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Quantum of Boredom: Does Spectre mark the end for Bond?

March 4, 2016

This article is rated S for spoilers.

 

Going into a Bond film, one has to expect a certain level of retro chauvinism, post war masculinity and 'pussy galore'. As a 60s product there will always be Bond girls, flash cars and exotic locales. But seeing as Bond must be pushing 90, to me he's beginning to seem like that slightly racist grandad its probably best just to ignore. Yet ignore him we don't. Spectre became the 9th most expensive film ever made, the second highest grossing Bond film and the UK record holder for highest first-week opening. We keep throwing time and money into these movies and yet as I sat in the cinema through Spectre's whopping 148 minutes, of which I felt every one, there was a decided emptiness as we filed out in silence realising we'd all been taken for a decidedly underwhelming ride.

 

The 'plot' as found on Wikipedia (where I had to check that it actually existed) sees Bond chasing the mysterious criminal organisation 'SPECTRE', that until this very day remains just as much of a mystery. In a shoehorned twist only surpassed by Dan being Gossip Girl, it transpires that all of Daniel Craig's adversaries have been members of this motley crew of super-villains all pursuing a shared, vague interest in world domination...? Terrorism? Overly elaborate murders? With seemingly no ideology, no reasoning and ultimately no real threat nor consequence, Bond evades yet another megalomaniac with some dubious connection to his youth. Due to the complete lack of peril, Bond takes this time to travel the world and see some exotic bedroom ceilings - Mexico City, Rome, somewhere in ~Vienna~ and Morocco. Each set piece is as stereotyped as ever, Mexico in perpetual Day of the Dead festivities and Rome with its sinister circles of Medici mobsters and sexy older widows. Similarly Vienna was just as well positioned with empty ski resorts and Morocco had crumbling buildings, endless desert and an unusually opulent train network.

 

When in Rome, we are greeted by the franchise's first Bond woman, played by 51 year old Monica Bellucci. Here we see Sam Mendes' first stab at bringing Bond into the 21st century, but any good intentions he had proceeds to be murdered by having Bellucci on screen for no more than 5 uncomfortably pointless minutes. The hype surrounding Bellucci's casting as a strong women, a more compatible age to Bond's 90 years, fell flat when Bond attempted to help her out, then repaid himself for his good deed by forcing himself on her and stealing her dead husbands ring (whose death he was responsible for, naturally). The chance at developing any kind of 3 dimensional character was squandered in favour of the most tedious, low energy car chase known to man.

 

This car chase that feels like it gets more screen time than all the female speaking roles put together is interspersed with a phone call to Moneypenny, who at this time is back home dealing with company admin and office politics as MI6 changes hands (as if the film didn't have better things to develop). Despite being a fully fledged, gun wielding agent in Skyfall, here, Moneypenny is back where she belongs, at her desk. Bond even finds time on his car chase to be incredulous that she might be sleeping with someone else. I suppose Mendes was attempting to show that Bond girls weren't tied down to Bond, that women could sleep with whoever they choose, but it ends up being plain old garden sexism

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The films biggest misstep in its forced progressiveness is Lea Seydoux's character Madeline Swann, or should we say Doctor Swann. Swann is the Oxford and Sorbonne educated daughter of Mr. White, leader of Quantum (the other mysterious criminal organisation, now revealed subsidiarity of Spectre - yet more office politics). Swann is not only intelligent and knows how to load a gun, but is a gorgeous Prada model to boot. However, Swann is only the cardboard cut-out of an intelligent, independent female character, where we are told she is all of these things with very few attempts to give her anything useful to do. She starts strong, yelling at Bond for ruining her carefully concealed identity that she'd been handling for years, but this façade quickly disappears as she is helplessly kidnapped on three consecutive occasions, revealing she loves Bond after mere minutes of screen time, despite Bond causing her nothing but misery.

 

It may be Christoph Waltz' woefully underused character that claims he is the architect of all of Bond's pain. But here we realise that Bond is the architect of ours. The world has moved on since the 60s, but Bond only pretends it has too. Unlike another blockbuster hit of the year, Mad Max: Fury Road which, to the disdain of some fans, spent more than 5 minutes developing its female characters, Bond pays heed to the minority that think cars should be fast and that women need rescuing. This begs the question of if there is still a place for Bond in 2015, but still the franchise drunkenly swaggers on to die another day.

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