1 November 2015

So What Is Spectre Really About?

The dead are alive. These are the opening words that hammer on screen and begin James Bond's latest post-shag, pre-drink murder-sprees. At the start of Spectre, 007 is off-duty in Mexico and chasing down a fat foreign guy that he promptly kills for no good or obvious reason. Maybe this is an unofficial mission or maybe it's simply how an 'imperialistic right-wing fuck-face' chooses to relax. Either way it essentially kick-starts the latest story, dealing with the fate of MI6, the circumstances of Bond's childhood, and the threat of a sinister organisation that may even be more evil than the tax-dodging Starbucks. As a fully-obsessed fan of the series, I once received a poker chip from the casino in Skyfall for Christmas that a friend suggested I show to every single girl I meet. If I ever find one that recognises it as being from that film then apparently it's proof that she's the one for me and I should propose on the spot. Well, the same test could sort of be applied to any friendship with this entire film. The question is “What do those opening four words refer to?” If the answer is "Sum of da people in da opening Day of da Dead sequence look lyk zombies” then you're to get the fuck out of my life. As anybody with at least three brain cells will be able to deduce, the correct answer is “The filmmakers are literally spelling out the film's theme for all of the thick people in the audience”.

As a result, Spectre is just as riddled with the idea of living on after death as Bond likely is with some horrendous sexual disease. Sure there's the superficial stuff with the Day of the Dead festival, a message from a dead character, another who may have faked their own death, and the idea that all of the previous and dead villains live on through the work of Spectre. But other than that, the film, like Skyfall before it, is reminiscent of an old man at the bus stop who won't shut the fuck up about his own life story. Except instead of this man waffling on about penny-farthings and his bitch of an ex-wife, it's actually a run-down of some of cinema's coolest moments. So.. you have a clinic that looks like Blofeld's lodge from OHMSS, a Moonraker-style techno-base, a load of skull masks that are reminiscent of Live And Let Die, a fist fight similar to the one in From Russia With Love, and an ear-rapingly shite theme song like most of the later-era Roger Moore films. Even the title of Sam Smith's opening warbler is the punchline to a joke in Goldeneye that I've never been able to understand. For the record too, although the theme might not have been to my tastes originally, it has worryingly started to grow on me, like the musical equivalent of Stockholm Syndrome. It also works really well with an opening title sequence that features such a huge octopus that those of you with a fish fetish will spend the first few minutes in wanker's heaven.
 
So the ghosts of all these previous Bond movies haunt Spectre, with the film having more easter-eggs than a chunky fucker in a bunny suit. Although speaking of fat men, what's interesting is that there's one other dead person who seems to be living on in this film, and it's none other than everybody's favourite misogynist Alfred Hitchcock. Like his movies, this is also a mystery with old school romance, plenty of tension, a prominent scene on a train, a mysterious blonde, and a couple of double-crossing spies. The opening tracking shot of Spectre has also been compared to Hitchcock's own Shadow Of A Doubt, although considering I haven't seen that yet, for me it was more like watching the end of Atonement whilst injecting steroids into my eyes. Of course this is nothing new for the Bond franchise, with the early Connery movies essentially being the private-school 'fags' to Hitchcock's older-boy masterpieces. In terms of its template, North By Northwest is one of the best Bond films that isn't actually a Bond film, and that's despite it having been released about three fucking years before Dr. No. So of course the idea of there being a Hichcockian-vibe running through Spectre is nothing new to this franchise, it's just that over the last forty years it's been run into the ground by a stronger emphasis on action, slightly sillier stories, and an invisible fucking car.
 
To reiterate the 'the dead are alive' thing, even Bond himself once claimed “resurrection” to be his main hobby after being asked by Silva in Skyfall. Although he probably only said that because the truth of “I find vulnerable women to force myself upon before getting them killed” would have made him sound a little more like a psychopathic truck driver. Of all the things that Skyfall did right, it has to be said that the treatment of its female characters made it feel a little as though it was written by a post-wank Norman Bates. Bond's mother-figure died simply to give him an emotional arc, and the only female agent present decided that she was so shit at her job that she should travel back to the 1950's and become a fucking secretary. Then there was the matter of the ex-child sex-slave that Bond and his erection crept up on for an un-consented spot of surprise-sex. Here's silly old single me finding it tricky to even ask girls out when according to that film, I should just wait until they're showering and then simply waltz right in and show them my balls. Spectre decided to try and deal with this imbalance by promising to rectify the situation with the casting of two stronger female characters. Played by Monica Bellucci and Lea Seydoux, it can't be denied that this effort was definitely a success, though that's not necessarily saying too much. To state that Spectre treats its female characters better than Skyfall is a bit like naming Darth Vader as 'father of the year' when his only competition was Josef Fritzl, warming his cockles on a suspiciously fuelled furnace.
 
In regards to Seydoux's character, I honestly thought she was great. She's strong, sassy, has her own agenda, moves the plot forward, and even manages to resist the urge of bouncing on Bond's fleshy, pink, pogo-stick of death. As the film moves on, her relationship with Bond even starts to hint towards a similarity to that of poor old Tracy from OHMSS, who fans will remember became Mrs. Bond for all of about five minutes. As ever, it seemed that Bond was as good at protecting his women as George Lazenby was at trying not to act like he'd won a fucking raffle to get the part, and so Tracy promptly ended up with a bullet in her head. Although I obviously won't state the fate of Seydoux's character, I will however say that I actually loved her and found her relationship with Bond to be a more natural fit than even Vesper was in Casino Royale. It wasn't that I didn't like Eva Green's performance as Bond's damned first love, but that I really didn't think she was anything that he'd end up obsessing over. Plus they were just really weird together. Do you remember that scene in which Bond finds Vesper crying in the shower and decides to try and cheer her up by sucking on her fingers like Cape Fear's Max Cady? Because of their child-to-adult-like size difference, and his interesting decision to go all-in with the digit licking, I just find the whole thing a bit fucking creepy.

So on the bright side, Seydoux's character stands her own against the franchise's finest, but what of Bellucci? In terms of the baggage she brings and the pre-media hype, you'd be forgiven for assuming that she would be the lead love interest in this film. Also with the way people have been banging on and on about the significance of her being closer to his age, you'd think that casting her was this franchise's equivalent of the fucking moon landings. I do love this series with all my heart and I understand that the bulk of the films were made in a time in history that simply reflected the misogyny in the world around. However it's kind of grim that a character in his late forties getting off with a woman in her early fifties is newsworthy, and yet we were all once meant to accept a teenager attempting to pull a a mid-fifties Roger Moore as normal. Bellucci and Craig look right together whereas Moore being pursued by that kid in For Your Eyes Only was like some sort of strange reverse-grooming. Alas, it's also a shame to say that despite all of the pre-film bullshit that hyped her up, Bellucci is shockingly under-used. Like selling sausages that are only four-percent pork, nintey-six percent horse meat and chinese newspapers, having her on the poster should really put the film at risk of the trades description act.
 
Nor too is she the only character in Spectre that's bizarrely absent from the final film itself. Dave Bautista's villainous Mr. Hinx seems to have less screen time than Bond's fucking wrist watch, which I'm guessing is available for a reasonable price in all good watch shops. I mean, Bautista is cool when he's on screen, and he does have a couple of good action scenes, but I don't think he's in the same league as Jaws, Baron Samedi, or Oddjob. In fact, considering his only attribute is that he's big, if you were to just bleach his hair then he'd be no different from most of the blonde terrorists in every 1980's action film ever. He can spend all the time he likes building up those muscles and learning how to scowl, but I guess something's not quite right when you're still not on par with a little bloke who can chuck a hat. Hinx is of course only a secondary villain to Christoph Waltz's Franz Oberhauser who seems to have been controlling the world like an impish little cock-womble.
 
Since the title of the film was announced, Bond fans have been debating themselves stupid over a possible truth regarding Oberhauser and his love of a good pussy. Ignoring that question all together though, the real issue is whether or not the link between this villain and Bond's childhood would hold up under scrutiny. Spectre's biggest threat was always going to be a couple of C-words, but rather than them being Oberhauser and Hinx, it's actually coincidence and contrivance. Skyfall's plot was obviously all over the place, with the villain's master-plan being so fucking stupid that you'd assume he'd concocted it by throwing darts at a dictionary and only using the words he hit to formulate it. To a degree, Spectre is a lot more straightforward, but linking Oberhauser to Bond just seems a little unnecessary. Surely Bond doesn't need any personal motivation to want to take down the head of an Illuminati-style terrorist organisation? It's like sticking a jet pack onto a bird to help it fly, when all you've really done is run the risk of setting the poor fucker on fire. I think the film gets away with it, but the personal connection really doesn't add that much to a film that would work absolutely fine without it. In fact, the only thing that I suppose it does do is bring up the ghosts of Bond's past to help keep his story within the theme of the dead being alive.
 
Though perhaps in the end, this entire theme is a reference to the franchise itself. After forty years of going strong, the series was suddenly buggered from so many different directions that it was essentially running the risk of being found face down in Michael Barrymore's swimming pool. Austin Powers perfectly took the piss out of everything Bond films had been doing, Bourne offered a more contemporary alternative to the spy genre, and Die Another Day was so shit that you could put in a Tupperware box and hand it to a doctor for a diagnosis. Craig and the producers obviously hit the reboot button for Casino Royale and after spending ten years attempting to fix things, they finally have the franchise in a stronger place than ever before. Whether Spectre is better or worse than Skyfall is, I suppose, up for debate, discussion, and if needed, a naked fight in front of a fire. At this very second in time I probably prefer Skyfall, but not by much, and I'm really just happy that Spectre was as great as it was. This year alone we've had Kingsman: The Secret Service, Mission: Impossible- Rogue Nation and The Man From U.N.C.L.E all pilfering from Bond's shiny box of tricks like a bunch of fucking magpies. Whereas they can only steal a little at a time however, Spectre is able to raid a treasure trove of its own history to make one of the best films of 2015 so far. With the world being dominated by American blockbusters, it's good to know that just like Roger Moore and his erection, this film really is keeping the British end up. Thanks for reading motherfuckers, and see you next time.
 
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