The latest James Bond cinema outing, SPECTRE, has received almost universal critical acclaim, so I am taking my life in my hands by offering here a completely contrary view.
I saw the film with my wife, yesterday; she very much enjoyed it – I thought it amongst the worst films I have seen. I say this as a very long-time Bond aficionado, but my criticism is of the film as an example of the modern action adventure as well as its (lack of) respect for the legacy left by Ian Fleming. If you give prominence in the credits, to the line “Daniel Craig as Ian Fleming’s James Bond” it is surely necessary to give the character some passing resemblance to its model – beyond a few characters and organisations with names trawled from Fleming’s books and a feeble back-story loosely based on the theme of a short story, Octopussy?
As an action adventure film, SPECTRE has some merit. The set-piece sequences are exciting and brilliantly conceived and executed. But that is all they are – a relentless stream of set-piece sequences. Any attempt at a logical plot or storyline has been abandoned so that the whole thing ends up as an incoherent, unconvincing load of tosh.
This is not Superman or Mission Impossible – I like my escapism to be grounded in credibility, something that Fleming understood very well. Some of the violence is gratuitous and deeply unpleasant. For instance, I cite the despatch of one of the SPECTRE agents, at a board meeting, by a would be replacement squashing out his eyes and crushing his scull – in a “12” rated film aimed, partly at children.
The fight on the train was absurd. As a result of this encounter, Bond would have received serious brain damage, physical damage and probably have been wheelchair-bound for the rest of his life. I didn’t understand how a few shots from a (high-powered) rifle caused the building in Mexico City to collapse, but obviously as it collapsed into the street thronged with revellers, hundreds of innocent people would have been killed and pandemonium would have broken out. Not at all – back in the street celebrations continued and nobody turned a hair.
Despite having to dash from location to location at very short notice, often pursued by thugs with murderous intent, Bond and Madeleine Swann manage to lug along with them a plentiful wardrobe of gowns, suits and dinner-jackets. Why were they on that train across the Sahara? How did they know to disembark at some deserted way-side halt in the middle of nowhere and what well-heeled villain uses a 1947 Rolls Royce Silver Wraith as his vehicle of choice in the middle of the desert? And why was there no one else on the train and no guard to complain that they had wrecked his carriage? Bah. Humbug.
With regard to respect for Fleming’s legacy, Daniel Craig started well in Casino Royale. This film took the fundamental framework of Fleming’s novel and reimagined it for a 21st century action movie and Daniel Craig had a certain amount of class and style. Bypassing Quantum of Solace, Skyfall was a masterpiece. It was controlled, credible and the action sequences made sense and were not over the top. The introduction of Bond’s back story was nicely done and rather touching. In both these films there were moments when Bond displayed kindness and tenderness – towards Vesper Lynd in the shower sequence in Casino Royale and towards M when she was dying and afterwards in Skyfall. What moments of humanity, kindness or tenderness were there in SPECTRE?
None that I saw. The Bond of Fleming’s imagination (despite what many people imagine) was sensitive, kind, decent worried about his chosen way of life and the situations it led him into. At least twice in SPECTRE, Bond is described as an assassin. Bond was never an assassin. He had a licence to kill and generally exercised this to save lives, his and others and generally in hot blood. Somewhere Fleming said “he never killed in cold blood…” SPECTRE’s Bond was an unpleasant thug, completely interchangeable with those he was up against.
This is a heartless film. A film for the computer-games generation and a sad reflection on our times.
David Salter has been an enthusiast for the books of Ian Fleming since he stumbled into James Bond, via Moonraker, at a rural railway station bookstall in 1956. This lifelong interest has resulted in a substantial collection of books, magazines, newspaper cuttings and ephemera. From 1964 to 1969 he lived at 27 Green Street, off Park Lane in London, the house where Fleming was born.