bond’s connection with Madeleine is nowhere close to his connection with Tracy or Vesper. Killing Madeleine won’t feel devastating, just cheap. Hate to be so blunt, but she’s not worthy of a revenge plot.
Murdering her also would undercut Bond’s decision to not kill Blofeld on the bridge. The moment was supposed to point out Bond’s sense of morality. So what point would it prove if Bond’s sense of morality gets his girlfriend killed?
While I’m at it, I think it would have been terrible if Hunt did shunt Tracy’s death into the opening of Diamonds Are Forever. Tracy’s death was meant to be the end of one story, not the start of another. Everyone who read the book would have felt cheated, and those who hadn’t read it would have felt cheated when Tracy died in Diamonds Are Forever. That’s what’s likely to happen if Madeleine dies early in Bond 25. People will feel they have been set up when the girl they liked from the last movie is bumped off. Audience members without a deep knowledge of Bond lore, which I would wager is 97 percent of moviegoers, won’t be impressed that the plot twist almost happened in 1971. They will just be angry that their emotions got manipulated for no good reason. The Bond movies avoided a bad idea forty-some year ago. They shouldn’t go ahead with it now.
Another reason the Bond producers should avoid this move is that the Jason Bourne beat them to it. Matt Damon escapes with Franka Potente at the end of The Bourne Identity and she dies early in The Bourne Supremacy. If Madeleine Swann dies in Bond 25, get set for a wave of people accusing Bond of copying Bourne again.
Finally, I go back to wish No. 1 on my list. I don’t want to see any more James Bond revenge stories. They have become tired. I read fans saying that Bond 25 finally could be what Diamonds Are Forever should have been, or the movies finally might bring the themes of Fleming’s You Only Live Twice to the screen. I say it’s too bad Diamonds Are Forever turned into a cartoon and that You Only Live Twice was filmed out of order. They were blown opportunities, but the time to correct them is long past. The more pertinent blown opportunity is Quantum of Solace. If the filmmakers wanted to make a full-blooded revenge story with Craig, they had the justification with his second film. Instead they got sidetracked by the whole Bolivian water rights thing, which had little to do with Bond’s pursuit of Vesper’s killers.
I’m hoping the Bond producers return to another classic element of the series and that Madeleine simply vanishes between films, maybe with an acknowledgement by Bond that “Things didn’t work out.” I liked the character. I don’t want to see her die.
7) Fix SPECTRE and its boss
SPECTRE got a lot of things right, but two of the biggest things it got wrong were SPECTRE and Ernst Stavro Blofeld. Considering that the name of the movie is SPECTRE, those are a couple of bizarre things to mess up.
The title should have been a strong inducement to the filmmakers to make sure SPECTRE lived up to its reputation. I fear that in their desire to “reinvent” SPECTRE for the 21st century (that sentiment pops up in a lot of prerelease interviews), they neutered it. They worried that a faithful recreation of the 1960s SPECTRE would come across as corny, but they downplay many of the elements that made it memorable. The nature of the organization is now so ambiguous that the marketing department was unsure whether to call the movie SPECTRE, as it appears in the official press notes, or Spectre, as it appears on the movie’s official website. All-caps indicate the title is still an acronym for the Special Executive for Counterintelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion, while lowercase indicates it is just a corporate name. The film never states the old Special Executive identity, but until I’ve heard definitively that SPECTRE is no longer an acronym, I’m going to assume it is.
The filmmakers also kept SPECTRE in the shadows for too long in the new movie, not wanting the audience to learn more than Bond does. That was a mistake. No one should assume they know how to tell a Bond story better than Ian Fleming, and in the novel “Thunderball,” where he introduces SPECTRE, Fleming lays out the history and mission of the organization for the reader before Bond has even heard of it. The early movies followed Fleming’s lead as the faceless Blofeld outlined SPECTRE’s scheme to his lieutenants toward the start of the story.
SPECTRE was distinctive in the Connery movies and was copied or spoofed by just about every spy franchise for the following decade. Each secret agent had to have an evil organization to thwart. That’s why Napoleon Solo had Thrush and Maxwell Smart had KAOS. All those copycats were a major reason Eon was reluctant to bring back the classic SPECTRE, but they wound up creating a hazy organization with hazy goals. At the very least, they could have identified a few of the members besides Blofeld. Dave Bautista plays the fearsome assassin Mr. Hinx, but his name is never spoken.
For a while, it didn’t seem like the movie was going to mention the name Ernst Stavro Blofeld, either. This is the filmmakers’ greatest miscalculation. If you’re bringing back SPECTRE, which everyone knows you are doing because that’s the title of the movie, then obviously you are bringing back Blofeld. Anything else would have caused fans to revolt. So why play the game of hiding Blofeld behind another identity for more than half the film? Especially when the same tactic backfired badly with Khan in Star Trek Into Darkness?
I wouldn’t have objected to Blofeld being presented as the son of Hannes Oberhauser, an element of Bond’s past that comes directly from Fleming, if the the script had done something meaningful with it. Instead the script drops the subject immediately after broaching it. Nothing in the performances of Daniel Craig and Christoph Waltz indicates that their characters shared a past. The foster brother angle is condensed into Waltz declaring that he became evil because his father liked Bond better.
Bond barely reacts to Franz/Blofeld’s confession. Of course, he is strapped to a torture chair at the time, but more than a hint of anger would have been appropriate. When Bond confronts Hannes Oberhauser’s murderer (who isn’t his son) in the short story “Octopussy,” he calls Oberhauser “a wonderful man” and says, “He was something of a father to me at a time when I happened to need one.” SPECTRE desperately requires such an acknowledgement. Without it, the foster brother revelation plays as a perfunctory reworking of the Superman/Lex Luthor story.
Waltz does the best he can, but the script fails him. Oddly enough Jesper Christensen’s Mr. White, the Blofeld substitute from Quantum of Solace, is a more powerful figure in SPECTRE even though he is dying and doesn’t survive his only scene. It may have been a better gambit to reveal that Mr. White was Blofeld all along than to bring in Waltz.
But, as the theme song tells us, the writing’s on the wall and it’s too late to erase it. Bond 25 almost certainly will feature the return of Blofeld and SPECTRE, so the filmmakers will have another chance to make things right. They’ve committed to the foster brother relationship between hero and villain, so they might as well develop it next time. Make Blofeld powerful again, and revitalize SPECTRE into an organization bent on toppling or overthrowing governments rather than spying on them electronically.
It boggles my mind that after waiting more than 40 years to use SPECTRE and Blofeld in a Bond movie (I’m not counting the For Your Eyes Only pretitle sequence), the best that Eon, Mendes and their revolving team of screenwriters could concoct was the underwhelming computer surveillance scheme in SPECTRE. If Bond 25 is Craig’s final film, which I assume it will be, the producers have one more chance to fix SPECTRE and Blofeld. Do it right, and you could send Craig off with his best film.