Sean K. Cureton

James Bond in Abstentia

In Movie Reviews: 2015, Uncategorized on November 28, 2015 at 5:44 pm

MGM/Columbia Pictures

Directed by Sam Mendes
2 ½ out of 4 stars

Following on the heels of what was perhaps the best 007 film since Sean Connery’s heyday turn as the characters over the course of the 1960s, director Sam Mendes’ Spectre is a lukewarm, leftover serving of what made his Skyfall such a thrilling, resuscitation of its storied, supporting property. Where his last film made Bond into something of a lame duck, alcoholic has-been, forced to mourn for the loss of a certain naïve innocence that might just constitute the very joie vu vivre of life itself, Mendes finds his take on the Ian Felming original character in his new film in a state of emotional and philosophical despondency. M is dead, the future of MI6 is uncertain, and all of the ghosts from Bond’s past have come back to haunt in a series of confounding, ethereal ways. As Daniel Craig finds himself contending with the fallout of his four feature tenure as Bond within the boundaries of the film’s narrative context, it becomes easy to see the film as a much larger confrontation of the necessity of the Bond character in general, a hero archetype in dire need of recasting and moral reevaluation. It would be easy to merely ask the question of whether or not we need 007 anymore, but Spectre appears ready with the follow-up expose after the fact of the former line of inquiry, delivering a surreal, supremely bizarre moratorium on the character.

Bond is not a character of the current cultural climate, to put it bluntly. His archaic, patronizing tone, overriding misogyny, and outright disregard for the individual agency of the women in his life since the character’s inception has become inseparable from the character proper. Where actors like Roger Moore and Pierce Brosnan have been able to bring perhaps a little more light to the character over the years, Bond has remained a relic of a pre-feminist age, and utterly unrepentant in his inability to cope or adapt to an increasingly liberal, socio-political landscape since. Enter Daniel Craig in the 2006, Martin Campbell directed reboot of the character in Casino Royale, and everything previously established in regards to the character’s outward demeanor is tossed out the window. For the most part, Craig has come to symbolize a personally compromised Bond, a 007 who has given into a certain feminine leniency and post-feminist rebuttal of the extant patriarchy of his service.

On several separate occasions over the course of three prior films, Craig has come to promote a James Bond more in line with the politically correct, left-ward leaning times of the contemporary cultural climate, for whatever fault viewers may find with such a sentiment notwithstanding. Craig is a wounded, brooding, and self-sufficient agent of her majesty’s secret service, only said enlistment is now subject to an entirely different set of historical parameters. The late M, played by Judi Dench, takes up more space in the film’s establishment of command throughout Craig’s tenure as Bond, resulting in an opaquely applied facsimile of the latter character overall. Craig plays Bond like an old dog, entirely capable of trotting out old tricks for the amusement of an amassed audience of easily placated viewers, though his agency acts as a mere parlor show for an assembled coterie of similarly staid ex-patriots. Enter Spectre, and you have the timid culmination of the fallout from Skyfall, a seeming memorial to the franchise’s past successes without any of the vibrancy and ingenuity to ever truly come across as anything but a swan song to Craig as 007.

There’s a lot of style that makes up for a lack of narrative content in Medes’ latest outing as the successor to Fleming, though much of the film itself is sorely missing anything to make itself stand out on its own. Mendes borrows entire set pieces and plot points from past films in the series, and at times entire character arcs feel poorly misappropriated within the context of Craig’s post-modern take on the role. Christoph Waltz is a welcome enough presence when his character final enters the picture, though the pall he casts over the entire production thereafter often feels more intrusive than effectively articulated or dramatically cathartic. At many points throughout the film’s overlong, self-important, and pre-ponderous 148 minute runtime, Craig appears lost in a wasteland of Bonds past, his own tenure as the iconic character on the verge of running up, the film a seeming purgatory to his necessary and thoroughly original performance within the surrounding series. Spectre may be among the most atypical entries in the storied history of Fleming’s secret agent; its bizarre narrative structure rings hollow where it should resound with all of the clear-eyed focus of its immediate predecessor, with Mendes leaving the property for now with a resounding echo of what it once was, with James Bond in absentia.

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