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November 2015

Spectre: Pay Attention, 007

I have rarely seen such ill-tempered and impatient reviews as those I've read of the latest James Bond film from the Big Critics. Granted, I don't often agree with them. Granted, Bond isn't for everyone. But unlike most film series, Bond is one that thrives on certain expectations, and Spectre meets them all with plenty of room to spare.

In attempting to explain it to my son, I told him that it's like there is a checklist of requisite items. There's an opening stunt, generally extended and somewhat outlandish. Bond has to walk into center screen and shoot out the circle. There's a song, often (but not always) sung by a woman, usually with nakedish women dancing about in a lot of stylistic silliness. There's always at least two women in the movie, who may or may not survive and definitely don't speak to each other, but Bond will bed any of them (or all of them) and the real mystery is how he hasn't managed to die of venereal disease by now. There are gadgets, car chases (usually with elaborate optional accessories), exotic settings in foreign countries, tuxedoes in a casino and vodka martinis shaken, not stirred. And at least one pun.

For some reason, Spectre hits all of these quite well, and was roundly slammed by the critics for doing so. It seemed that they forgot it was a Bond movie, and were looking for it to be... um, Skyfall? Look, Skyfall was a once-in-a-generation flick. Spectre was almost as good, folks, and the only thing that made it fall behind Casino Royale in my eyes was that the latter had an emotional wallop few (if any) Bond movies have managed to achieve.

I reflected on this after watching Spectre, and enjoying so many callbacks to the movies I can't help but love despite their troubled, sometimes-racist, often-misogynistic history. Watching the evolution of Bond is almost an evolution in the entire action movie genre, where women go from helpless decorations/victims to active psychotic dangers to capable helpmates to being the equal match of Our Hero whether he admits it or not. (And at least one primary villain, long may she reign.) 

Every line on the checklist was checked, and I finally started liking the New Q (and this right after I complained to CultureGeek Jr. that he lacked a sense of humor). Daniel Craig stepped back into the tux with his customary skill, and while everyone else complained that the villain wasn't scary enough, I thought he played the understated sociopath exceptionally well. They don't all need to chew the scenery, folks. The quiet man with a steady hand can be just as terrifying - more so - than the crazed killer shooting up the room. 

The impression I got from all the nasty reviews was that these people were not looking for a Bond film. Perhaps they'd prefer to go watch the deadly-dull artsy Quantum of Solace, which bored me to tears as I waited for a real Bond movie to show up.

After seeing Spectre, Mr. CultureGeek admitted he had no idea that the Daniel Craig movies were reboots, because he has been living under a rock for five years. He had not seen Casino Royale, and so it was all very confusing. Thus we rewatched Casino Royale, and I had forgotten how bloody brilliant it is. There's a reason why the first Bond novel was also the one most avoided - it was a live TV movie in the 1950s (with Peter Lorre as Le Chiffre, believe it or not) and it was a Woody Allen spoof. But it's also the most intense, emotional story - moreso even than On Her Majesty's Secret Service, which was a dangerous and complex story undercut by tedious directing and poor pacing moreso than George Lazemby, who did the best he could.

No, what struck me in our rewatch of Casino Royale right after Spectre was that all the nuggets for Spectre were scattered in the first three Craig movies. Far from being a huge retcon, it's almost as though they planned Spectre from the moment they relaunched Bond as a new 007, straight from Le Chiffre, Mr. White and Vesper Lynd to the man with the white cat. (See how I'm not saying his name? But duh. That's not really the big reveal.)

I loved Spectre, and according to CultureGeek Jr., I'm hard to please. If you are a Bond fan, you will not be disappointed. If you never really cared for it, why would you go see Movie No. 24 Or Whatever? There are plenty of other options. Spectre is a film for Bond fans, and by the numbers, there still seem to be enough of us around to keep this series going for another few decades.

Shaken, not stirred.