I feel like the author of this essay almost makes some important points, but the dry, academic prose often fails to make it clear what they are. He circles the idea that screenwriters Purvis and Wade are too hung up on childhood traumas (Electra King's Kidnapping, Bond being orphaned, Severine being forced into the sex trade, Quantum's Camille was also orphaned, and of course Blofeld has Daddy issues that Mike Myers had already lampooned in Austin Powers, to name but a few), and that they are also increasingly distrustful of the government (in Casino Royale there appear to be a few rotton apples in government, but by Spectre only M, Moneypenny, Bond and Q remain trustworthy).
The fact that they also have Bond basically coming up with his own missions (M hasn't actually sent him on a mission since the Brosnan era) and going rogue, on the run from his own government four films in a row is largely glossed over. And I'm not sure what the point of these observations are - I would argue that clearly it is time for some new screenwriters, but Murray seems content with just pointing out that these are some of the recurring themes in the Purvis and Wade screenplays.
His commentary on the increasingly self referential, on screen nods to previous Bond films is of course something I agree with, (see Seen it all Before), and it is also here that Murray finally draws some real conclusions - he argues (and I agree) that Craig's first three outings were less transformative than they were transitional. With M restored (both as a man, and back behind the traditional wooden desk rather than the modern glass and steel office space Judi Dench’s M preferred), Moneypenny and Q back in their traditional roles and, although Murray doesn't mention it, the gunbarrel sequenece is also finally back where it belongs at the beginning of the film, Spectre marks the end of the reboot experiment, and suggests that Bond 25 will fit right in with the Connery/Moore films of old.
"I've Been Inspecting You, Mister Bond"
Crisis, Catharsis, and Calculation in Daniel Craig’s Twenty- First-Century 007
by Jonathan Murray
It’s advisable not to treat real life like it’s a James Bond movie. But in both it’s wise to take any senior U.K. government official’s pronouncements with a pinch of salt. Thus, when Gareth Mallory (Ralph Fiennes), the recently installed new Head of MI6, Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service, opines towards the end of Spectre (2015) that “maybe it’s the fate of spies to just disappear,” you have to wonder who this plummy Brit thinks he’s kidding. Fifty-four years and twenty- four official 007 films in, and the combined best efforts of Mike Myers, Jason Bourne, and Britain’s ongoing postimperial twilight notwithstanding, James Bond remains The Spy Who Dogs Us, the hardest-bitten, longest-toothed survivor in cinema history.
Whatever else it may be, then, Daniel Craig’s four-film tenure as 007 looks like mission accomplished in commercial and, to an extent, critical terms alike. Casino Royale (2006) and Skyfall (2012) are among the most acclaimed entries in a franchise that in its time has fielded as many brickbats as bouquets. The latter film’s five Oscar nominations nearly doubled the entire series’ running tally to that point. Craig’s increasingly virile box-office performance more than meets his superspy’s dry cleaning bills, too. Casino Royale’s $599 million global gross was almost doubled by Skyfall, the highest-earning Bond movie to date. As the planet coos “Oh, James” in unison, now is an opportune moment to ask how Craig and his key collaborators did it—and what (if anything substantial) is at stake, creatively and ideologically speaking, in their self-consciously rebooted twenty-first-century 007. As we shall see, the answers to such questions lie with four of the present-day accessories possessed by Craig’s Bond that can’t be run up by either Q Branch or a good Savile Row tailor: his body, backstory, Britishness, and finite ability to keep bouncing back for future missions.
From reinvention with love: the enormous critical and popular success of the superspy’s Daniel Craig era is belied by the sense of a cinematic franchise in survival mode, unable to shake free of the past.
It’s useful first of all, however, to return to the idea that art occasionally mirrors life, even when the art (or, if you prefer, dross) in question is a Bond flick. Key here is the Craig cycle’s pronounced emphasis on the desirability of a dependable backroom team. Casino Royale and its successors steer the complicated Oedipal-cum-operational dynamic between Bond and Judi Dench’s M, a two-handed study of backhanded relationships that dominated proceedings from Goldeneye (1995) onwards, to a close by Skyfall’s end. Replacing that dyad has been a wider ensemble of secondary characters familiar from the overlapping universes of previous Bond films and the Ian Fleming novels that birthed them. Quantum of Solace (2008) reintroduces Bill Tanner (Rory Kinnear), MI6’s Chief of Staff, a figure last seen in The World Is Not Enough (1999). Skyfall then brought back Miss Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) and Q (Ben Whishaw), both absent from the series since Die Another Day (2002), and introduced a new M played by Ralph Fiennes with more than a passing nod to the pre-Brosnan occupants of the role, Bernard Lee and Robert Brown. Moreover, Skyfall and Spectre both accord these supporting protagonists far more narrative agency and action than any previous Bond jaunt, the extended overseas outing of Q (Desmond Llewelyn) in Licence To Kill (1989) possibly excepted. Add to this roster returning CIA wingman Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright), a reliable backup in the field last seen by viewers in Licence To Kill, and by Spectre’s end Bond is an agent embedded as never before within a collective working unit.
The Craig movies’ relatively even-handed emphasis on squad and striker alike usefully directs attention to the one-sided nature of traditional conceptions of who and what primarily authors the Bond franchise throughout its various cycles. Most familiar is the notion that the star sets the scene: Connery swaggers, Moore smarms, Dalton suffers, Brosnan is self-satisfied. Less frequent is the ascription of authorship to the occasional prestigious occupant of the directorial chair. Significant amounts of speculation have swirled, for example, around the extent of director Sam Mendes’s influence over Skyfall and Spectre. Mendes himself encourages this form of analysis when he notes that he “did not expect…a giant, multi-million-dollar franchise [to afford] as many opportunities for personal filmmaking as there have been.”
Least common of all, however, is the view that screenwriters typically wield the greatest control over the Bond franchise’s survival and strategic evolution. The period of transition spanning Sean Connery’s protracted disengagement from the role can, for example, be viewed as one of continuity, with Richard Maibaum and/or Tom Mank - iewicz penning the scripts for On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969), Diamonds Are Forever (1971), and Live And Let Die (1973). But the idea that a Parker pen wields more clout than a Walther PPK offers the best way of understanding the creative structure and commercial and critical success of Daniel Craig’s Bond tenure. Indeed, the actor himself has acknowledged scriptrelated considerations as the reason behind his original decision to accept the role: “I had been prepared to read a [stereotypical] Bond script and I didn’t…it felt to me they were offering me a blueprint, and saying: ‘Form it around that.’” The script in question (for Casino Royale) was written by Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, the screenwriting duo primarily responsible, with occasional additional input—most notably, from Paul Haggis (Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace) and John Logan (Skyfall, Spectre)—for all Bond movies since The World Is Not Enough.
Purvis and Wade’s public comments either side of Casino Royale on their approach to perpetuating the franchise are telling. In 2004, Wade conceded that “the Fleming books are really interesting because they’re underneath the surface of the character and cinema isn’t like that…with a character who doesn’t express his emotions, you’re constantly struggling to suggest them.” Two years on, and one day after Casino Royale’s British release, Purvis noted how “over the years the film character has developed into something quite different to Fleming’s [original literary] character… there’s often been talk of going back to basics with Bond [but…] this was the best opportunity ever be cause we’re starting again with the first novel [from 1953] …giv[ing] you the op - portunity for a proper arc to his character.” A decade or so later, these interlocking em - phases on reconstruction and revelation, an agenda driven as much by economic calculation as emotional catharsis, re main to the fore in Spectre.
Watching Craig’s fourth outing as Bond, one can’t help but wonder why the actor’s 007 struggles so much in his world while simultaneously performing so well in ours. Spectre’s counterintuitive opening intertitle (“The dead are alive”) succinctly glosses the Craig cycle’s overarching motivation. This is a determination to rediscover some substantial and sustainable commercial and creative relevance for Bond in the early twenty-first century: “You do what I do for too long,” admits Craig’s 007 in Casino Royale, “and there won’t be any soul left to salvage.” Such intimations of mortality (commercial as much as spiritual) cause many of Spectre’s main characters and subplots to flirt with the possibility that Bond’s ongoing popular cultural survival is anything but sure. Villainous surveillance technology geek Max Denby (played by Andrew Scott, the actor so memorable as archvillain Moriarty in the ongoing BBC series Sherlock) taunts 007 and M by asking just what kind of British secret service and secret agent—“One man running about in the field[?]”—might actually be suitable today. In doing so, he reflects the very question that the Bond franchise has been asking itself for a decade and more. Denby’s hidden paymaster, returning überfoe Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Christoph Waltz), also revels in the possibility that his own cinematic resurrection (Blofeld was last seen—briefly and unnamed—in For Your Eyes Only ) might coincide with the demise of his nemesis. Standing in the soon-to-be-demolished shell of London’s iconic MI6 building, Blofeld advances a taunting (because seemingly unarguable) concrete metaphor: “Everything you stood for…is a ruin.”
That’s an interesting choice of words. Alongside the standard-issue five-star finery that viewers expect, Craig’s Bond also spends much time navigating ruins just as depressing as MI6’s abandoned HQ. Such spaces might just as easily be erased instead of (re)erected, razed rather than (re)built. They recur and resonate so much precisely because Casino Royale and its successors are so keen to (re)discover a plausible and profitable reason for 007’s continuing existence. This is particularly (though not exclusively) true of the films’ precredits and main-title sequences. All underscore the notion that, while in one sense viewers are watching finished cinematic works, in another they are witnessing a cinematic franchise under ongoing (re)construction. Casino Royale opens with Bond hurtling across a Madagascan construction site; Quantum of Solace’s introduction sees 007 survive a car chase through a quarry and a duel inside a partrestored medieval chapel in Siena; Skyfall’s first moments have him extemporise a bullet- proof shield out of a Jcb digger. Elsewhere (but strumming the same note), Casino Royale’s tragic love interest Vesper Lynd (Eva Green) dies in a partially renovated Venetian palazzo, while Skyfall has its villain, Silva (Javier Bardem), living in an abandoned island city and locates its Sturm und Drang climax at Bond’s visibly crumbling ancestral Scottish Highlands pile.
Photos: In the opening sequence of Spectre, Bond (Daniel Craig), on assignment in Mexico City, assumes an appropriate disguise during the “Day of the Dead” celebration (photo courtesy of Sony Pictures) / In the opening scene of Casino Royale (2006), Bond (Daniel Craig) earns his 00 Licence To Kill by eliminating Dryden, a traitorous British agent who has been selling classified information (photo courtesy of Photofest).
Little surprise, of course, that Spectre serves us a slew of reasons why impractical aging follies, the Bond franchise itself not least among them, fully deserve the time and money necessary to restore them to former glories in the present day. On one hand, the movie proposes that its viewers need protection from the fact that our bodies are today being constantly watched. Escalating levels of state-sanctioned (though not controlled) surveill a n c e — “ G e o r g e Orwell’s worst nightmare,” in Mallory’s words—present a contemporary threat to Bond’s British body, and the British body politic, every bit as large as the Cold War tensions that stalked the Connery and Moore eras. On the other hand, Spectre also proffers the spectacle of a body worth watching. Craig may now be comfortably north of forty, but his Bond’s re markable physicality-cum-ferality represents armor as impregnable as that which he first flaunted in Casino Royale. Were he still alive in 2015, that film’s antagonist, Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen), could repeat his admiring observation that “you’ve taken good care of your body” with no significant qualification. This enjoyably unbelievable perma-preen quality largely replaces what, for post- Bourne audiences, might look like the comparably daft (but now culturally antiquated) urbanity and gadgetry of most post-Connery incarnations of 007.
It’s notable, however, that the post-Casino Royale Bond cycle attempts to reboot itself in ways that extend beyond mere reliance on adroit headline scanning and Craig’s preternatural ability to sustain musculature into middle age. “Why,” Spectre’s love interest Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux) muses, “does a man choose the life of a paid assassin… what would happen if you stopped to think about it?” The doubly Proustian resonance of this character’s name is no accident: Craig’s Bond movies are linked by their ostentatious and extended Remembrance of Things Past. They attempt to answer Madeleine by focusing on emotional ideas, histories, and states—before Bond (Skyfall); becoming Bond (Casino Royale)—that were relatively novel to the 007 series. Until Spectre at least, they also seem markedly less interested in the somewhat ossified matter of how best to be Bond on-screen, the correct way in which to don a pre-loved tuxedo. With regard to the latter consideration’s unaccountable power, it’s worth remembering that hair coloration provoked headlines when Craig was first cast in autumn 2005. For some diehard traditionalists, James Blond was an unthinkable notion.
Photo: In Casino Royale, Bond falls in love with Vesper Lynd (Eva Green), a double agent who ultimately betrays him (photo courtesy of Photofest).
Re-watching the Craig quartet, one quickly understands that Moneypenny’s worry expressed in Spectre—“You’ve got a secret and it’s something you won’t tell anyone”— is clearly unfounded. Craig’s Bond is typically given no choice but to explain or be explained by others. Casino Royale pivots around the notion of becoming Bond, laying bare the psychological scars incurred in the ascension to the status of popular cultural archetype. Bond is seen attaining 00 status along with many of the stereotypes surrounding it, such as a taste for shaken-notstirred vodka martinis. He also suffers the heartbreak that impels him to become an inveterate heartbreaker in turn. Vesper also paves the way for Skyfall’s interest in the idea of “before Bond” when she perceptively, if cruelly, fingers the prior personal trauma (being orphaned) that propelled him into MI6’s preferred recruitment constituency, “maladjusted young men that give little thought to sacrificing others in order to protect Queen and country.”
After Quantum of Solace’s global conspiracy movie interlude—easily Craig’s least critically and commercially successful Bond outing— Skyfall picks up Vesper’s thought and runs with it. “Orphans always make the best recruits,” M is eventually forced to confess— although Bond already notes early in Casino Royale that they also have “a very short life expectancy.” Little wonder, then, that Silva is able to taunt 007 with the gory details of an internal MI6 psychologist’s report: “Addiction indicators, pathological rejection of authority based on unresolved childhood trauma.” Skyfall’s climax then removes proceedings to that trauma’s physical and psychological site of origin, the titular Scottish mansion within which Bond first learned of his parents’ physical death: “He wasn’t a boy anymore,” recalls family retainer Kincade (Albert Finney). Endlessly punished by an unending cycle of psychological evisceration and revelation, the submissive sentiment uttered by the defenseless open book who offers himself up to Vesper in Casino Royale—“I have no armor left, you’ve stripped it from me. Whatever is left of me…whatever I am, I’m yours”—could just as easily be addressed by Craig’s Bond to his contemporary creators and/or consumers. Access all areas to private hinterlands past and present (a very un-British way to repackage a very British cultural icon) is the post-Casino Royale Bond film’s watchword. Indeed, Casino Royale even goes so far as to associate the concept of ellipsis, the grammatical and/or narrative practice of leaving certain things unspoken in an account, with outright villainy. This is because the term in question is used as the mobile phone-communicated password that facilitates an abortive terrorist bomb plot.
Because the Craig movies make Bond’s personal traumas ours to peruse at leisure and at length, Spectre is both of a general piece with its three predecessors and a markedly inconsistent work, considered on its own merits. After all, one of the Craig cycle’s defining characteristics is the idea that domestic intrusion is awful when it happens to you but addictive when one sees it happening to someone else. Thus, while Spectre’s surveillance state subplot on one level rails against untrammelled intrusion into private lives, on another the film gleefully acquiesces in its villains’ sadistic interventionism. During perhaps the most squirm-inducing torture sequence in any Bond movie to date, Blofeld uses computeroperated microdrills to explore the crevices of 007’s skull, noting that, “A man lives inside his head… where the seed of his soul is…I’m going to penetrate to where you are.” Ernst Stavro might well be A Very Bad Man, but he’s hardly guilty of anything that can’t also be laid at the doors of Craig-era good guys and the general cinemagoing public alike. Subcutaneous skullduggery sees MI6 forcibly implant tracking devices inside Bond in both Casino Royale and Spectre. Meanwhile, the real money shot of Skyfall’s opening title sequence titillates not with the traditional promise of girls, guns, and/or foreign travel, but with the prospect of getting right inside 007’s head. In the perfect visual equivalent of a money-back guarantee, the image in question fades to black via a zoom into (and by implication, through) Daniel Craig’s right iris.
Of course, all this might be dismissed as merely clever commercial repackaging on the part of Bond’s creative team. As already noted, the showcasing of Craig’s pecs works to appeal to a younger demographic brought up on Bourne and Tom Cruise’s Mission: Impossible main man Ethan Hunt. The concomitant emphasis on Bond’s tics simply addresses another constituency, one susceptible to the idea that copious mental scars constitute part of a middle-aged Scots-Swiss superspy’s old-world charm. On top of this, however, the Craig films’ attempt to insert a deeper sense of backstory and psychological three-dimensionality into the franchise as a whole (a clear rejection of M’s repressed/ repressive stiff-upper-lip assertion in Skyfall that “regret is unprofessional”) also looks like a genuinely sincere creative aspiration. In Spectre, the idea of memory as an intrinsically traumatic phenomenon, one able to either redeem or ruin individuals accordingly, links central protagonists—Bond, Madeleine, and their antagonists Mr. White (Jesper Christensen) and Blofeld—alike. Madeleine’s abhorrence of bloodshed and her tortured relationship with her male parent stem, for example, from the murderous actions she was forced to take, as a young child, on the long-ago evening when “a man once came to our house to kill my father.”
In this regard, Spectre simply reiterates a psychological worldview and narrative approach already extensively employed within the Craig quartet. While it takes until late on in Skyfall before Bond literally announces the start of a journey “back in time,” internal travels-cum-travails are signature occurrences from Casino Royale on. Like Spectre, Quantum of Solace—Camille (Olga Kury - lenko), Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric)— and Skyfall—Bond, M, Silva—also unite protagonists and antagonists in a shared confrontation of the extent to which painful past experiences influence presentday personalities and actions. More specifically yet, the Craig cycle repeatedly foregrounds a category of human being almost entirely absent from the franchise pre-Casino Royale: the child and/or the adult figured as an extension of their inner child. In addition to Bond, for example, Quantum’s Camille is a traumatized orphan, Skyfall’s Severine (Bérénice Lim Marlohe) is a former child prostitute, and Spectre’s Blofeld is an adult manifestation of the psychotic teenager who killed his own father in a fit of jealous adolescent rage. Viewed in this light, screenwriters Purvis and Wade’s development of Pierce Brosnan’s final two Bond projects around villains driven by a quasi-Oedipal rejection of parental authority—The World Is Not Enough’s Electra King (Sophie Marceau) and Die Another Day’s Gustav Graves (Toby Stephens)/Tan-Sun Moon (Will Yun Lee)— looks like an experimental prototype of the approach then applied wholesale to the Craig-era scripts.
Moreover, the Craig-era films’ seriousness in attempting to cultivate an enhanced sense of human history and interiority within the Bond universe can be confirmed in a way similar to that which illustrated the earnestness of their desire to commercially reboot the 007 template. If the Craig quartet’s drive to make money finds a symptomatic spatial corollary in the films’ recurrent inhabitation of construction spaces, those movies’ closely related fascination with the idea of milking memory also propels them towards a surfeit of subterranean locations: the latter places exemplify the idea that the visible surfaces of the present are always dependent on a complex network of largely hidden ancestral roots. In what might otherwise be the entire series’ most surreally inexplicable act of product placement, Casino Royale drops a chase sequence into a travelling exhibition from German anatomist Gunther von Hagens’s controversial “Body Worlds” project. The pursuit in question unfolds surrounded by human cadavers whose inner physical machinations are laid bare just as comprehensively as Bond’s psychological equivalents will be the longer as the Craig films progress. Elsewhere, Quantum of Solace sees M and Bond interrogate Mr. White in a medieval Italian catacomb; the movie’s Bolivian section then has 007 discover a clandestine underground dam built in order to precipitate a regional drought crisis. Several of Skyfall’s central locations—the WWII bunker network MI6 retreats to after Silva bombs their aboveground premises, the London Tube network, the centuries-old priest hole and tunnel network beneath Bond’s ancestral family seat—are subterranean ones. Similarly, Spectre has Bond finally run Mr. White (an enigmatic, elusive presence throughout three of the four Craig films) to ground in a hidden basement surveillance unit that the latter has built into an Austrian ski lodge. White’s below-ground banks of CCTV screens symbolize the dominant approach that Craig’s Bond movies take to questions of character creation and development. To properly understand the publicfacing carapace that something or someone presents to the present-day world, one needs to dig down as deep as possible beneath (and before) that self-protective epidermis.
Photo: in Spectre, Max Denbigh (Andrew Scott), Joint Intelligence Service chief, is trying to shut down the 00 program(photo courtesy of Photofest). / In Skyfall, Gareth Mallory (Ralph Fiennes, center), Intelligence and Security Committee Chairman, tries to force “M” (Judi Dench) to retire as head of MI6 after the agency’s loss of a computer hard drive with sensitive information (photo courtesy of Photofest).
But if the Craig quartet’s interest in damaged childhoods (the difficulty of being young) represents one central thematic thread running through the films, another, equally important skein instead acknowledges the anguish of becoming old. 007 movies once flag waved at every available opportunity: “Keeping the British end up,” as Roger Moore once put it in The Spy Who Loved Me (1977), a film whose Marvin Hamlisch- penned theme tune proclaimed to all and sundry that “nobody does it better.” In sharp contrast, being British seems more of a burden the longer the Craig era progresses. By the time Spectre is reached, a sense of permanent, and possibly irretrievable, national crisis is firmly entrenched. M rails against the disastrous consequences of an imminent merger between MI5 and MI6, “the biggest shake-up in the history of British intelligence.” The treacherous Denby personifies the British ruling class as a self-replicating clique (we are told he attended the same private school as the current Home Secretary) in hock to the highest international bidder. Bond and his brethren are linked by shared knowledge (from bitter experience) that the best way to protect the country is to protect oneself from the country’s government. At various junctures, therefore, Q, Moneypenny, Tanner, and M all keep secrets from each other and/or the state. Finally, Spectre consistently and conspicuously features (like Skyfall before it) the Houses of Parliament in establishing shots for its numerous London-based sequences. No previous Bond film comes close to matching the amount of time these two movies spend on British soil (central London, for the most part). The 007 cycle spent decades accumulating air miles via the idea of Britain as the world’s policeman, a steady-handed, coolheaded buffer between two volatile (because much younger) superpowers. The Craig movies instead drive mortal danger and defenselessness deep into the nation’s physical and political heart.
Indeed, a pervasive sense of national decline stalks Craig’s Bond from his very first moments on screen. Casino Royale’s opening precredits sequence narrates an assassination in Prague (and as Czechoslovakia did in 1992, Britain may also divide, Scotland’s 2014 referendum vote to remain within the U.K. for the present notwithstanding). That killing, which allows Bond to attain 00 status, is not of an enemy, but an enemy within. The quarry is Dryden (Malcolm Sinclair), a British agent who sells secrets and shares a surname with the nation’s first Poet Laureate. Craig’s Bond thus owes his existence to the fact that one significant threat to the British state is the British state itself. As his 007 career progresses, the films spend more and more time in London. While satellite technology today allows real-time communication from opposite ends of the earth, the British capital’s steadily escalating narrative prominence (not to mention the fact that the city is frequently drenched with rain) also stems from an acute sense that Britain itself is somehow under existential threat. The overarching sense of a former great power in advanced terminal decline is underscored most self-consciously by M’s set-piece speech to a parliamentary committee in Skyfall. She quotes the stirring (but sad) peroration of Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s 1833 poem Ulysses—“We are not now that strength which in old days moved earth and heaven”—as Bond pounds the streets of the U.K.’s central government district in a desperate attempt to stop a terrorist outrage.
It’s also worth noting that the Craig movies’ national pessimism deepens with each passing entry in the quartet. In Casino Royale, the overarching image is of a barrel imperilled by a few rotten apples like Dryden. By Spectre, the barrel is saved by the precious few sound pieces of fruit still left inside it. What Vesper poses as a near-unimaginable aberration in Casino Royale (“Our government will have directly funded terrorism”) comes to look like business as usual across its successors. In Quantum of Solace, the Foreign Secretary (Tim Pigott- Smith) calmly informs M that the government’s interests and those of primary antagonist Dominic Greene “now align,” and is willing to let the CIA assassinate Bond. Moreover, the developing character arcs of Bond and Judi Dench’s M from Casino Royale through Skyfall entail that the questions the earlier movie asks of him—Is he psychologically fit for national duty? Is his national duty compatible with psychological fitness?—are increasingly posed of her instead. “I would ask you if you could remain emotionally detached, but I don’t think that’s your problem,” M chides in Casino Royale. Skyfall, however, offers stone-related counsel to the female inhabitant of a glass house. M forbids Bond to save the life of a wounded fellow British agent, almost kills 007 when she orders Moneypenny to fire (against the latter’s better judgement) at an adversary engaged in hand-to-hand combat with our hero, and is revealed to have delivered Silva, a former British agent in pre-handover Hong Kong, over to be tortured (broken into thirty pieces, perhaps) by the Chinese government. Moreover, she struggles throughout the Craig years to see any reason why she and her agents ought to be meaningfully accountable to the U.K. legislature. Service in the cause of such a country (and such a controller) hardly seems worth the candle. Silva, a British-made bad guy, is difficult to refute when he suggests that twenty-first-century allegiance to ideas of “England, the Empire, MI6” constitutes a form of masochistic delusion akin to actively choosing to inhabit “a ruin.”
Bond and his brethren are linked by shared knowledge (from bitter experience) that the best way to protect the country is to protect oneself from the country’s government.
It’s worth asking in conclusion where all this leaves Bond (and/or Craig as Bond) in 2016. On one hand, the actor’s 007 quartet works to intimate the superspy’s renewed commercial and cultural vitality. But on the other, Spectre departs from its predecessors in simultaneously inferring its lead actor’s mortality, in terms of Craig’s capacity to keep possession of the starring role. Richly suggestive here is the fact that the actor’s fourth turn in the tux is a far more self-referential affair than his previous three. The earlier movies’ homages to Bond heritage exemplify the principle of portion control to a tee, their in-jokes celebrated because of their sparing use. Casino Royale’s hat-tip to Dr. No (1962) has Craig emerging from sun-kissed Caribbean waters, masculine undress supplanting a bikinied Ursula Andress; the oildrenched corpse of Strawberry Fields (Gemma Arterton) in Quantum of Solace takes the iconic gold-plated one of Jill Masterson (Shirley Eaton) from Goldfinger (1964) and paints it black; Bond’s lizard-hopping escape from the lion’s den in Skyfall’s Macau casino sequence resurrects Roger Moore’s similarly quick-witted egress from a crocodile lair in Live And Let Die.
Photo: In Skyfall, the villain Silva (Javier Bardem) turns out to be a former British agent betrayed by “M” and who now seeks revenge on his former MI6 chief (photo courtesy of Photofest).
Spectre’s blink-and-you’ll-miss-it selfreference count, however, swiftly spirals off the scale. A Latin carnival chase also appears in Moonraker (1979); out-of-control helicopter stunt work replays the opening set piece of For Your Eyes Only; a mysterious, octopus logo-bearing criminal syndicate was already featured in Octopussy (1983); Live And Let Die got there first with exploding skulls in the introductory title sequence; the return of Blofeld and Spectre references the entire Bond run between Thunderball (1965) and Diamonds Are Forever; conversation- shy Übermensch Mister Hinx (Dave Bautista) must be the grandson of Richard Kiel’s Jaws, first seen in The Spy Who Loved Me; Madeleine’s Alpine mountain-top clinic is constructed along similar architectural and dietetic lines to that of Blofeld in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service; hand-to-hand combat on a fast-moving train brings to mind From Russia With Love (1963); Blofeld’s ceremonial offer of drinks, dinner, and fresh clothes prior to termination is a dead ringer for the titular villain’s modus operandi in Dr. No, and his hi-tech North African desert lair is the kind of divertingly spectacular folly celebrated production designer Ken Adam used to throw together for Bonds like You Only Live Twice (1967); the manic funhouse-style trap that Blofeld sets for Bond in the abandoned MI6 premises rips off the cat-and-mouse game played by Scaramanga (Christopher Lee) at the end of The Man With The Golden Gun (1974).
The fact that Spectre plays much more with precedent than its immediate predecessors do is indicative of several things at once. Most obviously, there is the sense that Bond’s producers have reached the self-confident conclusion that, franchise reboot complete with Craig in the role, reversion to the traditional 007 movie blueprint is now more possible than at any time since Pierce Brosnan’s Die Another Day. In this regard, the selectivity of Spectre’s in-joking is just as telling as its scale. The film’s laundry list of self-quotation is entirely derived from the Connery and Moore years, the golden era before the idea that Bond cried out for root-and-branch reformation properly took hold with the mid-1980s casting of Timothy Dalton in the part. Craig’s noticeably more lighthearted approach to playing Bond in Spectre also contributes to that feeling. Even-handedly reliant on gags and guns, winks and weaponry in a way he never was before, the actor appears for the first time like a quip off the old block, giving a performance as reminiscent of Connery in the 1960s as it is of Craig’s debut in Casino Royale.
Being British seems more of a burden the longer the Craig era progresses. By the time Spectre is reached, a sense of permanent, and possibly irretrievable, national crisis is firmly entrenched.
Thus, when viewed in hindsight against Spectre’s contrastive example, Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace, and Skyfall start to look like transitional, not transformational, works. Those movies were arguably most preoccupied with the survivalist necessity of convincing contemporary audiences that James Bond has returned. They had far less time for the selfcongratulatory luxury of the “James Bond Will Return” tagline with which 007 movies traditionally close. Casino Royale, for instance, can’t permit Craig to utter the iconic line, “The name’s Bond… James Bond,” until the movie’s final seconds. Quantum of Solace concludes with Bond reassuring Judi Dench’s M that “I never left,” while Skyfall wraps up with Mallory asking the agent, “Are you ready to get back to work?” Spectre’s wholesale reengagement with the pre-Craig Bond formula seems to say that the promises proffered by the earlier movies have now been made good. Or, to put it another way, maybe the Craig cycle is as much of a serial philanderer as Bond is. The movies in question act like a lothario caught red-handed: extravagant commitments to change his ways today are a good strategy to go on sustaining them tomorrow. Madeleine resignedly tells Bond towards Spectre’s end that “I’m not going to ask you to change: you are what you are.” Perhaps she speaks for (and of) more than their fictional romance alone.
Photos: Craig’s fourth outing as Bond draws much more on traditional elements from earlier 007 films. / At the insistence of surveillance chief Max Denbigh, a decommissioned Bond has a microchip implanted by “Q” (Ben Whishaw) so as to monitor his whereabouts (photo courtesy of Photofest).
Other aspects of Spectre also add to the feeling that time is up for both the Craig experiment and the actor’s chance to walk a mile in 007’s handmade Italian loafers. Having comprehensively exhausted Bond’s backstory and exhumed faith in Blighty (via Mallory’s replacement of Dench’s M), it’s hard to see where screenwriters Purvis and Wade have left to go. Indeed, the latter publicly noted in 2012 that the pair had originally planned to depart the franchise before Skyfall. British media reports in 2014 ascribed the duo’s unplanned return for Spectre to problems with John Logan’s original script. Director Sam Mendes (“I have finished a journey”) and Daniel Craig (“All I want to do is move on”) both used late-2015 promotional interviews to suggest a definitive break with Bond. Wider filmindustry machinations come into play here, too. Sony Pictures’ international distribution rights for the Bond franchise (which the company has enjoyed for the entire Craig quartet) expired with Spectre. This fact, and tensions between Sony and Bond coproducers EON and MGM around the series’ escalating production budgets, led Barbara Broccoli, series co-producer since Goldeneye, to openly acknowledge in late 2015 that the franchise’s future is at present “a little uncertain.”
With this backdrop in mind, it’s hard not to respect the ingenious efficiency of Spectre’s preparatory deck clearing for whatever creative and/or financial arrangements come to take hold of Bond in the immediate future. Reiterating the fact that the 007 template’s traditional tenets always outlive the inflections brought to the table by whichever actor is playing the role at a given moment is perhaps this movie’s main raison d’être. Two interlocking ideas are suggested, for instance, by Bond’s garb (a skeleton costume and mask) when viewers first see him in Spectre. Firstly, the fact that Bond has long owed as much to Dr. Who as to Dr. No. The agent’s body is both enduring and ephemeral; his enviable frame and fame is worn by successive stars until the physical and/or commercial vitality of each is deemed exhausted. Secondly, and more bluntly, Daniel Craig is perhaps a dead man walking, as far as continuing to play 007 is concerned.
Photos: At the end of Skyfall, following the death of “M” (Judi Dench), Bond (Daniel Craig) contemplates his future as a secret agent in the service of the British government (photo courtesy of Photofest). / James Bond will return, that’s for sure, but will Daniel Craig still be wearing the tuxedo? (photo courtesy of Photofest).
The same inference is advanced elsewhere. “Tempus fugit” forms the extemporised code word that allows Bond to activate an exploding watch and escape Blofleld’s clutches. The “atmosphere” switch he throws inside the souped-up car he steals from 009 may well turn on the other agent’s choice of music, but the tune we hear (Sinatra’s “New York, New York”) glosses the current situation of Craig’s Bond beautifully: “Start spreading the news/I’m leaving today.” More obviously still, Spectre’s ending ties up all manner of plot-based loose ends first deliberately frayed in Casino Royale a decade before. Spectre is revealed as the puppet master behind earlier foes Le Chiffre, Greene, and Silva, but is then swiftly beheaded by Blofeld’s capture. The old MI6 premises, Bond’s HQ since the mid- 1990s, is blown sky high. And, most importantly of all, patrician democrat Mallory ascends into the role vacated by the increasingly compromised figure that was Judi Dench’s M. “We’re accountable to the people we’re trying to protect…there are no more shadows,” he loftily scolds her in Skyfall: director replaces dictator, WASP-ish man supplants waspish woman, and the Bond series’ faith in the British state and the latter’s good intentions seems greater than ever as a result. But this process occurs even as Craig’s 007 appears to call time on his service for Queen and country. No accident, surely, that Mallory is framed (from the prone Blofeld’s point of view) against the Houses of Parliament when he arrests the defeated supervillain on the middle of Westminster Bridge. Equally telling, however, is the fact that Bond chooses to walk over to that crossing’s other side in order to embrace Madeleine. In doing so, he quite literally puts clear blue water between himself and the most prominent symbol of British imperial interests and selfimportance.
You have to admit that it’s quite some conjuring trick. The Craig era’s perceived need for fundamental change is ultimately obliterated with the efficiency of a message that self-destructs in five seconds. In 2016, the Bond franchise seems instead to have committed its future to the ruthless survivalism recommended by Skyfall’s Silva: “Focus on the essentials…when a thing is redundant, it is eliminated.” It’s fitting, then, that the triumphant Mallory shares a surname (the extra “l” notwithstanding) with another Anglo aristocrat, the fifteenthcentury poet Sir Thomas: Spectre gifts Ralph Fiennes’s character the chance to oversee his own modern-day Morte d’Arthur. Blofeld safely in the slammer, Craig’s Bond bows out by collecting his restored 1964 Aston Martin from Q, the “one last thing” he says he needs. It’s an appropriate enough golden handshake: one heritage prop (car) goes well with another (Craig). James Bond Will Return: just don’t expect Daniel Craig, and all that his era played with and promised, to do so as well.
Spectre, along with Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace, and Skyfall, are available in Blu-ray editions from Fox Home Entertainment, www.foxconnect.com.
[Source: Cineaste. Spring 2016, Vol. 41 Issue 2, p4-11.]