A Review of Spectre

Cassandra Pilla. 16.01.2015

Here be spoilers!

The James Bond franchise has been in action for over 50 years. And while James Bond endures, so do his many, many liaisons with various women: the Bond girls. While the movie Spectre expertly combines touches of classic Bond elements with features of the more recent movies, the roles of Bond girls seemed stuck in the past and continue to lack a sense of reality.

First things first, I am huge and lifelong fan of the James Bond franchise, having not only seen all of the movies but having also read several of the original stories by Ian Flemming. Therefore, my opinions of Bond movies will always be somewhat biased. However, I can freely admit that there are certain aspects of the Bond movies, new and old, which sometimes make me cringe or sigh in exasperation.

Overall, Spectre (2015, directed by Same Mendes) delivers on all that one expects from a James Bond movie: a handsome spy, who is popular with the ladies, uses his cool gadgets to defeat a villain by way of awesome action, car chases and combat. However, Spectre is different from other Bond films as it tries to reinvigorate the franchise with a ‘new’ Bond (even though this is the fourth film with the ‘new’, or shall we say ‘rebooted’, Bond, played by Daniel Craig), while simultaneously reintroducing elements from classic Connery and Moore era Bond films. Spectre falls back on many classic Bond tropes: the henchman, villains using elaborate plans to try and kill Bond, and Bond’s lack of remorse following manslaughter. The focus on the ‘new’ Bond is pulled through the storyline itself, where the villains from Spectre are overtly connected to the villains Bond has encountered in Casino Royale (2006), Quantum of Solace (2008), and Skyfall (2012). This attempt by the filmmakers to give James Bond such a rich backstory, haphazardly connecting the events of previous films, seems too forced. What I liked about the continuity of the Spectre organization in the first few Bond films was the counter balance that it provided to Bond’s MI6. In this case, the balance of good and evil is overshadowed by the game of personalities, taking this film away from a spy thriller and closer to family drama. While I don’t disagree that Bond does sometimes need to be humanized, I do not believe the way to do this is by giving all the villains a place in Bond’s personal life.

And now to the ‘Bond girls’, the fantasy characters that fail to break the mould. This movie has three Bond girls, but only two of them actually contribute to the plot. The female characters in this movie do present a certain departure from the classic ‘Bond girls’. Lucia Sciarra (played by Monica Bellucci) stands out as the only woman equal in age to Bond that he has had some sort of relationship with. As for, Dr. Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux), she follows in the footsteps of other ‘Bond girls’ who have been privileged enough to have a profession. However, both of the characters remain very much tied to traditional ‘Bond girl’ characters through their need of Bond’s protection. Furthermore, both Mrs. Sciarra and Dr. Swann come into Bond’s story as a result of their connections with a man sitting at the centre of Spectre’s plot. James Bond rescues Mrs. Sciarra from assassins after killing her husband and seeking her out for information about the organization he worked for. Similarly, Bond seeks out Dr. Swann after meeting with her father, a character from a previous Bond film, who is essential to helping Bond disband Spectre. In fact, Dr. Swann plays no part in helping Bond defeat his villain, with the exception of leading Bond to her father’s secret hiding place where Bond can find the information he needs.

The roles and characters of the ‘Bond girls’ are themselves very problematic, even if some claim that the female characters in more recent films exercise more agency then previous ‘Bond girls’. I don’t see it that way. Many ‘Bond girls’, even from Sean Connery’s era, have had professions, have either saved Bond from certain danger or have played a part in influencing the plot. Over the years, the ‘Bond girl’ characters have also retained their place as the moons orbiting around Planet James Bond. This movie is no exception: yes, Dr. Swann proves to be capable of handling a gun and saves Bond from an assassin, but she is completely ornamental running around the Moroccan Sahara desert in high heeled sandals, whilst James Bond is walking along with her in hiking boots. Now, there has been recent controversy over women’s footwear in movies, but I do believe it points to a larger issue. Bond films, and other similar works, continue to fail at representing women in a realistic way. You could argue that the whole idea of James Bond is a complete fantasy, with crazy cars and Rolex watches with Geiger counters; but, these films continuously try to tap into reality with plot devices and villains. For instance, in this film Bond must confront a criminal organization lobbying to produce faulty generic drugs for developing markets and an organization going overboard on its reliance on drones for security. These plot devices tap into very real issues that plague the world today, and the controversies brought up in these films have some basis in real world events. Yet, the women characters have remained flawless fantasies.


Image from: http://www.radiotimes.com/news/2014-12-04/andrew-scott-and-christoph-waltz-cast-in-new-james-bond-film-spectre