at the movies: spectre

We returned to the local Cinemark yesterday after a long hiatus.  (Trying to repair your old garage, then giving up and moving all your stuff out of the old garage so you can get some guys to come and knock it down so some other guys can come and build a new garage is a months long process that doesn’t give you lots of spare time to go to the movies.  Read more about the garaging process by typing “garage” in the search box.  There are lots of pictures.)

There we saw Spectre, the new James Bond movie.  We are big James Bond fans around here, my husband especially, and have seen each new flick in the long running series together for the last 30 years.  Whatever I have to say about this movie (and I have quite a bit to say), rest assured that it is a James Bond movie, with the patented combination of beautiful actors and images, clever banter and gadgets, exotic settings, fast paced action, and general mayhem in a good cause that defines not just this series but the “exploding helicopter” class of  movies in general.  The James Bonds are the original exploding helicopter movies and are still among the best. This movie has a lot of helicopters and at least one of them explodes.  Also James Bond, played here by the magnificent Daniel Craig in a Tom Ford suit.  Both are highly satisfactory.  If you enjoyed the previous three films in the Daniel Craig cycle, go see this one without reading anything else here.  It’s best if it isn’t spoiled or even hinted at.

For those of you who want those spoilers, click to read more.

First of all, Spectre is an entertaining movie.  It has a story, many interesting scenes and sequences, some decent performances and action sequences, and it is always gorgeous to look at.  If this is all you want out of a James Bond film, you will get it and go home happy.

But if you are a fan of, or a student of, the previous films starring Daniel Craig as James Bond (Casino Royale, The Quantum of Solace, and the stunning and tragic Skyfall), Spectre is much, much more.  It is the last chapter, the epilog, the morning after, the end of the story that leaves the door open for the beginning of the next.  It’s the Gotterdamerung, it’s Ragnarok, it’s the Scouring of the Shire and the Grey Havens. It is an elegy, slow paced and deliberate, a rich golden day passing through a dangerous night and ending in silver morning.

It’s James Bond’s last ride.  This James Bond’s anyway.  Someone else can come along and take up the name and the role– this is the series the invented the substitution reboot. As it says at the end of every set of credits,  James Bond will return.

But this James Bond won’t, or certainly shouldn’t.  The old dog has had his day: he has proven the relevence of the 00 program in the modern world, in theory and in practice. (The last is the plot of Spectre in a nutshell.)  But now he’s had enough—we actually see him have enough—and someone else is going to have to be that 007 for a fully digital world.

Spectre takes you on a tour of every classic James Bond trope, from the single combat in a perilous situation to the car chase in an exotic city to the cabal of villains meeting around a massive table, to the ultra modern evil clinic in the Alps, to the long journey by train (and some single combat while aboard), to the supervillain’s secret headquarters in a remote place. Beautiful women are romanced, gadgets are designed, used, and destroyed, and Bond disobeys direct orders for the greater good while looking dangerously fabulous.

But there is so much more going on.  Lift the lid and inside there’s a rich stew of symbols.  I wanted to call this review “The Skull Beneath the Skin” because it is full of images of skulls, plus bones, things that resemble bones, funerals, and funeral processions.  It begins with a marvelous set piece celebrating the Day of the Dead in Mexico City (by far the best thing in the film), and ends with the collapse of the ruins of the old MI6 building in a literal funeral pyre.  In between there’s all the action, but the skull, literal or figurative, is never far from the surface and there are long pauses to look at and consider it.

But be assured it has a happy ending, silver to the story’s gold, and it sets up the next cycle of the James Bond canon (whatever that turns out to be) without disrespecting anything that has come before. I was too stunned to do more than sniffle a bit when I watched the final scene for the first time, but I have a feeling the next time I watch Spectre I am going to start bawling as soon as the sun comes up.  Has anyone ever cried over James Bond before?  Probably not.  But we’ll cry for Daniel Craig.

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