This article contains spoilers for lots of James Bond films, but especially Spectre.
The 24th instalment, and Daniel Craig’s fourth outing as 007, comes on the heels of the billion dollar success of Skyfall, currently the highest-grossing film of all time at the UK box office and the highest-grossing British film of all time, full stop. With Sam Mendes back in the director’s seat, the shadow of that success hangs over its sequel a bit.
As Bond faces SPECTRE, the criminal organisation whose first mention on-screen came in the very first Ian Fleming adaptation, 1962’s Dr. No, it’s even more of a throwback to the pre-reboot continuity than its predecessor, which brought back characters like Q and Miss Moneypenny as recurring characters.
We liked the film, but admit that it’s deceptively convoluted, with callbacks to the continuity of all Craig’s films thus far and some of the iconography of much older films. As the longest Bond film to date, it covers a lot of ground and still leaves more questions than any previous instalment. We’re going to have a bash at answering some of those questions, relating them back to previous films in the series and finally speculating on where we go from here.
Hopefully this won’t be a nitpicky article, because a lot of our genuine quibbles are part and parcel of the series’ conventions. All the same, it will be a spoilery one, so if you haven’t seen Spectre yet, be wary of that beyond this point.
What does “The dead are alive” mean?
Many have celebrated the return of the famous gun-barrel sequence to its rightful place at the beginning of the film (the last two films did it before the end credits and Casino Royale only paid homage before its title sequence) but we’re interested in what immediately follows. To our knowledge, this is the only Bond film ever to employ an opening epigraph – “The dead are alive.”
From this message, we smash cut to a Day of the Dead parade in Mexico City, which suggests an obvious and immediate parallel with the spiritually oriented national holiday in which revellers remember friends and family members who have passed on. But after a barnstorming opening sequence through, around and above the festivities, the rest of the film is suffused with this thematic statement.
Daniel Kleinman’s reliably epic opening title sequence also sets the tone, showing dearly departed faces such as Vesper Lynd from Casino Royale, Raoul Silva from Skyfall and Judi Dench’s M, as Sam Smith wheedles on about “a million shards of glass that haunt me from my past” in his theme song. Notably exempt from this mini In Memoriam reel for the Craig era are Strawberry Fields, Dominic Greene, René Mathis, Elvis the shit-wigged henchman and basically anyone who kicked the bucket in Quantum Of Solace.
But over the course of the film, the villains take perverse pleasure in reminding Bond that every woman in his life, from his mother to Vesper and, most recently, M, winds up dead. Even the villain himself turns out to be someone he has long thought dead, back to haunt him once again. Opening on “The dead are alive” could be seen as shouting the subtext a bit, but it does strike a tone that resonates throughout Spectre.
How was SPECTRE involved in the events of Casino Royale, Quantum Of Solace and Skyfall?
One criticism that could be levelled at the Craig era of what has traditionally been a series of standalone adventures is that his films don’t know a clean break when they see one. While the previous three films all wrapped up neatly and left things open for the next adventure, each successive film has gone back over previous plot threads, even when they weren’t necessarily dangling.
This is more in evidence in Spectre than any of Craig’s other outings, and the octopus tentacles of the antagonists’ emblem could as easily be seen as a bunch of loose threads that Mendes and screenwriters John Logan, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and Jez Butterworth aimed to tie up. The biggest and most obvious way of doing that is bringing back SPECTRE, (which stands for Special Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge & Extortion, if you’re ever in a tight spot at a pub quiz.)
Although Quantum Of Solace is largely left to one side here, we’re to take it that Quantum, the criminal organisation behind Le Chiffre and Greene in the first two films was just one tentacle of an even larger criminal cabal. Where Quantum was clearly intended as a 21st century answer to SPECTRE (the digital version to its analog, to use a turn of phrase that’s particularly pertinent in this film), there’s some judicious retconning to wipe away any callbacks to Craig’s difficult second outing.
More unusually, it also brings Silva’s actions, who seemed to be on a deeply personal vendetta against M in the last film, under the umbrella of SPECTRE too. While some of us assumed that Silva would be to SPECTRE as Goldfinger was back in the day (as the only film with no mention of the organisation during the early run from Dr. No up to Diamonds Are Forever), Skyfall‘s standalone status has also been revoked as part of the retcon.
Some reviewed Craig’s first three films in advance of watching SPECTRE, but it’ll now be more interesting to see if the quartet holds together now that we’ve learned that SPECTRE was apparently the Big Bad all along.
How did M know about Sciarra?
Early on, Bond is grounded by M’s successor for his antics in Mexico City, where he killed a hitman named Sciarra, who was planning a devastating terrorist attack on a stadium. Acting outside of orders, Bond has caused a diplomatic crisis of the kind that happens every time he goes abroad, and either it was a coincidence or he’s unwilling to tell his boss about what his real mission was. As he later reveals to Moneypenny, he was left a video message by M before she died. Cue surprise cameo by Dame Judi!
In the event of something happening to her, she orders Bond to “find a man called Sciarra. Kill him. Don’t miss the funeral.” This eventually puts Bond on the track to a secret meeting, precipitated by the untimely death of Sciarra, discussing who is to assassinate former adversary Mr. White, (codenamed ‘the Pale King’) who has become a liability to them.
It gets the plot going nicely and M’s orders fit in with the ‘dead are alive’ theme, but it begs the question of how long she knew about Sciarra and his connections without mentioning it to Bond. The suggestion would seem to be that Lucia, the widow played by Monica Bellucci, was willing to inform on SPECTRE and was previously only protected by her hated husband.
We’ve seen M squeeze informants similarly in the past, most notably in pitting Bond against Le Chiffre at Casino Royale so that he would have nowhere to turn but MI6. The film doesn’t spoon-feed this information to us, but given what we know of the character, we don’t have to take too much of a leap there.
Did Bond make the best use of his 48 hour headstart?
On a visit to Q Branch, Bond gets an injection of nano-technology that the quartermaster dubs smart-blood, which M has ordered so that they can keep track of their incorrigible agent’s movements. Building upon the camaraderie of Skyfall, Bond wields his bad influence on Q to get him to invent a 24 – nay, 48 hour warm-up period where he’ll be untraceable. And then thanks him for it by nicking 009’s tricked-out Aston Martin DB10.
Far be it from us to suggest that Bond didn’t make the best use of that time by driving to Rome for Sciarra’s funeral. It’s an 18 hour drive, but we suppose that it might just be a more discreet way of getting out of the country while grounded. Even if it’s not that discreet, it’s certainly pretty cool.
But Bond then calls Moneypenny for assistance, and their conversation is inevitably recorded by government snooping services, and puts her career in jeopardy. Q is also in trouble for the same thing- their friendship feels a bit one-sided in this one. Maybe putting the ejector seat in the driver’s side was actually Q’s way of getting back at him for this kind of bullshit, rather than a clever escape and it just happened to work out in Bond’s favour. Bastard.
Did Sciarra’s widow Lucia get away?
Bellucci’s role as Lucia has rightfully been the subject of some disappointment – we get a Bond girl who is Bond’s own age for approximately the first time since Octopussy and it’s little more than an extended cameo. When Bond arrives to pump her for information (ew), she’s under armed guard. Before/during/after a bit of sexy time with Bond, Lucia tells him what he needs to know and he tells her that he’s arranged for her to be extracted by his friend in the CIA, Felix.
This is a reference to Felix Leiter, who has been played many different actors over the last 50 years of Bond films, but most recently and consistently by Jeffrey Wright in Casino Royale and Quantum Of Solace. Counter to the usual first girls that Craig’s Bond shags, Lucia doesn’t seem to meet a protracted death, but neither does she ever appear again.
It’s odd, but that almost exaggerates her importance in and of itself – it’s partly because she’s not dead but mostly because she’s played by one of the current greats of European cinema that you keep expecting her to have a more important role, but the film moves on, altogether dropping her character. Did Felix get her out? Who knows, but it’s disheartening that ‘didn’t die’ is a relative step-up as a resolution for a Bond girl.
Why did Franz Oberhauser rename himself as Blofeld?
At the SPECTRE meeting, the head of the organisation recognises and calls out Bond, who in turn recognises Franz Oberhauser, a hitherto unmentioned surrogate brother. As far as anyone knew, he died in an avalanche with his father years ago, as Moneypenny and then Q consistently explain to a determined Bond.
In Fleming’s stories, Oberhauser was the name of a man who taught Bond to ski and acted as a father figure to him after the death of his parents and it goes in much the same way here. Only in this adaptation, Franz is Oberhauser’s biological son and as is gradually teased out over the course of the action, he killed his father after he felt alienated by the devotion he showed to James, and reinvented himself with a new name – Ernst Stavro Blofeld.
Let’s get this bit out of the way. This was Star Trek Into Darkness syndrome all over again, with Mendes and Christoph Waltz both stridently denying that the latter was playing Blofeld when most of us connected the dots after watching the very first trailer. Just as JJ Abrams denied for months on end that Benedict Cumberbatch would play a character from the previous continuity in the Star Trek sequel, they were protecting a twist that doesn’t even work in the post-reboot context of the film.
The weight of the revelation that Franz is the reboot’s version of Blofeld, the SPECTRE head honcho who pulled the strings in most of the first seven Bond movies, is purely meta-textual. A well-versed audience may go “Ohhh”, but the name means little to new viewers and, more importantly, nothing at all to Bond himself. Blofeld’s name has not even been seeded through the plot of this film before that point, so it’s little more than an Easter egg and the months of denial didn’t make it any less predictable.
That said, it’s managed a little better than Into Darkness‘ parallel scene – there’s more going on in the already infamous torture scene than merely a name reveal and we did enjoy the pre-emptive reveal of a Chinchilla Persian cat as Blofeld’s pet. On top of that, if you really want to get pernickety about the building of this character into the reboot, you might also surmise that Dr. Vogel, the female SPECTRE operative played by Brigitte Millar in the meeting scene, could turn out to be shoe-knifing henchwoman Rosa Klebb in a future instalment.
As to the ‘why’, we’re dealing with a character who faked his death and completely reinvented himself for the purpose of making Bond suffer. Just as Bond rose through the ranks of British intelligence, so Blofeld has become a super-rich criminal mastermind who has lobbed pain and suffering at his former foster brother at every turn. He had to change his name for that to work. Blofeld was his mother’s maiden name (there’s that security question out the window for him) and Ernst Stavro is, as Bond remarks, “catchy.”
Why do SPECTRE put digital files on their rings?
Sciarra’s ring, emblazoned with SPECTRE’s octopus insignia, is hugely important to the good guys in this one, partly because it’s so helpfully full of incriminating information. When Q meets Bond in the field, he manages to scrape DNA and digital files off of the ring. This enables them to track the organisation to Blofeld’s bona-fide secret villain lair, in a meteor crater in Tangier.
SPECTRE probably doesn’t bank on Q getting hold of one of these and decrypting the files on it, but it does seem a tad careless. Incidentally, if we were to expand our 25 objects article, this might be the object to represent SPECTRE – comprehensive in the information it gives us, but perhaps not as well thought through as we’ve come to expect from the people behind it. But while Bond is tracking SPECTRE, how do they know how to track him?
Who is C?
C is the codename of Max Denbigh, the government overseer who aims to modernise and digitise global espionage by cutting back on agents like Bond and launching a new global surveillance cooperation called Nine Eyes at the new Doughnut-esque Centre For National Security. At the start of the film, MI6 has been merged with MI5 (hear the dripping disdain of Ralph Fiennes’ M as he says that) and Bond’s conduct is hardly helping the case for continuing the 00 program.
We’re making SPECTRE sound terribly predictable here, but if you don’t want someone to project a sudden but inevitable betrayal, Andrew Scott might not have been the best casting. He’s brilliant, as usual, but it’s hard to not see Jim Moriarty from the moment he appears. C could have been a character more in line with Alec Baldwin’s CIA director in the recent Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, but his satisfaction in pulling MI6’s legs off one by one is all too obvious and there’s no bait-and-switch there.
Of course, that turns out to be because he’s a mole for SPECTRE and has been feeding intelligence directly to Blofeld. When Nine Eyes goes online, they’ll oversee the whole world. It really seems as if M suspects C all along, but maybe that’s because we do too. The film does have a slightly naïve view of how governments would feel about such an invasion of civil liberties in the name of protecting the world, but Fiennes does do a good line in healthy scepticism and delivers the best zinger in the movie too- “Now we know what C stands for.”
Depending on how long Denbigh has been acting as a mole before he appears here, you could use his affiliation with SPECTRE to retroactively explain a few plot holes from before, especially concerning Silva’s preternatural planning abilities in the second act of Skyfall, while his access to MI6 and maybe even Bond’s smart-blood tracker might explain how the imperious Mr. Hinx knows where Bond is all the time. We did see a Quantum agent, Craig Mitchell, in deep cover as M’s bodyguard at the beginning of Quantum Of Solace, so it’s fair to say that MI6 might even run a little more smoothly now that C has gone the way of Hans Gruber.
How did Blofeld make the money to fund a massive global surveillance project?
When M asks where the government found the money for such a massive surveillance project, C alludes to a private sector donation that, of course, comes from SPECTRE. For straightforward answers on where Blofeld gets his finance, look no further than the sort of stuff Quantum was up to in Casino Royale and Quantum Of Solace (a title that makes no sense at all when Quantum also happens to be a thing in the movie rather than just a synonym for an infinitesimal amount.)
The high-stakes poker game is pivotal for Le Chiffre as a financier after Bond prevents the bombing of a prototype airliner. Le Chiffre’s efforts to sink the prototype’s manufacturers in the stock market go awry, leaving him no choice but to gamble it all. The stock market plan seems more in line with how the criminal organisation raises money, along with Greene’s more audacious bid for Bolivia’s water supply by arranging to put the country in the hands of a mad general in the sequel.
You build quite a bit of capital as an insane criminal mastermind and Blofeld has managed to do this more successfully and for longer than some of his known associates.
Why did Blofeld leave the trail of graffiti and mugshots for Bond at Vauxhall Cross?
This is definitely a nitpick – Bond and M’s car is rammed by baddies, who then throw a bag on Bond’s head, cable-tie his hands and take him to face Blofeld at the condemned MI6 building at Vauxhall Cross. Upon arrival, Bond breaks his restraints, overpowers his captors and kills them. Now he has a gun and he knows where Blofeld is.
But then we get the shot from the trailers where ‘James Bond’ has been spray-painted onto the memorial to MI6 agents in the atrium, along with a bunch of arrows pointing him in the direction he needs to go. Following the directions, he gets a makeshift haunted house tour of his recent past, with pictures of Vesper, M and other deceased allies and enemies tacked up along the route before he finds Blofeld behind a pane of bulletproof glass.
So, did Blofeld’s plan for this confrontation hinge on Bond killing his men before they brought him in? The choice he presents to Bond – chase him or find Madeleine in the MI6 building before it explodes – doesn’t seem like it would have been particularly well managed if Bond were in restraints. Waltz’s Blofeld is in many ways a throwback to the Bond villains of old, taking the ‘why don’t you just kill him?’ threshold back to pre-Austin Powers levels.
Who is Madeleine Swann?
Bond’s investigation leads him to a dying Mr. White in a desolate cabin on Lake Altaussee in Austria, where he makes a pact with the former Quantum honcho – he’ll protect White’s daughter Madeleine, who can help him unpick SPECTRE’s tangled web of deceit, if he tells Bond where she is. He agrees and then shoots himself with Bond’s gun.
It’s Madeleine (Léa Seydoux) who tells Bond what SPECTRE is called and offers more information that leads to Blofeld, but more importantly, she’s a different kind of Bond girl than we’ve seen of late. For starters, she’s super-capable on her own, thank you very much, and over the course of the film, we get the kind of dizzying love affair that hasn’t been seen at least since Casino Royale.
As the best love interest in any of his films, Vesper looms over this as she has with other Daniel Craig sequels, but in far less time than expected, Bond and Madeleine go from having a love affair to actually being in love. Indeed, in a moment that is more romantic but not atypical of the series, Bond sustains and survives what should be a memory-obliterating intrusion into his temporal lobe when Madeleine tells him that she loves him.
While surviving Bond girls typically disappear between films, she’s markedly the first one to break up with him on screen, unable to fathom a life with an assassin, having seen how her father’s lifestyle worked. She’s almost immediately nabbed by Blofeld to raise the stakes in the third act of course, but it’s a marked departure at the end of the film when Bond chooses to give it all up and drive off with her in his newly repaired DB5. This can only end brilliantly…
Which characters will we see in Bond 25?
As mentioned, SPECTRE leaves more dangling threads than any Bond film before, and while characters have returned before – Quantum Of Solace brings back pretty much everyone who’s still alive at the end of Casino Royale – it’s hard to imagine that the 25th James Bond film won’t be an even more direct sequel. You can bet the farm on Ralph Fiennes, Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris and Rory Kinnear returning as Bond’s allies in MI6, particularly as they’re being given more to do than previous incarnations of their characters, but who else might be back?
In addition to being the first one to leave Bond on-screen, the ending makes it seem very likely that Seydoux will be amongst the returning players in Bond 25, which would make her the first non-regular actress to return as the same character since Eunice Gayson as Sylvia Trench in From Russia With Love.
Monogamy probably won’t suit 007 very well and if it does, it can only lead to tragedy. The biggest downer ending of the series came in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, when Bond’s new bride Tracy was shot and killed in a drive-by shooting. Madeleine’s card seems similarly marked by the ending of SPECTRE, because something must spur Bond back into action for the next movie.
Blofeld was behind the assassination of Tracy in OHMSS, which was supposed to lead into a revenge movie in Diamonds Are Forever, but the recasting of Sean Connery seemed to put paid to that idea. Given how Waltz’s Blofeld survives in detainment at the end of this one, we’d be shocked if he wasn’t already signed up to finish the story over the course of at least one more film.
As for that Persian cat, we think it’ll be ‘Mr. Not Appearing In Bond 25’, given to Blofeld’s unfortunate proliferation of explosive tanks in his secret lair. There may well be another cat though – an organisation with SPECTRE’s reach must have pussies galore.
James Bond will return… but will Daniel Craig?
Despite endless speculation, it has been a foregone conclusion for some time that Daniel Craig is signed on for at least one more Bond movie. If he were really desperate to be released from his contract, perhaps this might be his last, but again, while there’s an element of finality to this that could make it the last James Bond movie of this current reboot, we know that’s unlikely to happen.
It wouldn’t be without precedent to continue a plot through seismic cast changes. The original trio of films that showed Blofeld’s face never had the same two actors as Bond and Blofeld twice in a row. You Only Live Twice revealed Donald Pleasence as the villain, while On Her Majesty’s Secret Service picked up after he’d undergone plastic surgery to look like Telly Savalas. Meanwhile, Bond had regenerated into George Lazenby, so it’s a marvel that the two characters recognised each other at all.
Then in Diamonds Are Forever, Sean Connery returned to face a Blofeld who looked like Charles Gray, the actor who had played a completely different character in You Only Live Twice. But suspension of disbelief is not what it used to be and it’s hard to imagine that Eon Productions would want to let actors like Craig and Waltz go if they want to continue this story.
If Craig really does get out, the second option would be another hard reboot, making this quartet a complete story of one version of Bond, just like Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy is a self-contained story of Batman’s career. That seems more unlikely, although Eon could still do that and hold onto Fiennes et al, as they did with Judi Dench between Die Another Day and Casino Royale if they really wanted to.
As it is, many fans have come to the Bond series thinking that Daniel Craig is the definitive Bond and despite precedents, the ending seems to necessitate his return for at least one more movie. In a series that used to thrive on standalone adventures, it’s not as simple as slamming down hard on the reboot button, especially as we’ve ended on a note where 007 would seem to have ample reason not to return. But as the credits always promise, he inevitably will.