The best part of SPECTRE for me was the seamless opening sequence, which was a graceful dance of filmmaking, AND a showcase of what makes the idea of Bond so enticing. It starts with the glorious spectacle of a Day of the Dead celebration in Mexico City, then shows Bond rush to a hotel room with a beautiful woman, change into a suit for the split second the camera’s off of him, and glide out the window and into a suspenseful but poetic stint of rooftop walking to carry out a personal goal. The angles of this shot make it look like the poised and focused Daniel Craig is about to step off into oblivion, but the illusion get toyed with in every pan down.
This, this fine-tuned but animalistic total-awareness of environment, is one of the elements of Bond that isn’t exaggerated. The real world does have people who can seamlessly navigate the world, slip in and out of room, and be seen only when they want to be seen. The rest of SPECTRE, however, not only tests the bounds of reality, but of logic in a way that leaves you dizzy.
First of all, the great thing about the idea of James Bond, is that he isn’t a person, he is an idea. He’s a superhero with a wrinkle-free suit and a martini glass. His face can change, his personality can (slightly) change, his story can change, but the idea of Bond remains. Trying to logically tie together all the Bond movies or make definite sense of all the plots isn’t the point. There aren’t multiple men embodying the Jame Bond name. 007 is just one man, one legend and James Bond is his real name. The differences are the differences of myth. The story always changes, or even goes haywire, but the constant is an underlying legend. The point is to escape into an adolescent fantasy for a while, get distracted by Bond’s gadgets, cars, explosions, fighting ability, and sex appeal.
It always helps, however, if the story isn’t too thin or tangled. Christoph Waltz, who is always amazing to watch on screen, isn’t given much to work with here. He’s Bond’s long-lost foster brother Franz Oberhauser, who faked his death, then changed his name to Ernst Stavro Blofeld and started SPECTRE as a way to get revenge on Bond for taking away his father’s attention. The goal of SPECTRE, a crazy-powerful international surveillance and espionage company, seems to be gaining worldwide power and spreading pain and mayhem just to get back at Bond for being a lovable orphan. It’s often nice when villains have a sob story to explain their twisted actions, but with Blofeld, it just feels kind of limp. There’s no passion, no real evidence of his pain or feeling other than what he’s telling us.
Everything bad that’s happened to Bond, Blofeld claims responsibility for as he straps Bond to a chair and makes tiny drills into his head. Blofeld seems to know what he’s doing, claiming he’s able to precisely extract Bond’s sensory and memory abilities one-by-one, but his machine seems more like a lobotomy machine than exact neurosurgery. Maybe because his drill isn’t as precise as he would like, Madeliene Swann is able to save Bond by telling him that she loves him. Even though they’ve barely had any time together, this declaration appears to save Bond’s memory, and she then uses Bond’s watch to blow up Blofeld and escape his desert compound.
Things just get stranger from there. Swann breaks up with Bond in the middle of a crisis, and then immediately they somehow both get captures by Blofeld and get trapped in the M16 building, which had been transformed to a sort of mad funhouse of Bond’s past. Here we see Blofeld’s scared eye and cheek, reminiscent of You Only Live Twice (fun fact: that screenplay was written by Roald Dahl.)
Bond’s given three minutes to find Madeliene and save her (or just leave her and save himself,) which he does with such blind luck that the whole thing has no bite. He’s then able to shoot down Blofeld from a helicopter with his gun, and then finds him again on the street. He has the chance to kill him, but chooses not to, and walks away from everything (seemingly even his role as 007) to go live a life with Madeliene.
Of course, even if Bond did “quit” (there is a theory even that he’s dead, and the whole last part was his fever dream) in this movie, that doesn’t mean anything for the franchise. Bond never dies. He can quit, but he can always come back. The idea of Bond, is antiquated, and it has always been exaggerated. There are no spies with a license to kill; those are called assassins. If any spies, especially super secret spies like James Bond is supposed to be, stood out the way Bond does, they’d be doing their job poorly. Maybe it isn’t that James Bond died and had a dream of these absurd events, it’s that the whole sweeping narrative of Bond and every iteration he embodies is our dream and speaks to our need to fantasize about being invincible and suave in the midst of terrifying chaos. Bond never goes very deep emotionally, even in these last few movies with Daniel Craig that explore bits of his past. He is the stillness in the hurricane, inscrutable and blank: a vessel for anyone to anyway to inhabit in our fantasies.