Review – I’ve been ex-SPECTRE-ing you, Mr. Bond! (“SPECTRE”)

Daniel Craig is back for his (possible) last outing as 007’s James Bond, and this time around he’s finally meeting the franchises arch-nemesis, the global criminal organization known as SPECTRE. This is first time SPECTRE’s been mentioned since 1973’s recasting with Roger Moore as Bond.

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Told like part four of a Daniel Craig/James Bond continuing movie saga, we have 007, picking up after Skyfall and a mysterious message from the late “M” (Judi Dench) telling Bond to kill an assassin named Marco Sciarra (Alessandro Cremora) and then to attend his funeral. But after a wild Mexico City opening involving Marco’s demise, Bond’s in for a surprise. His new boss, “M” (Ralph Fiennes), informs him their double-O MI6 organization will merge with a new, sophisticated, and Orwellian data information MI5 organization, ruled by a snot-nosed little dweeb named Max Denbigh, but labeled as “C” (Andrew Scott–Professor Moriarty from BBC’s Sherlock).

Searching for clues, with the help of a ring bearing an octopus on it, Bond finds SPECTRE, a hidden world-wide organization that controls all crime and terrorism. Its leader is the enigmatic and powerful Franz Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz), who apparently has a secret history with Bond. But history or not, Franz sends Mr. Hinx (Dave Bautista), a lethal hitman and a throwback to the old Jaws-Bond villain after James, starting with a crazy car chase through Rome. Check out Bond’s new ride, the Austin Martin DB-10! Awesome!

Bond finds his old enemy, Mr. White (Jesper Christensen) from Quantum of Solace, and he agrees to find and protect his beautiful daughter, Dr. Madeleine Swann (Lea Seydeux). But there’s trouble back in London with “C” trying to mothball the double-O MI6 program, while Bond and Madeleine find more clues that lead them to the middle of the South African desert and the center hub of all world data: SPECTRE’s main HQ and Franz. Here, Franz reveals that he’s not really Franz, but Ernst Stavros Blofeld . . and he’s got a white Angora cat! Sound familiar?

Meanwhile, “M”, along with techno-wiz and inventor “Q” (Ben Whishaw) and loyal Bond wanna-be girlfriend, Eve Moneypenney (Naomie Harris) help stave off a nasty global internet computer program implemented by a SPECTRE operative in MI5. The third act is filled with massive explosions, escapes, more explosions, chases and escapes, and a nice ending that could telegraph the departure of Craig’s 007.

Seeing all the previous ‘Craig’ 007 films helps in following the plot, which is intricate and well constructed; more so than the previous labored Quantum of Solace or the confusing Skyfall. Writers John Logan, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, and Jez Butterworth (most of whom wrote many of the ‘Craig’ Bond films), have gathered their wits and written a wonderful ‘swan-song’ for Craig if, as he keeps saying, this is his last Bond film.

This is almost a throwback to a more classic Bond with more wit and humor than the others. The action and quiet times are spread out more evenly through the 2 hours and 23 minutes, giving a less choppy feel, which is a welcome relief. Yes, it’s long, but it only feels a little lengthy in the middle when you know they’re padding the movie out with unnecessary exposition.  

Director Sam Mendes (who also directed Skyfall) really knows how to make a Bond film. The chases are shot right, the fights are nerve-racking to watch, the stunts are harrowing, and the action is cranked up to 11. Then, of course, you have all the on-location shooting in countries like Italy, Mexico City, and the Austrian Alps. If your a Bond fan, you’ll catch many references to past films from clever word-play to visual clues that Mendes likes to throw in. My favorite is the Mr. Hinx/Jaws villain reference. It’s classic!

                  

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)
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SPECTRE, that sinister evil organization that always threatens the world, reared it’s ugly head in early major Bond films like From Russia With Love, Thunderball, and Diamonds Are Forever. But Bond really had his work cut out for him with SPECTRE’s one and only archetypal bald-headed villain of all time, Ernst Stavros Blofeld in this film that featured many surprises. . . and a new face!
 
After five films, the face of James Bond, Sean Connery, had had it and quit, citing long hours, complaints with the scripts, and a falling out with the producer, Cubby Broccoli. So, in walks a dashing, handsome, rugged, and totally non-professional actor (he did ONE commercial!) named George Lazenby from Australia and, after lying about all the films he made, gets the job! I kid you not!
 

Anyway, the central plot is quite silly and involves Bond having to pose as a genealogist in order to infiltrate the frozen Swiss mountain stronghold of SPECTRE and fool a bald-headed Blofeld (Telly Savalas—who changed his appearance from Donald Pleasance from the previous Bond film, You Only Live Twice). Blofeld has established a clinical allergy-research institute there, but it’s only a front. At a get-together, Bond meets twelve young beautiful women called the “Angels of Death”, who are patients at the institute’s clinic, apparently there for allergy research. Sneaking around at night, Bond sees the girls, apparently all in a sleep-induced hypnotic state, listening to Blofeld giving them audio instructions for when they are discharged and return home.

Bond finds out these women are, in fact, living bacteriological warfare agents ready to be distributed throughout various parts of the world for global crop extinction. Naturally, as with all Bond films, James is found out to be 007 and the shooting, fighting, chasing, escaping, and explosions begin. The facility is soon destroyed, but Blofeld escapes because he has to appear in a few more movies.
 
The movie ends on a somber note with Bond marrying his sweetheart, the Countess Tracy diVincenzo (Diana Rigg), and then getting killed soon after by Blofeld himself. This is the antithesis for Bond’s future bachelorhood in every movie afterwards.
 

Script by Richard Maibaum (who also wrote other Bond films) and it’s not one of the best for sure. The plot is weak and standard, even though it stuck pretty close to Ian Fleming’s novel of the same name. Director Peter Hunt, who did mostly editing and some TV series, stuck to the Bond playbook and shot his feature film without any character or flavor; it seems that a lack of Connery in it meant a lot.

Lazenby, his ego exploding after this movie and facing more money, booze, and women than he’d ever seen, demanded SO many things for “MY next Bond film”, that he was never hired back. And Connery? Well, he saw the lousy Lazenby in “his role” and the terrible box office receipts and decided to come back for one more film (Diamonds Are Forever) before hanging up his Walther PPK forever. That is until 1983, when he came back in Never Say Never Again, a re-scripted version of his own Thunderball.

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