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The name’s Bond, barely adequate Bond

| Monday, November 16, 2015

Good morning everyone.

Morning, Mike.

We’ve got a great new Bond film for you. It’s going to be bigger and better than the last one (and at least $100 million more expensive). Picture this. Camera pans over Mexico City, daytime Day of the Dead. Thousands of extras kick dust up on the most beautiful main road leading out to this gorgeous open plaza. Massive skeleton puppets snake through the air, dancers in elaborate costumes parade down the main street, cutting through the onlookers. Cut to a man in a skeleton mask, dressed in an Armani suit, with an attractive Mexican woman in a low-cut, fitted corset by his side. We follow them through the city in one continuous camera shot, and they end up in a hotel room. They almost end up having sex with each other, and then the man in the mask turns out to be Bond, and he goes out to save the world.

That sounds amazing. What happens next?

Ergh, haven’t quite got that far yet.

This, ladies and gentleman, must have been the pitch for the latest Bond film. “Spectre,” Bond’s latest enormously successful stint, could be described as a kind of lacklustre stab at the old spy motif. There’s guns, there’s girls, there are classic shots of Bond almost dying but just straightening his cuffs and moving along, and that’s about it. The movie plays like a bunch of really aesthetically beautiful scenes strung together with no actual storyline or plot.

The opening scene described above basically sets the the bar for the rest of the film, and also proves that it is impossible for any production team to actually sustain such a high quality of extravagance. “Spectre” went way over budget (as mentioned above $100 million more than what “Skyfall” cost), and they ended up having to cut scenes and replace some actors (most significantly, cutting Chiwetel Ejiofor for Andrew Scott, as revealed in the Sony hackings a while ago, because Ejiofor’s salary was just too expensive, and they really needed to fly out to middle of nowhere in a desert for a half hour of film. They just needed to.). In the weeks leading up to its release, hosts of problems about the production were brought to light, and they are very obvious throughout the film.

Other than the obvious production issues, the Bond franchise is inherently problematic in a progressive society. The familiar tropes of Bond girls, and Bond’s inexplicable lack of STDs or alcoholism, run rampant throughout this film, although they try to solve the Bond girl problem by having him “fall in love.” Granted, the girl that he falls in love with is about 20 years younger, blonde, busty and rather bland, leading us to wonder just how long that will probably last (most likely answer, she’ll be murdered in the next movie, and Bond will have to avenge her death).

Don’t get me wrong, I love Bond films, probably more than is good for me. I love the classic suave spy who gets his way with women, knows his way around a gun and drives the most beautiful car known to man, an Aston Martin. And if there is one good thing to say about this movie, viewers should go just to witness the sheer beauty and power of the custom-made Aston Martin, enough of a draw in itself (also, a classic example of why they went over budget). But this movie was such a letdown after the brilliance of “Skyfall.”

Perhaps the biggest problem lay in the lack of villain. Christoph Waltz, the man who won an Oscar for his portrayal of the grotesque Nazi general Hans Landa in “Inglorious Basterds,” was picked as the follow-up to Javier Bardem’s brilliantly creepy Raoul Silva, and he couldn’t have done a worse job. It wasn’t really his fault though — the script and organization of the movie barely helped us to understand anything. There was too much mystery for the audience to have to wrap their heads around, and by the time the big reveal actually occurred, all that was in your head was, “Why, I don’t understand, what do you mean?” There was no lead-up, no follow-up and you just had to wrap your head around the fact that all these characters were somehow related. It was a confusing mess, that so obviously demonstrated that “Spectre” had not gone into filming with any kind of plausible script.

The takeaway from this for Sam Mendes I hope will be: If you have to, make a film that goes through all the original Bond tropes. I can stomach attractive girl plot devices and car chases, but please tell a story.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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