‘What did you think of Quantum of Solace?’
‘Terrible. What was with that totally inflammable hotel in the desert?’
‘It made no sense. Why go to a remote house and wait for limitless Austin Powers-type henchmen to pour out of helicopters?’
‘So you won’t be going to Spectre, then?’
‘Well… I’ll probably check it out.’
We’ve all been there. You come out of a Bond movie feeling soiled and cheated. But you keep going back for more.
Why are the movies so awful? And why do you keep hoping against hope that the next one will be different? Because you’re hooked.
Here are five reasons why Spectre is awful:
(i) it’s a basic rule of story-telling that you have to root for the good guy and want the bad guy pulverized. But why should we care about Bond in Spectre? He has no sense of humour or good lines. He doesn’t do anything interesting. Number of times Bond produces brilliant insights or wheezes that resolve a puzzle or save the day? Zero. He just looks glum for two hours;
(ii) nothing makes sense. Why does widow Monica Belluci fall into Bond’s arms instantly, then never reappear? Why does villain Christoph Waltz leave Bond to rescue pointlessly left-behind-to-be-captured love-interest Lea Seydoux in a deserted building about to be destroyed, then give him time to escape? How come Spectre’s Moroccan lair blows up spectacularly as soon as a shot is fired? Why, if Waltz-in-a-helicopter is fleeing Bond-in-a-boat on the Thames, does Waltz fly along the river, instead of turning inland? How, when everything is so senseless, can the film contain any dramatic tension?
(iii) the threat-to-civilisation-as-we-know-it which Bond must combat is not global destruction or even Quantum’s hard-to-dramatise Bolivian water shortage, but intelligence co-operation and surveillance. Er… don’t we have that already? How do you dramatise the Internet? By showing a room full of men sitting at computers. We can all see that every day at work, right? This may be the dullest menace Bond has ever battled;
(iv) nothing interesting happens. The threat-to-civilisation-as-we-know-it is overcome by… a bloke with a laptop! Sitting at a desk! He simply hacks in and closes the whole thing down. The scene with the man sitting with the laptop resolving the crisis is possibly the least dramatic scene in cinema history since the scene hours earlier in the same movie featuring a room full of men sitting at computers;
(v) incredibly for a “thriller” with a huge budget and spectacular action sequences, it’s boring. People drone on about Bond’s childhood, as if the characters in Spectre are so finely drawn that such subtleties could possibly matter. Even the action sequences are dull. Take Bond’s fancy Aston Martin: the one time he drives it, the car chasing it is faster. Its gimmicks (machine guns, ejector seat) are exactly the same as those on James Bond’s car in Goldfinger (1964) except that this time they have zero effect on the car chasing him. How is this interesting? The only intriguing technology in Spectre is the yawn-o-matic in every scene.
But we’ll all keep going back for more punishment because:
(i) somewhere in the past, we enjoyed a Bond movie. Maybe several. We were young, we’d had a drink, the jokes were funny, the fight scenes made us wince, someone looked good in a swimsuit or a bikini. Ever since, we’ve kind of been hoping we’d see another Bond like that;
(ii) Bond on a good day is, or was, a unique concept. Over the years we’ve come to like this cool, understated, shaken-not-stirred British kind of guy who straightens his cuffs after bruising action sequences and cruises a glamorous world sorting out villains in amusing and spectacular ways. A new Bond movie holds out the tantalising promise of escapism and mindless pleasure…
(iii) which is why, time after time, we can’t quite believe the movie we’re preparing to see can be as bad as the last one we saw – or, in fact, worse. Surely with all that money they must have thought about the story? Isn’t there someone credited with the screenplay? (Actually there are four – anyone heard of cooks and broth?) We have an incurable optimism bias that this time it’s going to be watchable. Then, at the end, we tell each other: ‘Usual Bond nonsense.’ ‘Yep. Don’t know why I come to see them.’
(iv) the images are powerful. Like Mission Impossible or the initial Bourne movies there’s a sensuous pleasure in ogling sharp-focus shots of exotic locations, attractive actors, skyscrapers, landscapes and scenes stuffed with lusciously-clad extras. In Spectre I enjoyed: a train rolling through a Moroccan sunset; overhead shots of a building with a round courtyard in London (actually, the Treasury); and Bond driving through a snowy Austrian valley. The grand cinematography gives a bogus sense of spectacle – like the improbably meaningless opening sequence in Ridley Scott’s cataclysmically dull Prometheus;
(v) a new Bond movie is backed by a massive advertising budget. Everyone talks about it! Famous people (including members of The Royal Family) go to the premiere! It’s on the news, even in Turkey!
After watching Spectre I feel like a reformed alcoholic who’s gone back for just one more drink: used, abused, cheated and it’s all my own fault. My head tells me that next time I’d be much more likely to enjoy something original, like a Japanese Gangsta Rap Movie or an Iranian vampire western. My heart says: I bet Bond 25 will be fun and cool.
For: lovely aerial shots of London, Rome and Morocco. Daniel Craig, who I’ve met, is a perfectly nice bloke; as, no doubt, are many others involved in what is…
Against: …by any rational analysis, an extraordinarily poor movie.