I don’t understand why people dislike Spectre. It is a fitting end to the Daniel Craig adaptation of James Bond. And that is exactly what people do not get about this film and its predecessors. It is not Ian Fleming’s James Bond. Ian Fleming’s James Bond was an embellished fantasy world modelled after his own life experiences as a Navy intelligence Commander in WWII. Fleming’s Bond was a womanizing alcohol, tobacco and gambling addict, who was mostly operating against Soviet spies in the Cold War. His screen adaptation spent less time fighting Russians and more time with ridiculous villains, without much of a plot to speak of. Towards the end of Pierce Brosnan’s film series, the thin plot was banished from the backseat into the trunk of the expensive and sure soon to be destroyed car Bond was driving.
Daniel Craig’s James Bond brought the character into the 21st century. Some people liked it, some people didn’t. I liked it. We are introduced to James Bond as a blunt killing instrument that seduces women to get what it wants. Before the end of Casino Royale, we see the character evolve and show himself to be capable of human emotion. In Quantum of Solace we see Bond falling more and more into his negative habits of drinking and manipulating women, while grieving for the loss of his one chance at happiness. At the end he is rejected by his female co-worker and he allows himself to move on from Vesper.
Skyfall brings a whole new element to his character. We find out about his past and Bond is shown to be a far more complete if very shaken individual. He struggles with the changing times, but overcomes his childhood trauma and succeeds in the end.
In Spectre we find a far different character than we were originally introduced to in Casino Royale. We find out that James Bond is a Scottish-born orphan, who was taken in by an Austrian, from whom he learned how to survive, only to lose his new father-figure in an accident, which now turns out to have been staged by his long lost “brother”. While Bond still retains many of his old bad habits, he is seen evolving throughout the film. When he meets Dr. Swan he admits he drinks too much and when offered champagne at the later stage of the film, pauses and then refuses. You might think these details are not important to a regular Bond-moviegoer, but they are very important parts of his character development. All this culminates in James’ decision to not kill his “brother” in the end, but to walk away, with the girl no less, quit being a spy and leave his dark past behind to begin a new life in a healthy relationship (though mind you, she is the daughter of the man responsible for the death of his first great love. But hey, whatever works…).
Bond is not the only thing to have evolved over the course of the films. The “bond girls” have also changed. While traditionally there was only one bond girl in each film, from Casino Royale on, there were always two. One girl for cheap sex, who ends up dead in the next scene and one strong woman that James cares for deeply (in the case of Skyfall that was M). In Spectre we are not even told whether girl #1 survives or not. But girl #2 does and not only does she live, but she is pro-active and does her fair share of work to saving the day. In fact, she ultimately is responsible for freeing Bond and escaping with him. The other characters are also far more involved than before. It almost feels like Bond has a proper support team working with and behind him, which is actually how field agents operate in real life most of the time.
The Craig films also have a much stronger plot line, which connects all four films together. The last one in particular keeps bringing up characters and events from the previous three all the time, although Quantum of Solace is not referred to as prominently (which is a good thing). The villain still manages to be over the top and entertaining, but is grounded in reality. His motives are realistic and so are his methods.
Speaking of reality, the story very much revolves around the need for intelligence agencies (as it did in Skyfall) and in particular around field agents. M defends his 00-Programme vehemently and criticises C’s plan for total mass surveillance as being undemocratic and unaccountable pretty much every time he is seen on screen. I have always wondered how a James Bond film would handle our current age of mass surveillance. Surely it would have to support it? No, it doesn’t have to! Spectre demonstrates brilliantly how mass surveillance is wrong, by showing and telling us that this kind of power would always be wrong, no matter which hands it would be in and that in fact, those who push for more of this kind of control, are not only criminal but the same people who do not wish to be overseen themselves. You would not expect this kind of an intelligent narrative below the action of a James Bond film. James Bond films were always inherently stupid, misogynist and often times racist (Dr. No’s Dragon, WTF?). With Craig’s films coming to a close, the James Bond franchise has finally graduated and matured from cheap liquor to a fine wine. I can only say bravo and hope the next man on the job will also move the franchise further along as well as Craig did.