Reading between the lines of Thursday’s press conference at Pinewood in London, the title “SPECTRE” tells us a great deal about the 24th James Bond movie and Daniel Craig’s fourth outing (which opens stateside November 6th, 2015). It means that director Sam Mendes and producers Michael Wilson and Barbara Broccoli aren’t shying away from reintroducing the popular terrorist organization (Special Executive for Counter-Intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion), which has been dormant since the Sean Connery era. And it definitely means that 007’s nemesis, Ernst Stavro Blofeld, will be resurrected for the 21st century.
Here’s what we know about the plot — it’s always personal for this Bond: “A cryptic message from Bond’s past sends him on a trail to uncover a sinister organization. While M battles political forces to keep the secret service alive, Bond peels back the layers of deceit to reveal the terrible truth behind SPECTRE.” And Bond will return to the snow again, this time in Solden, Austria, recalling memories of “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” and “The Spy Who Loved Me.”
UPDATE: We have also since learned that Jesper Christensen will return as Mr. White, a leader of Quantum, the SPECTRE-like terrorist organization in the first two Craig movies, “Casino Royale” and “Quantum of Solace,” which either means there’s a connection between Quantum and SPECTRE or Bond will have an opportunity to shut down Quantum.
However, we’re still unsure who will be playing Blofeld, since Christoph Waltz’s character is named Franz Oberhauser (the son of Hans Oberhauser, Bond’s ski instructor and father figure in Ian Fleming’s “Octopussy”). It could be a red-herring and a cover for the feline-loving head of SPECTRE (that is, if his white cat will be returning too), or the filmmakers might be coy in reintroducing another actor as Blofeld, similar to the way he was mysteriously introduced in “From Russia with Love.” Yet Waltz is tailor-made for redefining Blofeld as a complex megalomaniac to do the dance with Bond. Writers John Logan, Neil Purvis, Robert Wade, and Jez Butterworth must’ve relished whipping up stylish monologues to rival the best of Quentin Tarantino.
In any event, Blofeld will surely be more realistic and less ostentatious, especially after the skewering from Michael Meyers in the “Austin Powers” franchise. “It’s not that he’s mad for the sake of power: the madness is a psychosis for anybody who’s got that much power — that craziness,” Craig told me circa “Casino Royale.” “If done properly, it could be fantastic. He’s one of the great movie villains.”
And if done properly, SPECTRE will be more like Quantum: working in the shadows and more dangerous than ever in secretly collaborating with governments and other power brokers. (The franchise couldn’t use SPECTRE or Blofeld (introduced in the “Thunderball” novel) until reaching a financial settlement last year with the estate of Kevin McClory , who co-created “Thunderball” with Fleming and eventually became sole owner of all film rights.)
Meanwhile, the casting of Andrew Scott (“Sherlock’s” nemesis, Moriarty) as MI6 agent Denbigh, the newest member of this “White Hall Brigade,” begs the question whether or not he is friend or foe. While it would be too obvious to make him Blofeld, he will surely make another memorable Bond adversary.
At least we can look forward to continuity with Blofeld, as opposed to the revolving door one-offs in the past (Donald Pleasence, Telly Savalas, and Charles Gray, not to mention the concealed Number One in “FRWL” and “Thunderball,” who was a clever combo of Eric Pohlmann’s voice and Anthony Dawson’s hands).
We also know that there will be two Bond ladies — Lea Seydoux as Madeleine Swann and Monica Bellucci as Lucia Sciarra — a good girl/bad girl combo, perhaps, with the latter posing a more lethal threat to 007 and Swann being the one that Bond needs to seduce to help defeat the most urgent baddie.
And with the casting of “Guardians of the Galaxies'” Dave Bautista as Oberhauser’s henchman, Mr. Hinx, we can surmise that he will be a cross between Oddjob and Jaws, bringing back some lightness to the fights, as the franchise traipses through Austria, Morocco; Rome, and Mexico City.
Plus, the addition of cinematographer Hoyt van Hoytema (who will shoot on film) and editor Lee Smith from “Interstellar” adds a new aesthetic twist to the Mendes’s evolving vision of Bond as timeless yet relevant. Also, the return of production designer Dennis Gassner (“Into the Woods”), costume designer Jany Temime, and composer Thomas Newman, among others, provides more continuity.
Craig’s Bond might actually have some fun and indulge in more gallows humor now that he’s unburdened by rites of passage, grief, and a mid-life crisis. However, that’s not to say he won’t be conflicted or depressed by his spying biz, and whatever personal betrayal he must endure, in addition to living on the razor’s edge of death every day and prone to thrill-seeking like a moth attracted to the flame.
Don forget: Bond is now the emotional center of his universe and there’s still plenty to explore with his arc. As the most powerful actor in the franchise’s 50 + history, Craig insists on creating fresh crises each time out that offer new insights into his Bond.
It’s looking forward and back, turning the formula on its head, and forging a hybrid between Fleming and Connery while still keeping the “Casino Royale” DNA intact. The new Aston Martin DB10, specifically designed for “SPECTRE,” is a good example: something old, something new, and probably fully loaded in a way that’s suitable for Craig.
The ongoing challenge, of course, will be to make this delicate balancing act work tonally. How do you sustain the mystique of Bond while at the same time demystify him? “Live and Let Die”: It’s worked so far.