The Daniel Craig Era (4)
12th August 2016
In the fourth and final part of the series, Nicolas Suszczyk reflects upon Daniel Craig's 'SPECTRE'
In the final part of this series, Nicolas Suszczyk reflects on Daniel Craig's tenure as James Bond over four films.
'SPECTRE': A traditional Bond
The most important thing to notice about the recent James Bond film 'SPECTRE' is that Daniel Craig also co-produced it with Andrew Noakes and David Pope. It was the first time that the leading Bond actor also has a credit as a crew member. The truth is that Craig has been participating into the production of his films since 'Casino Royale' where he also gave his opinion on the marketing campaign and on the process of reconstructing the character. His active work has been apparently awarded with a co-producer credit.
The 24th James Bond adventure was announced as 'SPECTRE' on December 2014, making fans arise suspicion about the return of the leader of the famous title organization known as Ernst Stavro Blofeld. The organization and this character were tied to a legal conflict dating from the 1960s involving Kevin McClory, Jack Wittingham and author Ian Fleming. A conflict settled in 2013 when the heirs of the deceased McClory sold their part of the rights to EON Productions.
Sam Mendes confirmed his return to the director chair and Daniel Craig also returned to the role of 007, while the rest of the cast was announced on December 4, 2015: Léa Seydoux as Madeleine Swann and Monica Bellucci (originally considered for 'Tomorrow Never Dies' in 1997) as Lucia Sciarra, the Bond girls; Dave Bautista as hitman Mr. Hinx, Andrew Scott as Whitehall member Max Denbigh and Christoph Waltz as the leading villain Franz Oberhauser. Returning from 'Skyfall' were Naomie Harris, Ben Whishaw, Rory Kinnear and Ralph Fiennes now established as the MI6 team: Moneypenny, Q, Bill Tanner and M.
As the title was announced by Mendes and producer Barbara Broccoli, the director slipped that Bond fans would know why the movie was named that way, as the synopsis pointed out that 007 would have to face "a cryptic organization" linked to a man of his past. Screenwriters Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, John Logan and Jezz Butterworth decided to finally close the arc opened in 'Casino Royale' and continued in 'Quantum of Solace' by bringing back Jesper Christensen as Mr. White. The character was supposed to die at the end of the 2008 film, but the ending was edited out of the film leaving the Quantum nemesis to face James Bond once more in the big screen. They also opted for having all the previous villains (Le Chiffre, Dominic Greene, Raoul Silva) linked directly or indirectly to the SPECTRE organization.
Following a message left by the late M (Judi Dench), James Bond decides to "potter off" to Mexico City during the Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) celebration. There he fights and kills Marco Sciarra (Alessandro Cremona) an assassin who was in the country to blow up a stadium. Bond's bravado causes him to get him suspended from duty and complicates the new M, who is pressured by a merger between MI5 and MI6 as the joint Security Committee Max Denbigh (codename C) plans to disavow the 00 section he considers obsolete.
With the help of Moneypenny and Q, Bond goes to Sciarra's funeral in Rome where he meets Lucia, the late man's widow. After 007 saves her life from two SPECTRE assassins, she tells him about a meeting of the organization which Bond will later infiltrate. There, he learns the organization was behind some recent bombings in Hamburg and Tunisia and hears the nick name of a man marked for dead by the members: "The Pale King", who is residing in Altaussee, Austria. Suddenly, Bond is identified by the organization's leader: Franz Oberhauser, a foster brother he had during his childhood who was presumed dead.
Bond escapes and with the aid of Moneypenny he finds out The Pale King is none other than his old nemesis Mr. White, so he goes to Austria to interrogate him. Disgraced and pursued by SPECTRE because he "disobeyed" the leader, White reveals Bond he's been poisoned by thallium and is trying to stay alive only to protect his daughter Madeleine. After Bond promises to protect her, White tells him where to find her and claims she will take him to L'Americain. Later, White shoots himself.
Bond meets Madeleine at the Hoffler Klinik and, after some resistance and saving her life, she takes him to L'Americain: the hotel where Mr. White and his wife spent their wedding night, in Tangier. There, they discover Mr. White has been tracking Oberhauser to a place in the middle of the Moroccan desert. At the same time, in London, Denbigh's Nine Eyes project (creating a combined intelligence network between nine countries) is approved and he's in charge of the new committee, leaving M without job and the 00 section out of order.
After a romantic dinner on a train and finally terminating Mr. Hinx, the duo is taken to the secret base of Franz Oberhauser. There, he exposes his plan: to control the world's intelligence services through C's Nine Eyes network. While torturing Bond, he credits to himself the deaths of Vesper Lynd and the former M, and all the threats of his previous assignments: "A nice pattern developed. You destroy my world, I destroy yours".
Oberhauser reveals the cause of his hate towards James Bond: being cast aside as the "orphan with the blue eyes" got all the attention of his father Hannes. He also reveals the captive Bond he has a new identity: Ernst Stavro Blofeld. 'SPECTRE' had a few troubles during production, mainly the hacking of two script versions and emails between the film crew discussing the storyline and a bland third act.
Now that the film finally came to screen, it can be noticed that the story looks a bit less psychological and deep than 'Skyfall' or 'Casino Royale', yet it excels as an entertaining James Bond movie with spectacular action scenes, exotic locations, good dialogue and a ravishing photography making a perfect tandem with Thomas Newman's ethereal soundtrack (for instance the African instruments playing as the train moves through the Moroccan desert).
'SPECTRE' opens with the gunbarrel sequence (now back at the beginning), follows with a superb tracking shot of Bond walking through the rooftops and continues with an action scene that ends with the secret agent levelling of an helicopter and flying it through the skyline of Mexico City during the sunset. The octopus engraved on the organization's ring introduces us to the beautiful main title sequence designed by Daniel Kleinman as Sam Smith's powerful, haunting and weak "Writing's on the Wall" blasts through the speakers.
The main title sequence, just like every job done by Kleinman, excels by showing shots of the secret agent kissing beautiful girls as he is wrapped around octopus tentacles and with images of his past (Silva, Vesper, Le Chiffre and M) in the form of shattered glass. A beautiful artistic exhibition that is very well underlined by a song dealing with a hurt man asking for his need of love: Bond's issue since the death of Vesper.
Ralph Fiennes does a solid job as the new M while Ben Whishaw's Q is better exploited than in 'Skyfall', as he has a notable chemistry with Daniel Craig ("I really, really hate you right now", he complains as the rogue Bond gives him the organization's ring to analyze).
The Bond girls are played by Monica Bellucci and Léa Seydoux. The Italian actress makes a role that may be small but radiates sensuality all over the screen (that shot of Lucia in lingerie on the bed after making love with Bond is enough to explain the sex appeal of the 50-year-old actress), while the French actress known for 'Blue is the Warmest Color' and 'Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol' was chosen to play a more complex woman into Bond's life. Madeleine Swann is the girl meant to take Bond out of his emotional misery after the death of Vesper, but that effect seems lost in the way from the script to screen. Nobody doubts of Seydoux's acting skills, yet the character needed to be elaborated a bit more (sadly, an exchange between Bond and Madeleine during the train dinner about Vesper was taken out from the script).
The villain department excels with Christoph Waltz playing the villain. After months of denials, the Austrian actor was finally revealed as Ernst Stavro Blofeld, the head of SPECTRE previously played by Donald Pleasance, Telly Savalas and Charles Gray. Waltz does a great job in the role by psychologically torturing Bond throughout the movie. Something welcomed after the lack of strong villains in the Craig era, although Javier Bardem did a great job as Silva in 'Skyfall'.
The introduction of the character in an illuminati-like meeting at a Roman Palazzo harkens back to the days where Anthony Dawson (whose face wasn't seen) summoned the SPECTRE agents in 'From Russia With Love' and 'Thunderball', as the execution of one of the agents is absolutely shocking and grisly: Hinx gouges out the eyes of Guerra, the Spaniard SPECTRE member whom he challenges for a mission. The scene may be not graphically seen, but it still provokes impact.
The 21st century Blofeld, scheming a modern way of world domination by trying to control the intelligence services, can be cynical but yet threatening and scientifically evil as he drills trough Bond's skull to torture him or as he leaves him into the soon to be demolished MI6 building, filled of images of Vesper, M and Silva: "Look around you. Everything you believed in, everything you stood for is in ruins."
Blofeld's sidekick Mr. Hinx, played by Dave Bautista, may not bring anything new to the series but he has a fight with a tuxedoed Bond that brings back memories from 'The Spy Who Loved Me' and 'Live And Let Die', Sam Mendes' favourite film.
'SPECTRE' is a reappraisal of the classic world of Bond that was "under construction" in the first two films of Daniel Craig. Mendes let his fanboy soul direct the movie providing to the Bond fans the same excitement the kids feel when entering a toy store: a few exploding Omega watches and Aston Martins with gadgets weren't so bad, after all.
Daniel Craig is, in this movie, the Bond we all love. He looks incredible confident as Ian Fleming's spy way more than in his first films. Craig can handle the ironic quips of Sean Connery, the style of Pierce Brosnan era and the determination of Timothy Dalton. 'SPECTRE' is indeed his best portrayal of James Bond.
We all know James Bond will return, but it is yet uncertain if Daniel Craig will return to the role. While some claim we can wait for him to do a fifth movie, reporters are already betting on who the seventh Bond will be. What is for sure is that if Craig leaves the series with 'SPECTRE' he would retire in a very Bondian way: with his girl, driving the classic Aston Martin DB5 through the streets of London.