Does SPECTRE have too much humor? Not really

Cover art for a North by Northwest Blu Ray release

Cover art for a North by Northwest Blu Ray release

A recurring criticism of SPECTRE is that the 24th James Bond film engages in too much “Roger Moore humor.”

This trope came up repeatedly. (Trust us, this blog surveyed a lot of reviews on both sides of the Atlantic.) Yet, in a lot of ways, SPECTRE’s humor content was closer to “Alfred Hitchock-Ernest Lehman humor,” as realized in the 1959 movie North by Northwest.

Without going into too much detail, North by Northwest concerns the adventures of New York advertising executive Roger O. Thornhill (Cary Grant), who suddenly finds himself in the midst of a Cold War adventure involving spies from all sides.

Sounds like very serious stuff. And it is. But there’s also some humor, similar to SPECTRE.

SLAPSTICK: In SPECTRE, the main example of slapstick humor involves a hapless driver of a Fiat in Rome, with Bond (Daniel Craig) tailgating him while trying to evade Hinx (Dave Bautista). The Fiat driver eventually touches (slightly) a post, causing his air bag to deploy.

In North by Northwest, Thornhill has been forced to drink an entire fifth of Bourbon by the lackeys of lead villain Vandamm (James Mas0n). The thugs intend to make it look like Thornhill had a fatal auto accident while drunk. But Thornhills revives enough to drive off. At one point, two of his car’s four wheels are over a cliff. In a closeup, Grant looks at the camera while his character is drunk and not entirely sure what’s going on.

MORE SUBTLE HUMOR: In SPECTRE, Bond has amusing exchanges with M (Ralph Fiennes) and Q (Ben Whishaw).

In North by Northwest, Thornhill — who finally knows everything — gets away from his “American Intelligence” minder the Professor (Leo G. Carroll). He gets out of his own hospital room and enters the room of a woman patient.

The woman patient, while putting on her glasses, says, “Stop!”

Grant’s Thornhill replies, “I’m sorry…” The woman patient, her glasses now on and realizing what she sees, replies, “Stop….”

“Uh, uh, uh,” Thornhill says, wagging his finger. He then ducks out of the room.

In a 2009 post, this blog argued that North by Northwest provided the blueprint for 1960s spy entertainment. SPECTRE is an attempt to replicate that, as well as the “classic” Bond film style, while including some of the drama of 21st century Daniel Craig 007 movies.

SPECTRE has its faults. This blog’s review, while liking the film overall, cited the “reveal,” the length and the last third of the film as demerits. Still, SPECTRE doen’t remotely resemble a comedy, as some critics seemed to think it did.  It’s an attempt, as we’ve said before, of blending “classic” and Craig-style Bond.

And it’s humor content is comparable to what Hitchcock liked to introduce in some of his films. SPECTRE isn’t up to the standards of North by Northwest. That’s still a nice standard to shoot for.


A few questions about Bond 25

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

As SPECTRE continues its theatrical run, questions emerge about Bond 25.

In November 2012, after the release of Skyfall, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer announced that John Logan had been signed to write Bond 24 and Bond 25. So far, nothing nearly that specific has emerged. Barbara Broccoli, co-boss of Eon Productions, IN AN INTERVIEW WITH 20 MINUTEN from Nov. 16 (text is in German) talked about work on Bond resuming “in the spring.”

With that in mind, here are some questions.

What happened to Daniel Craig being signed for Bond 25? Three years ago, the ACTOR TOLD ROLLING STONE, “I’ve agreed to do a couple more, but let’s see how this one (Skyfall) does, because business is business and if the shit goes down, I’ve got a contract that somebody will happily wipe their ass with.” (emphasis added)

Fans at the time read that as meaning Craig had a contract for two more films. In interviews done days after SPECTRE completed production, the storyline was different.

Craig told TIME OUT LONDON and ESQUIRE he didn’t know if he’d do another Bond film after SPECTRE.  Meanwhile, Michael G. Wilson, the other Eon co-chief, SAID IN THIS VIDEO that Craig isn’t under contract although he expects the actor to return for Bond 25.

Will any John Logan story elements be used in Bond 25? Sam Mendes, director of Skyfall and SPECTRE, said in an April 2014 interview with U.S. television host Charlie Rose that the story originally was envisioned as a two-movie arc.

But Mendes said a condition of his return to SPECTRE was the story had to be self contained. That confirmed a FEBRUARY 2013 STORY by Baz Bamigboye in the Daily Mail that the two-part movie idea had been eliminated.

It’s not known how much work, if any, Logan did on Bond 25 after the change in plan. Wilson, in the same video where he commented on Craig’s status, said Eon doesn’t have a script, an idea or even a title for Bond 25.

Who will direct Bond 25? Sam Mendes said after Skyfall he wouldn’t return. He recanted and did SPECTRE. He made the following comment IN AN INTERVIEW WITH DEADLINE HOLLYWOOD, that people have interpreted as he’s really, really not coming back to Bond again.

The pronouncements after the last movie were taken seriously and I then had to undo them when I agreed to make this movie. Without giving too much away, the difference here for me is, this movie (SPECTRE) draws together all four of Daniel’s movies into one final story, and he completes a journey. That wasn’t the case last time. There is a sense of completeness that wasn’t there at the end of Skyfall, and that’s what makes this feel different. It feels like there’s a rightness to it, that I have finished a journey.

If that’s really the case, who fills the Bond 25 director’s chair? Some fans would like two-time director Martin Campbell, 72, to return for an encore. He’s done TV work since the 2011 superhero movie Green Lantern, according to his IMDB.COM ENTRY. Meanwhile, Barbara Broccoli has said Eon doesn’t hire “journeymen” directors. So will another “auteur” like Mendes get the job?

The Chronicles of SPECTRE: SPECTRE (2015)

Christoph Waltz in SPECTRE

Christoph Waltz in SPECTRE

By Nicolas Suszczyk, Guest Writer

No analysis of the chronicles of SPECTRE would be complete if we didn’t examine the latest James Bond outing, SPECTRE, the fourth 007 film starring Daniel Craig and the second directed by Sam Mendes.

Back in December 2014, when the film title and cast were announced, Mendes told the press that Bond fans “knew what it was about” as the title was revealed. It indeed featured the old Bond nemesis, the organization Sean Connery and George Lazenby’s portrayals of 007 fought in the 1960s, the one lead by Ernst Stavro Blofeld with Dr. No, Emilio Largo, Rosa Klebb and Fiona Volpe as proud agents loyal to the cause.

But of course, much like the classic Bond elements and characters throughout these four Daniel Craig entries, the organization has been rebooted and adapted to the 21st century.

James Bond kills Marco Sciarra, an Italian SPECTRE agent operating in Mexico, where he planned to blow up a stadium. Bond attends Sciarra’s funeral in Rome. Bond meets Sciarra’s widow, Lucia (Monica Bellucci). The woman leads 007 to a meeting at the Palazzo Cardezza, where Sciarra’s replacement is discussed.

Harkening back to the SPECTRE board meeting in Thunderball and the Blofeld’s briefing with Rosa Klebb and Kronsteen in From Russia with Love, the organization leader joins the meeting as the members stand up in respect.

Back in 1965, SPECTRE had to steal atomic bombs or start a war to rule the world. In 2015, this new SPECTRE attempts to control the intelligence services worldwide through the Nine Eyes program championed by Max Denbigh (Andrew Scott). Denbigh is also known as C and is the leader of MI5 –- now merged with MI6 –- and a headache for M (Ralph Fiennes) and Bond.

Under the argument that the 00 section is obsolete and new technology and drones can do the same job a man can and better, C convinces the head of nine intelligence services from across the world to join the integrated network. Many of the services were “convinced” after some terrorists attempts occurred in their countries, perpetrated, of course, by SPECTRE. One of them was Sciarra’s ill-fated plan to blow a Mexican stadium during the crowded “Day of the Dead” celebration.

“World domination, the same old dream,” James Bond said when Dr. Julius No explained his plan to topple American rockets from Cape Canaveral to dominate the world.

The same old dream is back with a twist now. Worldwide domination is, this time, more subtle. It will be achieved through moles in the intelligence services and by having SPECTRE controlling everything.

It’s fair to assume the redefinition of SPECTRE for these times has been done in a brilliant way.

Guerra, a Spaniard member, offers to take up the late Sciarra’s assignment: eliminate a certain “Pale King.”

Another agent, the muscular Mr. Hinx, shows the leader he’s more suitable for the job. Hinx blinds Guerra with his thumbs and breaks his neck. At this point, 007’s cover is blown by the leader himself: Franz Oberhauser (Cristoph Waltz), his foster brother.

Later, James Bond is captured by the villain while visiting his lair inside a crater in Morocco, the control center for the Nine Eyes program. The SPECTRE chief provides 007 a painful torture taken from the pages of Kinglsey Amis’ Colonel Sun 007 continuation novel. As a white Persian cat approaches the captive secret agent, Oberhauser reveals his new name: Ernst Stavro Blofeld.

Cristoph Waltz’s incarnation proves to be the perfect adaptation of the mastermind for the 21st century: sinister, deadly, shadowy and creepily funny at the same time. Forty-eight years after Donald Pleasance showed his bald and scarred face to Connery’s Bond inside that volcano lair in Japan in You Only Live Twice, Waltz is equally cold-blooded and reminiscent as the iconic villain.

This time, the screenwriters (John Logan, Neal Purvis & Robert Wade and Jez Butterworth) added a twist. This Blofeld is Bond’s foster brother. This Blofeld killed his father (Hannes Oberhauser, whose connection with the young 007 can be read in Ian Fleming’s Octopussy short story) in revenge for the latter’s preference for the “orphan with the blue eyes.”

Through this series of essays we saw how, after Thunderball, Blofeld eclipsed SPECTRE as the main villain.

In this case, the new Blofeld is linked to the events of the three first Craig films with villains Le Chiffre, Dominic Greene and Raoul Silva being agents of SPECTRE. The terminally ill Mr. White was a high ranking member who disobeyed Blofeld and now he’s hiding on his Austrian retreat.

The dialogue between Bond and his old enemy exposes how threatening this new SPECTRE is.

It has no compunction in killing innocent relatives of their targets or former associates –- White’s daughter Madeleine and Sciarra’s wife Lucia, for example.

And, in the same way Telly Savalas’ Blofeld was responsible for Tracy’s death at the end of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Waltz’s Blofeld declares himself as “the author” of all of Bond’s pain by showing his implication with the demise of Vesper Lynd and (Judi Dench’s) M.

“My wounds will heal, what about yours? Look around you James: everything you stood for, everything you believed in… are ruined,” Blofeld points out revealing a scar affecting his right eye –- Bond’s doing during his escape from his imprisonment in Morocco.

SPECTRE has been redefined in an exceptional way for this new era. The “four cornerstones of power” under the acronym weren’t mentioned, and as a matter of fact one of the script drafts linked the name to a platoon integrated by Oberhauser and Mr. White during their wartime activities.

Nevertheless, this new SPECTRE deals with counterintelligence, terrorism and revenge. The Nine Eyes is the organization’s way of infiltrating the worldwide secret services while using terrorist attacks to convince those nations undecided to join C’s network. On the other hand, its leader has a personal vendetta against 007.

To those who wondered why the previous Bond villains looked a bit weak, the answer is in the return of threatening organization and 007’s greatest nemesis of all time: Ernst Stavro Blofeld.

Mendes: 007 had to thread needle between Bourne, Marvel

SPECTRE, the 24th James Bond film, had to thread a needle between Jason Bourne and movies from Marvel Studios on the other, Sam Mendes said earlier this month in New York.

“It’s very tricky… to walk the knife edge between, you know, Bourne on the one hand, which is brilliant, especially when done by (director) Paul Greenglass, and Marvel on the other,” Mendes said during an appearance at TimesTalk, part of events held by The New York Times, which sells tickets for people to attend.

“Bond is in this very narrow…you’re threading the needle,” Mendes added. “You only have so many tools you can use.”

The director of SPECTRE and Skyfall also acknowledged specific homages in SPECTRE to earlier Bond movies (Live And Let Die in the pre-titles sequence) and From Russia With Love (train fight between Bond and Hinx on the train).

“But sometimes people see a snow sequence and say, ‘Ah, The Spy Who Loved Me.’ No, it’s just a snow sequence.”

You can view other comments from Mendes and Craig on this video below, which the Times uploaded to YouTube. Note: the closed captioning has a few mistakes, including “marble” for Marvel.

Similarities in the Wo Fat, Blofeld reboots

Two villains of yesteryear — Wo Fat on television’s Hawaii Five-0 and Ernst Stavro Blofeld in the James Bond movies — have been rebooted recently. The revivals share a number of things in common.

Mark Cacascos, Wo Fat 2.0.

Mark Dacascos, Wo Fat 2.0.

This time it’s personal: Both Wo Fat and Blofeld now have personal grievances going back to their childhoods against the latest incarnations of Steve McGarrett (Alex O’Laughlin) and James Bond (Daniel Craig).

Those grievances involve parents: Mother McGarrett was a spy and was supposed to kill Wo Fat’s father. She killed his mother instead. Mom McGarrett wanted to adopt kid Wo Fat but wasn’t allowed to do so. Wo Fat eventually swears revenge against the entire McGarrett clan.

Meanwhile, new Blofeld got mad at his dad, who took in orphaned James Bond. So he killed his father, faked his own death and took the name Blofeld (his mother’s maiden name).

The villains decided to make the lives of the heroes miserable: In the 2010 pilot to the new Hawaii Five-0, McGarrett’s father is killed and there’s nothing McG can do about it. It takes quite a number of episodes, but it’s revealed eventually that Wo Fat (Mark Dacascos) was behind it all.

Christoph Waltz as Blofeld in SPECTRE

Christoph Waltz as Blofeld in SPECTRE

In SPECTRE, the new-look Blofeld tells Bond that he is “the author of all your pain.” In other words, the new Blofeld was behind the evil of all four (to date) Daniel Craig James Bond films.

The villains like to taunt the heroes by calling them brother: In the 100th episode of Five-0, which aired Nov. 7, 2014, McGarrett 2.0 and Wo Fat 2.0 have one last, knockdown, drag-out fight. They eventually have guns drawn at each other. Wo Fat calls McGarrett “brother.” McGarrett replies, “I’m not your brother.” BLAM!

In SPECTRE, new-look Blofeld (Christoph Waltz) calls Bond “brother” but it’s clear the villain has no use for Bond. Unlike Wo Fat 2.0, new-look Blofeld is still around.

SPECTRE has $73 million opening in U.S.-Canada

SPECTRE promotional art

SPECTRE promotional art

SPECTRE generated estimated box office of $73 million for the Nov. 6-8 weekend in the U.S. and Canada, according to BOX OFFICE MOJO

The 24th James Bond film was the No. 1 film for the weekend, which also includes Thursday night ticket sales. SPECTRE, despite higher ticket prices, was 17 percent lower than the $88.4 million opening of 2012’s Skyfall.

Three years ago, Skyfall was the only new movie in general release in the U.S. and Canada. Other new films out that weekend, such as Lincoln, were available only in limited release in a few cities. Skyfall also was the 50th anniversary 007 movie, and it enjoyed a big promotion from the 2012 Olympics, where the Opening Ceremonies included an elaborate James Bond skit, featuring Daniel Craig and Queen Elizabeth.

This time around, SPECTRE had more competition in the form of The Peanuts Movie, an animated film based on the comic strip, which had an estimated $45 million weekend.

Final figures for the weekend will be released on Monday.

Meanwhile, THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER reported that SPECTRE had a global weekend of “nearly $200 million” and its global box office so far is “north of $300 million.” The movie debuted late last month in the U.K.

Skyfall was the first Bond film to crack the billion-dollar-mark, with worldwide box office of $1.11 billion.

SPECTRE attempts to blend ‘classic,’ 21st century Bond

SPECTRE poster

SPECTRE poster

The review will have a spoiler after the ninth paragraph. There’ll be a warning before that begins.

SPECTRE, the 24th James Bond film, attempts to blend “classic” and 21st century Bond style.

For much of the movie, the Sam Mendes-directed movie succeeds. It’s two-thirds an excellent James Bond film. During that portion it mostly mixes early Bond movie escapism, introduces more humor without going overboard and still retains the more dramatic emphasis of the Daniel Craig era.

However, the last third is more exhausting than exhilarating. Like many action movies today, it’s too long and could stand some tightening. The last third isn’t bad by any means, but it loses the momentum of the first two-thirds.

Last year’s hacking at Sony caused many details — including complete script drafts — of a hectic scripting process to become public. The final story line (credited to a tag team of John Logan, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and Jez Butterworth) is smoother than most who read that material would have guessed.

SPECTRE, though, still has rough spots. When the lead woman character, Dr. Madeleine Swann (Lea Seydoux) falls in love with Bond, it seems forced. She’s convincing when she says she’ll try to kill Bond if he comes close to her. She’s less so when she warms up to him. Swann is to supposed to be “the one” to make Bond get over Vesper Lynd from Casino Royale. For the Spy Commander, doesn’t really seem that way.

Some reviewers have criticized SPECTRE’s increased humor, saying it’s too much like a Roger Moore film. Actually, it’s more like an early Sean Connery 007 film. The humor in SPECTRE is very much in line with Connery humor (“Sergeant, make sure he doesn’t get away,” Connery/Bond says in Dr. No, referring to the dead “Mr. Jones” in a car’s back seat).

Craig doesn’t engage in overt puns but humor arises from situations. Ben Whishaw’s Q actually gets one of the best of the humorous lines when he refers to Bond’s penchant for destroying vehicles. Meanwhile, Craig’s humor content comes from situations such as when he’s being ridiculously respectful (but not jokey) to M (Ralph Fiennes) after going rogue (again) in the movie’s pre-titles sequence.

Christoph Waltz is fine as the movie’s villain (more about that in the spoiler section). Having a top-notch opponent always helps a Bond film.

Among the crew, cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema delivers big time after many fans had expressed worry when Skyfall’s Roger Deakins opted not to return. Composer Thomas Newman is adequate, but he actually recycles some of his Skyfall score. The music is reasonably effective but a Newman 007 score is like watching a man wearing clothes that aren’t his size. Action movies aren’t his forte.

Spoiler section follows. Last warning.

SPECTRE is built around the “reveal” that Waltz’s Franz Oberhauser is really …. ta DA DAAAAA….Ernst Stavro Blofeld.

Seriously. A movie called SPECTRE’s “spoiler” is that the organization is headed by Blofeld. That’s like making a Sherlock Holmes movie where the villain is revealed to be Professor Moriarty. Or a Superman movie where the villain is revealed to be Lex Luthor.

Old-time Bond fans are (rightfully) going to be skeptical when the filmmakers act like this is a big secret. New Bond fans won’t really care, they just want to see a good villain.

Now, if the film had been structured so Waltz’s character was a flamboyant front man and Blofeld turned out to be someone else, that’d be fine, or at least understandable. But Mendes and his scribes spend more time on this than is necessary.

Mendes has said the audience can’t know more than the characters. Yet, in From Russia With Love the audience knew more than Connery/Bond (though not everything, of course) and that film worked just fine.

Meanwhile, there’s also the reveal that Blofeld was Bond’s foster brother (sort of). That’s very similar to the way the Hawaii Five-0 television series rebooted arch villain Wo Fat to have a personal hatred of Steve McGarrett. It also inches dangerously close to Austin Powers/Dr. Evil territory. Thankfully, it doesn’t go that far.

End spoiler section.

Whatever SPECTRE’s flaws, they can mostly be overlooked, at least until the movie is over and the viewer is headed out of the theater. The movie shows “classic” Bond still has something to offer as it is adapted to the 21st century. GRADE: B-Plus.


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