For a boring movie, the latest James Bond film SPECTRE is proving to be a film that I can’t stop thinking about. Unfortunately, it’s not because the movie was good – it’s pretty much a bore – but because it seemed so close to being a good movie but they opted to take the easiest, most boring choices each stop of the way.
I feel like this is the kind of film that can teach people a lot of lessons about bad filmmaking but I don’t feel like wasting too much time on a film I already feel like was a waste of 2+ hours of my life so I’ll throw a couple here now and maybe throughout the week, I’ll post more lessons.
But for now, let’s get started and LET THE SPOILERS COMMENCE!
The first lesson we can learn from SPECTRE is:
Ingenuity is King
The opening shot of Spectre sets up the main issue of the entire movie. It’s an impressive single take in an impressive locale with great costumes and James Bond is just walking around. While the shot is technically impressive, we get no information from it. You could cut out the entire shot and the scene would change at all.
After the shot, James blows up hotel and then chases after the injured villain. And by “chases”, I mean he walks after him. It ultimately leads to big fight in a helicopter but what could have been an amazing set piece ends up being mostly a lot of walking after people. And that, in a nutshell, is SPECTRE.
The mistake the movie makes is that it puts us in the vibrant energy of the Dia Del Muerte parade in Mexico City and then barely utilizes it. It’s perfectly set up for a game of cat and mouse. The opening shot could have exposed potential escape routes or henchmen lying in wait but it offered nothing. The parade was filled with costumes and masks; Bond and his nemesis could have kept cloaking their appearance, trying to outwit their opponent.
Nope. They just walked. And some people got in the way.
In a similar waste of a set piece, Q finds himself stuck in the gondola of a ski lift. One bad guy is in the gondola with him. Then another comes in. And then, in arguably the simplest and most cliche escape, some tourists come in and Q scoots out just before the door closes.
(And that escape wasn’t just a letdown for the audience, it didn’t do much to raise the pulse of anyone involved. Such a close call would probably give people a sense of urgency but after Q escapes, he heads to his hotel room, where no bad guys are waiting for him, none ever come, and Q, Bond, and Madeline Swan go about their business as if the the while gondola moment never happened.)
“Spectre” is, quite simply, a boring movie and it is because the film leaned heavily on the impressive locations to gloss over the fact that James Bond doesn’t actually do anything. He’s literally told to go somewhere to find information, which he then finds with little effort of his own, and then he follows where that info tells him to go. The most creative he gets is seeing a mouse run into a wall and thinking, “Hey, maybe there’s something in that wall.” Really, the most difficult thing he does is seduce Monica Belluci, who inexplicably has been told all the information James needs.
I always complain about Blunt Force Cinema but this is yet another example of it. James has no problem getting to where he needs to be and the only real hurdle to jump is fighting the bad guys who are following him. It’s not “We have to go here and overcome A to get B”, it’s “So I’ll walk right into A to get B and then, shit, these bad guys showed up AGAIN?!” So besides not being creative, Bond is also almost completely reactive in the film, which makes James Bond a dull boy.
Big Reveals Require Big Impact
You know your movie is doing something wrong when someone can be told the two big twists in the film – that 1) Max was working for the bad guys and 2) that the villain was Blofeld, who is James’s adopted brother – and it doesn’t make a lick of difference.
An effective twist makes you reconsider what you saw and believed and changes the way you look at the film the second time you watch it. The twists in “Spectre” don’t change the way the story unfolds at all. Max is never trusted by anyone and is always trying to shut down Bond. The fact that his motives are not as on the up-and-up as he makes it seem doesn’t change that and, in the film, is almost treated as an afterthought.
The reveal of Blofeld is even less consequential and, even worse, is delivered at a moment when there are far more pressing issues. James Bond is strapped into a seat and about to get his head drilled and we’re supposed to care about the bad guy’s name? It reminded me of the reveal of Kahn in Star Trek: Into Darkness. It’s pure fan service and almost laughable given the situation it happens in. “Before I drill into your head, I’m going to tell you… I NOW GO BY MY MOTHER’S MAIDEN NAME!”
(In the grander scheme of things, I actually think the Blofeld reveal, which seems to be lazily retrofitted into the other films, diminishes the previous films. James wasn’t a great spy hunting down evildoers, he was a target who was simply adept at overcoming his would-be assassins, who still managed to take out the two women he cared the most about. All of which makes James look far less effective as a secret agent. Which is an impressive in a film series in which the hero’s been telling people his real name the entire time he’s been a “secret agent.”)
Finally, when you reveal the big end game of a film, there have to be some serious stakes involved. In SPECTRE, Blofeld explains to Bond how he is going to get an amazing surveillance system that will see the entire world. He does it while standing in front of an amazing surveillance system that is seeing the entire world. To a certain extent, the entire goal in SPECTRE is to make it so when hacking all of the security systems in the world, Blofeld only has to remember one password for all of the systems instead of the multiple ones he has to deal with now.
So the big reveal for Blofeld was, “James, you see this amazing global surveillance system? I’m going to upgrade! UPGRADE! Oh, and that guy you never trusted is the one helping me, but you probably already knew that.”
I have some other lessons like the importance of keeping to the theme and why having an unknown villain often weakens a film or series of films but this is all for now. And honestly, having written this, I already feel like I wrote too much about this film.