Mister Tretiak Presents: SPECTRE – A Ghost of What it Could Have Been

So before I get started, my apologies for the delay in my release of the next part of my ongoing series about tanks and games. Rest assured, it will be released by this Wednesday! To tide you over, I”ll provide you with something from a different angle of observation, opinion, and critique.


THIS IS A SPOILER ALERT

I am one of those people who do not find spoilers to really spoil anything. I’m always intrigued by the actual execution of any given plot or narrative, and simply knowing how it will turn out does not reduce that sense of interest or desire to see how it turns out. Never mind that I’m also one of those irritating people who tend to figure out the plot by Act 2 (or earlier).

Thus, it may be of no surprise that I will undoubtedly have spoilers in my analysis. If this might offend you, I urge you to cease reading right now by immediately shutting off power to your computer or other data-access device, close your eyes, cover your ears, and sing as loud as you can “Mary had a little lamb” over and over until you forget you were ever here. I will not hold it against you. While I will not try to reveal ever nuance of the plot and ruin -everything- for my readers, I will invariably discuss elements of the plot and its structure and so, ultimately, reveal many aspects of what some of those little twists and turns some of us may be looking forward to when they see the film for the first time.


And so, I present to you my breakdown and views on SPECTRE, the most recent installment of the James Bond franchise.

To begin with, I wish to say I enjoyed the movie. Most movies these days are, ultimately, enjoyable. Those few that are not, generally are rather horrid. But I wish to differentiate between enjoyable cinema, good cinema, and great cinema. Of these, SPECTRE was definitely enjoyable, relatively good, but not great. And that’s a shame, given that Skyfall, its predecessor was frankly my favorite James Bond film in a very long time. I’d go so far as to say that Skyfall represented the most radical and well played-out story and structure we’ve seen to date from the Bond Series, but that is perhaps a conversation for another day.

With SPECTRE, its pedigree was good, the potential was certainly there, the cinematic sense of scale and looming menace pervasive in the way much of the film was shot, yet the actual plot, theme, and progress all felt rather forced and cobbled together come the end. As a person who has a rather deep interest in storytelling and the structure and coherence of a plot, I got the feeling that perhaps this film was two condensed into one, that its elements, the story, characters, and settings, all got chopped up and forced through a strainer, and then fed to the audience in a transparent effort to make it palatable. Sadly, it never concealed that the end product was a mush that muddled individually excellent components. While I’d happily watch it again, the film fails to fulfill the promise set in its previous installment and I intend to examine some of what went wrong and what could have been done to make it better, if for no other reason than for the sheer mental exercise of it.

First, let us start with how it felt cobbled together and forced. The opening is pretty good. The setting is vibrant, the mood well cast with the backdrop of Dia de Muertos, with portents of death and destruction looming (yes I know that is not the point of the actual holiday), and a rather nice long take really got my cinematographic appreciation going. Really, the whole film is very well shot and the visual elements throughout are quite excellent in my opinion. When Bond’s apparent mission goes pear shaped, one witnesses a rather thrilling action sequence that helps frame Bond’s next moves in the story, before it cuts to the title sequence.

A note about the opening song: I like it. I really like it. Not, maybe, as much as I do Skyfall’s, but it’s great and the feel of the song during the opening sequence is great. Sam Smith demonstrates a great voice and the ability to project emotion into his singing and should be praised for his performance. However, as this is an opinion piece, I would like to have seen the same song done by a female vocalist, just for comparison. Maybe I’m just craving the second coming of Shirley Bassey.

Following the (excellent) opening title sequence, the story picks up with Bond getting chewed out by Ralph Fiennes’ ‘M’. Then they somewhat awkwardly introduce ‘C’ (Andrew Scott), making it clear that he’s going to be shown as or treated as a villain at some point in the story within a few seconds. And frankly, this is to the detriment of the story. Being so blatant about the villain might have served well in the previous installments of the franchise worked, but with Skyfall, they introduced much more obscured and less immediately visible foes, something that should probably have been played up for the whole ‘world-spanning-diabolical-conspiracy’ that SPECTRE represents. So when they make it pretty clear that ‘C’ is not really on Bond’s side right off the bat is pretty hamfisted and ruins what could have been a more effective reveal and sense of infiltration and betrayal come the end sequences of the film. In some ways, this reminds me of what Quantum of Solace attempted and failed to do in its plot, though the introduction of that was pretty well exercised, early in that film.

With the plot already establishing how very thin the ice under Bond’s feet is at this point, we get to visit ‘Q’  in a scene that harkens back to the earlier films, with Bond prodding ‘Q’ as they discuss Bond’s predicament and have him implanted with a new tracking method. While I may have had flashbacks to Metal Gear Solid during the sequence, later in the film its handled rather lamely and the potential it could have presented in terms of plot are also lamentably missed. This is a theme with the film, it seems. It introduces an idea, concept, character, plot device that is pretty neat and solid, but never really carried out to the full extent. Rather, everything seems to be rather under utilized, including the acting talents of everyone in the film. It is not that the acting is bad, per se, but they’re not really pushed to provide the same sort of performances that could have been. That’s what gets to me most, what drives me to write this article, I think. All of the ‘could have been’, the potential to develop and produce the story in a compelling way that seem to have been left unfinished and under-used.

As an example of both this constant under-utilization and the feeling that they tried to fold two movies into one, we see how Monica Belucci’s character (Lucia) is first introduced, seduced, and discarded. While not exactly a new thing in Bond, the character she plays seems at least somewhat sympathetic as well as mysterious and she is presented as being in very real, immediate danger. Her character and the ties she had with the organization of SPECTRE represent a great opportunity to build more of the story around her, her plight, and Bond’s desperation to find and expose SPECTRE. I’ll even expand a little and point out a possible plot that could have, in its own right, made a great Bond film, not even including the other parts of the film we got in the theaters. I’ll touch on that in a bit. When we get to the whole vaguely Illuminati ominous meeting of the secret elite of SPECTRE, we’re still in what feels like the film that was presented, more or less, at the beginning. There’s some continuity and things are fitting together relatively well so far. Then Oberhauser does his whole ‘Cuckoo’ thing, things get messy, and we messily end up in Austria with Bond having tracked down Mr. White rather handily through…well, we’re not even sure how the connection is really made. It’s a bit of an open end and it seemed like they were implying that Moneypenny may have slept with ‘C’, but it’s not really clear.

Either way, we’re suddenly in Austria and Mr. White has been poisoned, is dying slowly,and has an all-too familiar Hollywood redemption-means-death sequence. Cue Bond being implored to track down Mr. White’s daughter who is now the last person who may know something about the leader of SPECTRE. Blah blah blah, things happen. While they make it clear that Bond by now suspects who the leader of SPECTRE is, they again support this via a rather hamfisted means with ‘Q’ magically showing up and then conveniently confirming Bond’s suspicions. More things happen, Bond and Swann are on their way to the desert hideout of SPECTRE where we finally get the reveal of Bond and Swann’s connections to Oberhauser and somewhat weirdly erratic behavior of Oberhauser/Blofeld. It seems like at times, Blofeld wants to invite Bond to SPECTRE.

They seem to build up to it, but then it cuts to a torture scene that really doesn’t make sense, in the way its presented. It felt rushed and weird, with little real explainable rationale for the particular means of torture, which was implied to be intended to reduce Bond to a crippled husk before killing him. While two of the tortures apparently are applied, they have -zero- effect on his ability to quickly escape and shoot, with little hindrance, a bevy of Blofeld’s guards before ‘accidentally’ blowing up the base. Supposedly Bond was supposed to be unable to walk properly or be coordinated enough after having his brain pierced by drills to function, after the successful operation is carried out by Blofeld. While this might be posed as Blofeld bluffing, it really doesn’t seem to make sense, even then. Cue then, somewhat mysterious escape back to London where ‘C’ is the source of being tracked down and a rather weird sequence of events that don’t really feel like they fit together very well. C dies by accident, M gets to use his authority without question or consequence, Bond passes up on killing Blofeld. While all of this could have been made to work with more time and intervening actions, it is instead compressed and forced together with little reason and less development as plot devices, like the film is trying to desperately tie up all the loose ends before the credits roll.

A lot of this seems to be the result of this being Daniel Craig’s last Bond film, despite originally being slated for one more film after this. I think it’s entirely possible that due to Mr. Craig’s desire to move on to other projects and roles, the scripts for both films had to be condensed and forced down into a single movie. Which would definitely explain some of the oddities and weird little quirks with unfinished or unused plot devices that kept cropping up in the film. I’m not saying Craig should have chosen to cut his run of films down by one, or really trying to give hell to him, the cast, crew, director, or even the writers for what happened with SPECTRE. The film is ok and it was enjoyable. But it’s when you really think about how it is presented, it becomes a bit clear, to me at least, that it had a lot of untapped potential and so my mind, being what it is, has run on and tried to fill in those blanks. I admit, there’s more than a little speculation on my part. And hell, this is my opinion article (that’s what most critique really is after all), so I can say anything I want, but I still want to be clear I’m not really hating on anyone involved in the film. Hindsight offers a lot of perspective and its easy for me to sit here and underscore the points where the film has failed to meet the expectations Skyfall had set. The casting was great, with a bevy of great actors, but all of them seem fairly under utilized in the film, and their acting, while solid across the board (I disagree with most critics who claimed Craig was wooden, I just see it as a Bond who’s so jaded and tired that he’s emotionally drained), was similarly under utilized. I could probably ramble on for quite some time about this, so we’ll just move on.

What I’ve written about so far are the problems I saw in its narrative, without, I admit, offering much in the way of what I would have done differently. Well, I hate to complain without offering a solution.

So here’s my alternative and showing just one option of how this could have been two films. Hell, you could even change the ending of this first one so that ‘C’ is handled outright, etc. Here it goes, in outline:

  • Keep the opening segments, but perhaps fix the introduction of ‘C’ to make them more ambiguous (much as Ralph Fiennes’ character was in Skyfall).
  • Bond first evades MI-6 and makes his way to Rome. Upon arriving, insert him being tracked or ambushed by agents who could have been either MI-6 or SPECTRE. Leave it a little vague and make it ambiguous as to who they are and what they really want. Maybe the want to take him back to ‘M’ maybe the want to kill him. Make Bond run after one of his usually successful gambles doesn’t pan out, but he does get away after an exhilarating chase.
  • Cut to the funeral sequence.
  • Continue to Bond and the Mansion scene where he rescue’s Lucia (Monica Bellucci). Extend their conversation and make clear implications of wide spread corruption and infiltration across the world by SPECTRE. Seduction follows and then Bond getting her over to Felix.
  • Continue to his attempted infiltration of the SPECTRE meeting, but rather than get spotted, after the whole Hinx(Dave Bautista) introduction, he instead gets pulled away when Felix contacts Bond and reveals he got ambushed as he was escorting her to safety. Perhaps show that its the same guys who were earlier trying to capture Bond. Bond is then torn between his promise to keep her safe/helping an injured Felix and continuing his infiltration. He chooses the former and slips away after creating a distraction.
  • Cut to Felix being rescued and Bond leading a daring escape from a tightening noose of goons.
  • Bond now wants to retrieve Lucia because she is the key to finding Mr. White/The Pale King who has some sort of ties to the enigmatic figure who leads SPECTRE (this information revealed by both the meeting and Felix).
  • By this point, Bond is far, far off the reservation. Some of the goons Bond kills turn out to be MI-6 or MI-5 and this prompts a more official manhunt for Bond. Simultaneous, Bautista’s Hinx begins to hunt Bond down or at least, seems to. Bond is now the subject of perhaps two or three manhunts and has to constantly evade capture. Perhaps he gets some sort of cryptic message back to ‘M’ or ‘Q’ regarding that something else is going on. Inject more ambiguous potential villainy from ‘C’.
  • Bond catches up to Lucia, but she’s not got long to live. She reveals that the men who caught her were Mr. White’s, who were escorting her by force to him. Cue her being killed by Hinx just as she’s about to reveal something about the identity of SPECTRE’s leader and leading to a big badass brawl show down, ending with Bond winning, but ending up in ‘C’s custody.
  • C, during an interrogation of Bond, reveals he’s a SPECTRE agent. Cue evil/creepy/ego-maniacal activities, like shooting the guards and then giving Bond the empty weapon or something startling of that nature, allowing Bond to escape so he can find Mr. White and lead SPECTRE to him. Make some sort of commentary along the lines of “It’s better to set a trap and bait it, if one can manipulate the circumstances to suit their goals. We’ll let you find The Pale King, but we -will- be there.” or some such ominous and revealing comments about having plans for Bond.
  • End film with Bond being a rogue agent, and approaching the Austrian lake house.

Now you’ve established a great cliffhanger and direct tie-in to the second film, which I would have presented as something along the lines of this:

  • Pick up with Bond entering the Austrian lake house.
  • Cue his finding a considerably reduced Mr. White in the state you see in SPECTRE.
  • I would change the cause of Mr. White’s decline from being poisoned, to perhaps something like cancer or another terminal illness. However, I would change his redemption path as starting after the events of Quantum of Solace, before he knew he was dying of illness X.
  • Have Mr. White explain that he had leaked the connection of Marco Sciarra (the guy Bond kills at the beginning of the first film) to Judi Dench’s ‘M’ as part of his plans, hoping to both set Bond on the trail of SPECTRE and to rescue Lucia from SPECTRE. I would also have Mr. White explain that it was during the events of Skyfall that he discovered that Bond had ties to the leader of SPECTRE and that Mr. White’s own daughter also had connections to the enigmatic leader. I would then have contrived to have Mr. White go on his despair ramble about being caught in a hurricane and how much effort he’s taken to evade the eyes that are soon going to be everywhere (Nine Eyes now makes more sense and Mr. White’s hiding and perhaps his own ‘I’m with the bad guys’ revelation more plausible). Posing White as trying to atone for his past mistakes and misdeeds, but perhaps being too extreme in his enthusiasm and causing harm in the process should be a sort of mirror of what Bond himself could someday become. Reflections and the like would be a major motif in this film.
  • Cue Title sequence
  • Mr. White again entreats Bond to protect and rescue his daughter, then kills himself in much the same way he does in the film. Perhaps have ‘C’ personally show up after the whole deal, rather than Hinx and have ‘C’ order the Hinx replacement as lead henchman to track Bond and find Swann.
  • Bond proceeds to find the daughter, and with the exception of how ‘Q’ ends up getting involved, allow events to proceed more or less as they do in the SPECTRE film, albeit with perhaps a different lead henchman for SPECTRE than Hinx at this point. I’d make a point of having Swann being very, very guarded around Bond at first, keeping various pieces of information from him, even if they could have made events in the film easier for him because she’s really not sure if she can trust him.
  • For Bond’s part, I’d start playing up him becoming older and more tired/weary of the lifestyle and his own internal doubts, fears, and demons beginning to eat at him more obviously, including perhaps implying or even outright voicing he is unsure if he can justify continuing to work for a government that has abandoned him and been so heavily infiltrated by an organization like SPECTRE.
  • This sort of moment of human vulnerability leads to Swann being more forthright with Bond. Perhaps the whole sequence occurring after a particularly brutal or unpleasant run in with MI-5 or MI-6 double agents working for SPECTRE and Bond being forced to kill one or two, despite knowing them and working with them in the past.
  • During the whole L’American sequence would be the best time. At this point, Swann reveals that she’s met with and used to know the leader of SPECTRE and that one of her fears was that Bond was working for them, as he reminds her in a lot of ways of both her father and of Oberhauser. I would make it around this time that the name Oberhauser is used by her and it prompts Bond to make some connections with his past.
  • Rather than have their relationship be as antagonistic as it was in the SPECTRE film, I would have had their relationship be fairly amicable, even close as Oberhauser and Bond were raised as children together. I’d have revealed that Oberhauser’s father had taken Bond in because he was a close friend to his parents and was supposed to be the guide on their doomed mountain expedition, explaining Oberhauser’s father’s desire to try to look after Bond as a sort of act of atonement.
  • Set it so that Bond only learns this when he’s preparing to join the military and leave home for good. Oberhauser and his father ‘apparently’ die in an accident shortly afterwards, Bond having left with rather harsh words or something.
  • Set Bond and Swann getting very drunk, much like they do in the film, and while they’re more trusting of one another now, there’s still a lot of tension and distance between them.
  • Cue scenes of ‘Q’, ‘M’, and company all struggling under the problems created by ‘C’ and the impending ‘Nine Eyes’ project’s approval. Perhaps also imply that ‘M’ (Ralph Fiennes) was perhaps aware of what Bond was trying to do as he was also let in, to some extent, on the whole SPECTRE/Sciarra thing by the previous ‘M’ through similar means as Bond had been.
  • Back to Bond, the whole mouse sequence, finding Mr. White’s cache of information in the L’American hotel. Discover location of SPECTRE’s HQ and hatch plot to go there. Show Bond finding a sort of second wind, at least in part prompted by Swann’s growing acceptance of him and a clear enemy to pursue now.
  • Actions scenes on the train. Proceed more or less like the SPECTRE film does.
  • Proceed to the desert train station scene as it does in the film, even the whole affable treatment of Bond and Swann when they are brought to SPECTRE HQ.
  • Proceed to reveal Oberhauser, but instead of villainous villainy in SPECTRE, have him try to convince Bond and Swann both to join SPECTRE with a whole ‘We can free ourselves from the past and make a better future and world. SPECTRE can do that. You can do that with me.” type of speech in the Meteorite room. Have Oberhauser make a comparison between himself and the Meteorite, how he’s changing the world through SPECTRE. Bond makes cynical comment about how he was called a dinosaur by ‘C’ and that Meteorites and dinosaurs don’t do well together. Cue silence from Oberhauser, who then takes them to the control room, show’s them just how corrupt and deeply infiltrated the world has become in its search for security and how he’s done nothing that the rest of the World has not permitted him to do. Bond points out that simply because corruption and evil exist, doesn’t justify what SPECTRE does, and that good and decent people ( “better men than you or I”)  exist and will resist SPECTRE even if they successfully activate Nine Eyes. Oberhauser becomes enraged (his ego-maniacal nature beginning to show through) claiming he is and will always be that better man, that Bond drove his adoptive father to suicide, a suicide that Oberhauser claims nearly cost him his own life. Bond points out that thier parting was rough, but that Oberhauser’s father wasn’t suicidal, and Oberhauser then, rather tellingly says that it was suicidal of his father to favour Bond over his own son, implying he murdered his father and faked his own death. Then the whole “I am Ernst Stavro Blofeld,  Oberhauser died with his father that day.””
  • Play up some sort of comparison between Blofeld and Bond, visually.
  • ‘C’ turns up at this point, perhaps via video call (oh god the thought of an evil skype call cracks me up) claiming victory. Blofeld points out that ‘M’ and company are hindering their plans and makes it clear that not handling them will result in ‘C’s demise. ‘C’ is visibly shaken by this. Bond makes witty remark, gets knocked out when he tries to get a weapon from one of the goons.
  • Proceed to beginning of torture scene, where Blofeld begins to brag about how much of Bond’s life he’s ruined, and how he intends on crippling Bond at this point physically, so that he can be forced to watch Blofeld’s victory before being killed. Rather than have the nonsensical brain drilling that doesn’t work, perhaps have him get his arm drilled or something equally unsettling/creepy/painful. Have Bond escape more or less as he does in SPECTRE, but has more help from Swann as they fight their way to a helicopter (similar to the film), with the same general ‘accidental’ demolition of SPECTRE HQ.
  • At least show Bond and Swann flying away and stating they’re returning to London (seriously).
  • Cue M and company going to the safe house, have things play out a bit with their desire to cripple Nine Eyes and reveal the whole plot to the world or…something. Don’t let audience see Swann’s capture as she walks away from Bond, same as in SPECTRE. However, remove whole sequence with Bond, M, and company getting ambushed by ‘C’s goons. Instead, have them successfully infiltrate the CNS building, but then Blofeld shows up, kills ‘C’ to prevent having someone who could reveal the whole plan, and lures Bond into his trap at the MI-6 building. ‘M’, ‘Q’, and a handful of loyal operatives fight off goons in the CNS building without Bond as they try to disable the Nine Eyes computer system from coming online.
  • Proceed with Bond’s confrontation with Blofeld in the MI-6 building and Blofeld trying to force Bond to abandon Swann or get himself killed rescuing her, etc.
  • Bond Rescues Swann successfully, Blofeld realizes that while ‘M’ will not be able to reveal the existence of SPECTRE, he has lost this round, regardless of if Bond dies or not and that keeping Bond occupied with Swann at least gave SPECTRE a chance to retreat. Blofeld leaves, thinking he’s at least killed Bond, not realizing he’s underestimated 007 again due to his own hubris.
  • Cut to ‘M’ being invested with his powers again, able to at least prove that ‘C’ men were corrupt etc. Bond finds Blofeld, and is ready to execute him to prevent him from fleeing England via a private jet. Blofeld, not seeing Swann anywhere, thinks Bond has abandoned her and tries to goad him into killing him. Bond instead shakes his head and holsters his gun as Police swarm the plane and capture Blofeld, apparently realizing how Blofeld has tried to manipulate him the entire film by using the women he couldn’t protect (make sure to work this theme into the last two films as part of Bond’s increasing ennui and rage). The implication should be that Bond could have become like Blofeld or Mr. White had he simply retaliated by killing Blofeld. While it be heavy handed, one could have him explain as much to ‘M’ before announcing his retirement from the 00 program.
  • End film with Bond retiring with Swann and getting his car back.

I could probably do better with some more time to work out plot and such, as I only saw the film on Sunday (that being, yesterday). But there you go. At least it expands upon and makes the plot tie together much more neatly than SPECTRE did. I do wish I knew what the premise for the two films that weren’t made was in actuality and if I’m correct in my speculation regarding it being condensed down into a single film. Either way, I’d recommend seeing the film still, just be aware of what it isn’t and try to enjoy it for what it is, and I’m sure you’ll be okay. I’ve taken enough of your time as it is with this long, rambling article I think.

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