The gifted Cary Fukunaga has been hired to direct the 25th James Bond film, which is untitled as we speak. A smart move for the Bond producers — a critic friend calls the Japanese-American director “a real chameleon who always rises to every occasion” — and, be honest, a paycheck gig for Fukanaga.
There’s a term for any name-brand director helming a Bond film — slumming. The pay is great but you’re still submitting to the factory-level requirements of a well-worn, whore-level franchise.
It’s no small footnote that Fukunaga will be the first American-born director to helm a Bond film; all the others have been British, New Zealanders (Martin Campbell, Lee Tamahori) or German-Swiss (Marc Forster).
What is the worst, most banal aspect of the Bond franchise that Fukunaga could theoretically turn away from? The Travel & Leisure luxury settings. Almost every exotic location that Daniel Craig‘s 007 visits is pornographically luscious — the perfect spot for your next damn-the-expense getaway with your wife or girlfriend. Agreed, the ambitious Mexico City tracking shot that Spectre began with avoided this trap but otherwise my head is flooded with memories of Mr. Bond revelling in drop-your-pants, Kardashian-level splendor. Which I hate because with minor variations flush travel-destination settings are exactly the same the world over. They spread the corporate poison.
The virulent pan of Spectre (MGM/Columbia, 11.6) by Forbes‘ Scott Mendelson is almost…touching? Mendelson is really, really disappointed in this thing — “the worst 007 film in 30 years,” he claims, or since, like, A View to a Kill or whatever.
This indicates, obviously, that Mendelson doesn’t go to Bond films for a nice wank-off, like most of us probably do. He apparently believes that Bond films have the potential to redeem and cleanse and change our lives…okay, his life for the better. Skyfall came a lot closer to this, he contends, and…uhm, Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace were relatively decent? Something like that.
Let me tell ya somethin’, fella. I sat through Skyfall and Spectre with the exact same sense of slumbering, half-narcotized amusement. No better, no worse…flatline. I don’t go to Bond films for any kind of fucking deliverance. Nobody except guys like Mendelson do that. I go to Bond films because I’ve been invited to the fucking all-media screenings and…you know, I need to watch and take mental notes and review and keep up with the other blogaroonies. It goes no deeper than that.
I give as much of a damn about this franchise as Daniel Craig does. Okay, probably less because Craig’s getting handsomely paid and I’m getting…what am I getting out of watching these things? Mild diversion, mild stimulation, mild amusement…all is mild, all is faint boredom, all is theatre-seat sprawl and the usual submission to corporatism. My popcorn bucket was accidentally kicked over by some shuffling older guy on his way to the bathroom and I didn’t even care. I just looked down and saw the popcorn all over the rug and said to myself, “Oh…okay, whatever.” And then I looked back at the screen and something else was happening that I didn’t care much about.
I was more or less fine with Spectre. It’s, like, “entertaining.” It’s very well made. The opening Mexico City sequence is one of the most dazzling tour de force uncut action sequences in a meaningless franchise flick ever captured by anyone, ever. See it for this if nothing else.
Is Spectre something to shout and scream and write home about? No, but what Bond film has even come close to that kind of levitation? Does it feel like a “check-off-the-elements entry”, as Mendelson complains? Yeah, and so what? Does it exemplify the ennui of a long-running franchise that is “merely copying the elements of the last unexpectedly successful installment”, as Mendelson laments? Yeah, that’s pretty much it. And I didn’t care. At all. I was sprawled in my exit-aisle seat with my eyelids at half-mast, feeling like Lou Reed as he sang “Heroin” for the 389th time in some Eastern European concert hall in the mid ’90s. Because I felt like a kind of heroin was flowing through my system. Bond smack that cost…what, $240 million? Something like that.
But my attention surged when Spectre decided to include an old-fashioned, slambam, bare-knuckles train-fight sequence between Craig and Dave Bautista — a huge, thick-necked, ape-like henchman who works for Cristoph Waltz‘s Franz Oberhauser/Ernst Stavro Blofeld. Yes, an obvious tribute to the legendary train fight between Sean Connery and Robert Shaw in To Russia With Love. Yes, an admission that the Spectre writers are running out of ideas. And I didn’t care. Because at least the film was saying “we agree with you, Wells — the Russia From Love train fight is really great so why not allow us to pay our respects?” And I sat up in my seat and said “Yes, yes! Do it again!”
Waltz’s Blofeld is about as good as Chris Walken‘s Max Zorin in A View To A Kill. Did I “mind” the fact that Waltz wasn’t really doing it like certain Bond supervillains of the past? Was I crushed that he wasn’t as perversely charismatic as, say, Joseph Wiseman‘s Dr. No? I think I’ve already indicated what my answer is.