Is this Daniel Craig’s last Bond?
- Scott R. Garceau (The Philippine Star) - November 7, 2015 - 9:00am

Possibly the best thing that could have happened to the James Bond franchise was Ian Fleming dying. As weird as that sounds, it meant that someone else had to carry on writing new chapters in the career of 007, thus allowing the current MI6 staple played by Daniel Craig to carve out his own niche in a series of movies that have reinvented the brand to an extent.

Spectre, directed by Sam Mendes, doesn’t exactly reinvent the Aston Martin wheel. It’s still Bond… James Bond. There’s the usual assortment of Bond Girls on hand, the usual gallery of flashy rides and gadgets, and some nice threads. Bond’s impeccable style is still there, a little more serious and studied than in previous 007 incarnations. And there’s a curious focus on Bond’s physique that hasn’t really been seen in the franchise since, well, Sean Connery first bared his torso in Dr. No.

But what’s really changed with the Craig character is a note of actual remorse and loss ever since his first girlfriend — Eva Green — was killed off in Casino Royale. What’s marked each Craig entry since is a realization that death is all around — it has impact, even more for Bond than the lives he snuffs out in the course of his professional duties.

This might explain why Spectre feels a bit like a coda, a “goodbye to all that” for either Bond’s killing ways or Craig himself (the actor has not come clean on whether or not he will return, though he said in a past interview that he would “rather slash my wrists” than play the character again).

Surely, the huge $1.1 billion success of Skyfall worldwide must have put a special demand on EON Productions to keep the James Bond factory operational (in fact, with a budget of close to $300 million, it might have hit those box office numbers again to be called a hit). For the first time, it seems that 007 has been given a character arc: he’s gone from painful personal loss (Casino Royale), to loss of emotion (Quantum of Solace), to mournful reconnection with his past (the home estate and death of M in Skyfall) to his current state of mind in Spectre: drawing all the pieces together after the discovery of a ring bearing an unusual octopus insignia. All this back story has reinvigorated the Bond series somewhat, in the way that the “Dark Knight” character added depth and shade to Batman.

But, come on: he’s still James Bond. Even with a new M (Ralph Fiennes, taking over for the fallen Judi Dench) and a new Q (Ben Whishaw for younger female fans) and a new, more liberated Moneypenny (Naomie Harris), you know there will be a spectacular helicopter/plane/train chase opening the film, and one possibly closing it. In between, 007 will bed two to three women, and will employ one of Q’s ingenious life-saving devices. He will trash one beautiful motor vehicle, in this case a spiffy Aston Martin DB10 (it gets parked in the bottom of the Tiber during a chase through Rome).

So what makes Spectre stand out? It carries less emotional weight than Skyfall, but some of the same modern-day issues remain: the new political regime is out to close down the Double-O program under MI6, saying it’s prehistoric. The new technocrat in charge is Max Derbigh (Sherlock’s Moriarty, Andrew Scott), otherwise known as C (we learn later what the “C” stands for), out to enlist world governments to sign on to a global surveillance program using drone technology. And with drones spying on most of the world, who needs secret agents like 007 out in the field?

It’s a constant thread in the Daniel Craig movies: the new regime versus the old, technology versus good old-fashioned spying. Because, as Fiennes’ M points out to C, a license to kill is “also a license not to kill.” Judgment is something lacking in the brave new world of drones and air strikes.

Opening spectacularly during Mexico City’s Day of the Dead, Bond later tracks the octopus ring to Austria where dying former Quantum member Mr. White (Jesper Christensen) tells Bond to look for his daughter, Dr. Madeline Swann (Lea Seydoux), who can explain the ring’s importance. All this leads to the global crime organization called Spectre, now in the grip of Ernst Stavro Blofeld (a nasty Christoph Waltz).

 

 

Bond gets at least one good line in at Waltz’s expense during a torture scene in which the actor with the distinctive Austrian accent proceeds to explain in detail how he plans to torture 007 to death. “Nothing could be as painful as having to hear you talk any longer,” 007 cracks. And we know what he means. As a baddie, Waltz is extra annoying, almost like fingernails on a chalkboard. But that’s what makes Bond villains so enjoyable: their idiosyncratic quirks, their outrageous accents, and their hairstyle choices.

Good to see Fiennes, Harris and Whishaw having more to do on the ground in this entry than before. Now that Double-O is under threat of closure, they pack up their widgets and laptops and Walthers and head out to the field to try to keep Bond on the trail of Waltz. Fiennes in particular looks like he’s enjoying himself.

One other bit of casting — 50-year-old Monica Bellucci as a Bond Girl — was apparently meant to show how progressive the Bond franchise series has become. Playing Luccia Sciarra, the widow of a Spectre baddie dispatched by 007 early on, Bellucci is good, but the franchise still isn’t above focusing on her still-impressive bod or having the grieving widow tumble into bed with the age-appropriate secret agent.

Spectre glides happily from state-of-the-art chases to elegant outfits and locales to extra-cheesy bits, such as the opening credits (with falsetto theme sung by Sam Smith) showing the usual montage of sinewy female bodies, backgrounded by exploding flame, with a shirtless Craig standing at center. It all feels like some kind of men’s fragrance ad, and very, very kitschy. One other line that gave audience members a hoot: after Bond and his new companion Swann get rid of thuggish Spectre assassin Mr. Hinx (wrestler Dave Bautista) aboard a speeding train, Swann breathlessly turns to Bond and asks: “What do we do now?” Cut to feverish lovemaking scene in Bond’s sleeper car. Some things, after all, never change.

 

ACIRC ANDREW SCOTT ASTON MARTIN BEN WHISHAW BOND CASINO ROYALE COM JAMES BOND NEW QUOT SPECTRE
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