Since Casino Royal there has been a definitive shift in the Bond franchise where the movies are no longer churned out to Bond-specification: filled with the same old lines, scenes and clichés. The older Bond films were brilliant movies but, like anything, needed to adapt for an ever-changing audience. So although I am about to slag off Spectre, I would still rather watch it over some of the poorer-quality oldies; and Daniel Craig is excellent as always, proving, once again, that he will probably be sexy until he is 95.
But, like someone struggling to get over their most recent ex, I couldn’t help comparing Spectre to Skyfall. Spectre is rather aptly named because it lurks in the shadows of its predecessor, plus it is comparatively dated and simplistic. These well-worn tropes that we see time and time again in the old Bond films were all present in Spectre: the car chases; the evil villain hell-bent on world domination; the first woman he shags and leaves the second he fancies a bit more (but never enough to kick-start a functional relationship, of course). This made for some undeniably great action scenes, but denied Spectre the fresh concepts and emotional depth created in Skyfall.
There was the classic, ‘woman who hates Bond but needs his protection because she is so fragile, and whoops now she has fallen in love with him in the space of a day’ storyline, which caused every feminist in the room to vomit. On the subject of women, Spectre also fails to utilise one of its trump cards: Monica Bellucci. The oldest Bond girl ever, she seems to have been crammed into one very hot (but certainly not 12a) sexy scene. This woman is beautiful and engaging, yet they threw her into the film with a lace shield over her face (probably to hide her old, old complexion) and then dropped her on the bed like a sack of potatoes. Bellucci was only three minutes into demonstrating that you can be 50 years old and still knock the 20-something Bond girls out of the water, and then the cameraman essentially finished his slow jog past her and we never saw her again. This also reiterated the idea that Bond can only form semi-meaningful relationships with women half his age and again illustrated how Spectre treads backwards towards traditional Bond clichés.
Then of course there was the ‘evil villain who is so evil his motivations aren’t even really explained because what really motivates him is evil. Muhaha’. What I found so enchanting about Javier Bardem as Raoul Silva was that he wasn’t a two-dimensional villain who wanted to take down Bond, then the world and it was no more complicated than that. He was crazily unnerving, weirdly attractive and even seemed to be conflicted with a guy-crush on Bond. Plus his motivations were clear, even relatable: he felt betrayed and hurt by M and MI6 and he wanted to hurt them back. Meanwhile, in Spectre, Christoph Waltz received a criminally (excuse the pun) small amount of investigation into his character, Oberhauser. When he was on screen he was never demonstrating much personality or even trying very hard to kill Bond. Oberhauser not only took Bond on a slow, sleepy tour of his desert home before half-heartedly attempting to kill him, but then gave him three whole fucking minutes to get out of a building. And his motivations for everything else he was doing? Little more than ‘being evil’. The best part was when he described Bond’s movement into his life like a cuckoo entering the nest and kicking the other chicks out. Which was a magical moment in the film – I wanted to hear about the motivation behind all the evil ploys he was apparently behind – but then bloody Bond threw some explosive watch at him and we never find out more.
Which brings me to one of the most unexplained plots in Bond history. Skyfall (I just can’t forget Skyfall) managed to shotgun the ‘Bond’s parents’ plot which created a space where they could explore a lot of the deeper aspects of Bond’s character. Bond wasn’t just a tough guy who had an Achilles heel for women – he was haunted by his past too. So how was Spectre going to beat that? Bond had no other family to utilise…or did he? Enter previously unmentioned/unheard of quasi-brother, Oberhauser. This guy is apparently the biggest baddie they’ve ever had and he is responsible for literally everything that has ever gone wrong in Bond’s life. Maybe at this point in development someone said, “but how can we link him to Le Chiffre? Or the manufacture of M’s church death? How can we explain how he is involved in all this shit but never got found out or gloated to Bond until now?” Then some artsy person was like, “guys its fine. We draw an octopus symbol which links all these people’s faces. Boom. Everyone’s connected… by the octopus.”
That was pretty much the only explanation we got.
What Skyfall accomplished so well is that wasn’t just a great Bond film – it was a great film. Yes, there will be Bond fans who prefer Spectre because it is steeped in tradition and they crave the action-packed Bond films of old with the generic women and baddies. However, the price paid is to undo some of the work Skyfall did in creating a emotionally complex characters and a Bond who’s made of so much more than chicks and car chases.