The newest James Bond film, “SPECTRE,” will be released this weekend. My rising level of enthusiasm comes not just from my lifetime of Bond obsession, but also from the cascade of well-placed cuts from the recent trailers.
Though not evenly distributed, I have seen all of the James Bond films numerous times (probably more Connery than Dalton) and have over the years come to develop a formula for what makes a true well-made Bond film. I am the first to admit that there are many films in the saga that are down-right terrible. The following are just a few of the necessary Bondisms that must be present to elevate a film from “Living Daylights” to “Goldfinger” caliber, and they are evidence of why I believe that SPECTRE could be one of the best yet.
1. Poignant and integrated title
In almost all of the Bond films the title serves more than just a place holder. In a majority of the movies Bond himself uses the title in a point of dialogue whether it is a place, a name, or even a sleek salutation like “From Russia With Love.” A recent example when deviation from this caused failure is “Quantum of Solace.” It is no secret that I lump “Solace” as one of the worst Bond films; and it did not follow the classic formula of making the title a poignant part of the plot line. Old school Bond fans are aware that “SPECTRE” is an acronym for: Special Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion. This organization is the antithesis of Bond’s MI6 and the drive of the early films, and it will surely be the centerpiece of this film.
2. Gun Barrel Sequence
A staple of all of the Bond films is the gun barrel sequence. I could spend pages focusing on who has the best and why, but I will save that for another article. Let’s just say that it has to be there to lead to the next step in the Bond-film formula and none of the Craig movies have led with this, they have put it at the end. Maybe “SPECTRE” will set the new tone.
3. A bar-setting over the top opening stunt
Some of the best stunts in film history have come from or have been inspired by the opening stunt scenes of Bond films. My personal favorite is from “The Spy Who Loved Me.” The scene opens on Bond in the passionate embrace of a beautiful enemy, and aside from the campy dialogue and bad early green screen attempts it finishes with an adrenaline filled chase scene on skis that culminates in a stuntman Rick Sylvester skiing off a cliff, falling 3000 feet, and opening a Union Jack parachute to complete what many agree to be “the world’s greatest ski stunt.” The recent Craig films have had a parkour chase through a construction site, a car chase, and motorbike chase that have been very average at best, so hopefully “SPECTRE” will spare no expense in making its opening sequence one for the records.
4. Psychedelic intro credits with a chart topping song
Whether it is Shirley Bassey’s “Goldfinger,” Paul McCartney’s “Live and Let Die,” Carly Simon’s “Nobody Does It Better,” Sheena Easton’s “For Your Eyes Only,” Duran Duran’s “A View to A Kill,” or most recently Adele’s “Skyfall,” all of the Bond films excluding a few have a great intro. We were all able to have an early listen to Sam Smith’s “Writing’s on the Wall” and it certainly has the necessary haunting sound we have come to expect. Since the “SPECTRE” logo is an octopus of sorts, I predict to hear this song over the backdrop of flowing black ink and beautiful bodies. Like the opening action scenes, the bar has been set high in the past and it will be equally as hard to beat the songs mentioned above.
5. Cool Classy Cars
Before there was a Fast and the Furious franchise, Bond Films led the way in the best cars and best car chase scenes. The Aston Martin is the certainly the Bond car of choice, but our Beloved Brit has traveled in style with Lotus, BMW, Bentley, Audi, and Jaguar. Aston Martin has been the Craig car of choice since it served a heavy plot point of “Casino Royale” and will likely be used in “SPECTRE,” but it has been free of any gadget upgrades. It’s hard to argue that the only thing better than an Aston Martin is an Aston Martin with a smoke screen, oil slick, bullet proof panels, and machine guns.
6. Bond Girls
This topic could again easily be an article all on its own. The lead actresses in Bond films have affectionately become known as Bond Girls, and though some find this title sexist an insulting, I believe that it is a badge of acting honor. Throughout all the previous films, Bond Girls have been allies, villains, victims, and yes sometimes just good eye candy, but they have always been a pillar of the franchise and have been just as important as 007 in elevating a Bond Film from good to great. Lea Seydoux and Monica Belluci are both beauties with extensive film credits who I am sure will balance out the grumpy heartbroken Bond into which Daniel Craig has evolved.
One of the biggest criticisms of the last three Bond films has been the conspicuous lacking of gadgets. This was most likely the pendulum swinging back the other way after the gadget heavy films of the Brosnan era. We are not likely to see jet packs, exploding pens, and disappearing cars in “SPECTRE” however, with the re-introduction of a new Quartermaster, or “Q” as he is better known in the recent “Skyfall” we may begin to see just enough new gadgets inserted to find a good common ground between the two extremes.
8. Diabolical genius
Every good hero needs an even better villain. Some of the most successful Bond films have had great focus on the antihero. “Goldfinger,” “The Man With the Golden Gun,” and “Goldeneye” are all fan favorites and were made so by the villain more than the various Bonds of those films. The Batman/Joker balance that the film will be trying to strike will be in the hands of Oscar winner Christoph Waltz. He has played one of recent cinemas most memorable heroes as well as villains in both “Django Unchained” and “Inglorious Basterds.” Some of the highest expectations for the coming film are for Waltz’s portrayal as SPECTRE’s leader and cat-stroking baddy Ernst Stavro Blofeld. Hopefully when he emerges from the shadows at the end of his conference table he will be something worth watching.
9. Unique henchman
Another pillar that sets Bond films apart are the henchman that do the dirty work and keep Bond on the ropes. Whether it is for physical strength, cunning, or just plain weirdness, characters like Oddjob, Nick Nack, Jaws, May Day, and Xenia Onatopp frequently have a greater plot impact and remain more memorable than the diabolical geniuses they serve. The intimidating Dave Bautista will be playing Mr. Hinx in “SPECTRE” and it will be splendid to see the 6’5″ stature of Bautista aka “The Animal” aka “Drax the Destroyer” take on the very average 5’10’’ Daniel Craig.
10. Balance of suave spy and action hero
Sean Connery remains my personal favorite Bond not only because he is the original, but because he created the film persona that has made 007 so timeless on the big screen. Have no mistake, I think Craig has done a great job with his films, but he probably has played the closest personification of Ian Fleming’s Bond from the novels. Some of the Ian Fleming novels are superb, but like the films, there are also some that are very plain and very bad. Regardless of the novels quality, it is important to remember that the film incarnation of James Bond that has flourished for so many movies has taken on a cultural importance of his own and should no longer be held to constraints of the source material that not as many fans have been exposed to. That being said, “SPECTRE” is not the title of any Fleming novel or short story so the Bond we see should be the one built for the screen and the one we want to see excel at espionage, womanizing, drinking martinis, and racing cars equally.
11. Addressing modern day issues
The final and most fundamental necessity to create a success using the Bond Film Formula is its relevance to the times. We may not be able to see all of the significance behind previous Bond films just by catching a marathon on FX, but we all need to remember that at the time of release for many of these films they spoke to the audiences of their time in an important way. The earliest Connery Bond films highlighted the Cold War tensions between the US and Soviet Union. Moore’s films of the 70s echoed the excitement and fear created by the space race. The films reflected changing in foreign relations across the world by later making Russia a Bond ally. Dalton’s Bond of the 80s remained as dark and cynical as the economy of the time. The later post-Cold War Brosnan films used media moguls and financeers as the villains to echo the worries of their times. Most recently the Craig films have used terrorism and unstable governments as to mirror the state of the world as we currently live it. “SPECTRE” has many opportunities to be a great Bond film, but the foundation of the film will need to find a way to root itself into the fabric of today in order for it become a classic.
This weekend will tell whether “SPECTRE” will bring with it a record breaking stunt scene, a chart topping song, a new drink, or even an entire change in fashion sense (it is thanks to Ursula Andress in Dr. No that we even have bikinis today), but I believe that if it learns from both the successes and failures of the its history then it can follow a successful Bond Film Formula.