A teaser trailer for Sam Mendes’s Spectre (2015), the twenty-fourth James Bond flick, was uploaded on Friday, with an appearance from two-time Academy Award-winning superstar Christoph Waltz as the villainous Franz Oberhauser. What we can tell about the movie so far is that it picks up where Mendes’s Skyfall (2012) leaves off, continuing the tradition set by Martin Campbell’s reboot, Casino Royale (2006), and its sequel, Marc Forster’s Quantum of Solace (2008), which is that Daniel Craig’s “blonde” Bond experiences his adventures on a linear timeline in an extended dramatic narrative (and character development) from film to film, whereas earlier 007 sequels have had no such continuity. Spectre is due for a November release.
Like the rest of Sony Pictures Entertainment, Spectre suffered under the 2014 studio hack, with early drafts of its screenplay leaking onto the Internet. Mendes got the reboot back in touch with its series roots in Skyfall – a film all about Bond confronting his past – by introducing a male M (Ralph Fiennes), a Miss Moneypenny (Naomie Harris), a Q (Ben Whishaw), and a retro car for Bond to drive himself and M (Judi Dench) off to Skyfall, complete with the original 1960s score edited over the soundtrack. Since SPECTRE (Special Executive for Counterintelligence, Terrorism, Revenge, and Extortion) made its debut in the first Bond film, Terence Young’s Dr. No (1962), Mendes’s latest is obviously another callback to Bond’s origins, drawing on novelist Ian Fleming’s source material (Waltz’s Oberhauser shares a surname with Hannes Oberhauser in the 1966 short story “Octopussy”).
I’m nervous and excited for Spectre. I’m optimistic because Daniel Craig is the all-time greatest incarnation of the character (yes, even better than spousal abuse apologist Sean Connery), and Mendes proved himself a miracle worker when he made Skyfall as brilliant as it is after the abysmal Quantum of Solace (it’s as bad as its title). Skyfall surpasses the already superb (but, at times, slow and convoluted) Casino Royale, and I agree with the critics who argue that it’s the best Bond film ever produced, including Guy Hamilton’s classic (but silly) Goldfinger (1964).
Skyfall is great because it features a black Miss Moneypenny (a major improvement over the embarrassment of white actors playing Asian stereotypes in Dr. No) and a gay Bond villain, Raoul Silva (Oscar winner Javier Bardem), who brings out the womanizing Bond’s more sexually ambiguous side. With Oscar darling American Beauty (1999) and its anti-suburbia companion piece, Revolutionary Road (2008), as part of his filmography, Mendes is a decidedly “feminine” director (his background is in theatre), which proved to be just the right amount of redemption for the “hypermasculine” Bond (i.e., a sexist and racist representation of “manliness” from the colonizing British Empire and its bad habit of “raping” cultures all across the world). Mendes’s marriage to Revolutionary Road star Kate Winslet, one of the top actresses of hers and Ralph Fiennes’s generation, must have helped him become a “director for actors,” with Bardem (a.k.a. the badass Anton Chigurh from Joel and Ethan Coen’s No Country for Old Men (2007)) delivering an equally badass performance in Skyfall, and Christoph Waltz – whose Academy Awards demonstrate his range as the detestable S.S. Colonel Hans Landa in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds (2009) and the lovable Doctor King Schultz in Tarantino’s Django Unchained (2012) – is a cause for celebration in Spectre.
However, the fact that Spectre is about SPECTRE, is a cause for concern. There’s a reason Bond was in need of a reboot in the post-September 11 world; espionage thrillers were relevant during the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union, but, in this modern Age of Terrorism, an “evil” organization with “revenge” and “extortion” in its acronym simplifies the complex, globalized issues we all face, and part of why the Daniel Craig movies are so refreshing is because they’re Bond with a brain, after fifty years of Bond with brawn. Plus, a reboot that’s only three movies long thus far – Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace, and Skyfall – with two that are good and one that’s terrible, is too hit-and-miss for comfort; the forgettable Quantum of Solace represents a third of the Daniel Craig cycle, and, hopefully, Skyfall isn’t where James Bond peaked.
But, of course, it’s too soon to tell. Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst. Either way, whether it’s in the way that it intends or not, Spectre will leave us shaken and stirred.