Spectre

For F*** Magazine

SPECTRE

Director : Sam Mendes
Cast : Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Léa Seydoux, Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris, Dave Bautista, Monica Bellucci, Ralph Fiennes, Andrew Scott, Rory Kinnear
Genre : Action/Crime
Run Time : 2 hrs 28 mins
Opens : 5 November 2015
Rating : PG13 (Some Violence)
The world’s greatest superspy returns to tackle his most dangerous foe yet in the 24th Bond film. While in Mexico City, James Bond (Craig) discovers the existence of a shadowy terror network known as “Spectre”. Back home, Bond’s boss M (Fiennes) is locked in a power struggle with Max Denbigh aka “C” (Scott), head of the Joint Intelligent Service who aims to abolish the Double-O program. Bond’s allies Q (Whishaw) and Moneypenny (Harris) render their support as Bond pursues Spectre. Through Lucia Sciarra (Bellucci), the widow of a Spectre hitman, Bond finds his way to a figure from his distant past, the sinister Franz Oberhauser (Waltz). Bond must protect Dr. Madeleine Swann, a psychologist with familial links to Spectre who’s working at an exclusive private clinic in the Austrian Alps, from Oberhauser and his hulking henchman Mr. Hinx (Bautista). As the staggering reach of Spectre’s tendrils become apparent, Bond races against the clock to prevent Oberhauser from enacting his devastating schemes.
After winning a long legal battle known as the “Thunderball copyright ownership controversy”, the Bond movie producers finally secured the rights to depict the criminal organisation Spectre, integral to the Bond mythos. Fans were excited at the prospect of seeing James Bond come face to face with the éminence grise apparently lurking behind the shadows since the events of 2006’s Casino Royale. Skyfall director Sam Mendes returns for Craig’s fourth outing as 007, and it is evident that he is trying to hit as many mile markers associated with classic Bond as possible. Craig appears in a white tuxedo for the first time, there’s a scene set in a snowy locale, a scary henchman in the Oddjob and Jaws mould and a tricked-out Aston Martin. Sure enough, there are many moments in Spectre that made this reviewer cheer, but alas, after the smoke clears, it seems that the film adds up to less than the sum of its parts.
On the level of spectacle, Spectre certainly is an accomplishment. Cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema, succeeding Skyfall’s Roger Deakins, crafts many shots that are striking in their elegant composition and breath-taking in their scope. The film’s pre-title sequence begins with a long tracking shot which follows Bond and his companion Estrella (Stephanie Sigman) through a massive procession as part of the Day of the Dead celebrations in Mexico. Second unit director Alexander Witt and stunt coordinator Gary Powell, both Bond veterans, assist Mendes in assembling major eye candy set pieces including a skirmish to the death aboard a helicopter spinning out of control, a car chase that roars through the streets of Rome and a spectacular plane vs. Land Rover convoy battle in the Austrian Alps – not to mention the single largest explosion ever detonated for a film. This reviewer, along with the majority of Bond fans, doesn’t fully enjoy Writing’s on the Wall, the rather limp theme song performed by Sam Smith. Thankfully, the Daniel Kleinman-designed main titles do enhance its effectiveness. However, there is some imagery that undermines the overall haunting effect of the sequence: expect to hear some tittering from audience members cognisant of Japanese tentacle erotica.
While Craig (in)famously told journalists that he’d rather slit his wrists than play Bond again, he delivers an intense, committed performance, with the character finally getting into the swing of things. As expected, he acquits himself well in the many action sequences and handles the moments of humour better than he did in Skyfall. His portrayal of Bond has sometimes been decried as too self-serious, so it is amusing to see him partake in several well-judged moments of levity that are almost Roger Moore-esque. There is some brooding, to be sure, but Bond gets right in the thick of it and stays there for the duration of the movie.
Christoph Waltz’s casting was met with much fanfare and speculation as to the true nature of his role. Waltz is fine as Oberhauser, but there’s very little here the Oscar-winner hasn’t done before in other roles and this reviewer was expecting him to have more of an impact. All of the primary villains in the Craig-starring Bond movies have been creepy European dudes, and Oberhauser is no exception. The Spectre meeting at an Italian palace, designed to evoke an arcane secret society ritual, is a genuine nail-biter of a scene and is marvellously acted by Waltz. However, when Oberhauser states his motivation, it is disappointingly contrived given all the build-up, since he’s been positioned as this ultimate baddie. Even though there’s obviously more to the character than is told to us in Spectre, the feeling of “wait, that’s it?” is pretty hard to shake.
Seydoux’s turn as the lead Bond girl is understatedly affecting, even if the character isn’t one of the more memorable women in the Bond canon. With Madeleine Swann, screenwriters John Logan, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and Jez Butterworth are aiming for a character who isn’t either extreme of “fragile wallflower” or “kicker of ass who can give Bond a run for his money”. Even then, the arc in which she is initially sceptical of and almost hostile towards Bond but eventually warms to his charms is very predictable. It is a wonder that the sultry, glamourous Bellucci hasn’t been in a Bond film until now, so it is even more of a let-down that she is criminally underused in an all-too-brief appearance. The Lucia Sciarra character is also little more than the “kept woman” archetype we’ve seen many times throughout the Bond films, from Domino Derval to Solitaire to Andrea Anders.
The support system of Bond’s allies M, Moneypenny, Q and Bill Tanner (Rory Kinnear) is integrated into the plot instead of coming off as ancillary, which is to Spectre’s credit. The crisis at MI6, secondary compared to Bond’s tangle with Spectre but still pretty serious stuff, is rooted in topical security concerns, with C planning an invasive universal surveillance program. Whishaw gets several humorous moments and Q does go out into the field in this one, but it isn’t taken too far (see Octopussy). Scott, best-known for playing the dastardly Moriarty in BBC’s Sherlock, is far more restrained here, which means the character is believable but often dull. Bautista as the silent, musclebound Hinx is excellent casting. Henchmen with silly gimmicks are one of the most often-parodied elements of Bond films, so it’s commendable that Bautista manages to hark back to that without taking one out of the movie by being silly.
This reviewer found Spectre agonising, not because it’s a bad film – not by a long, long shot – but because of how unsatisfying it is once one takes a step back. There are a few references to Bond films past that cross the line from “cute” to “smug”. In the moment, it is entertaining and thrilling and there are action sequences which stand up to the most memorable in the series, but the overarching plot, especially where it pertains to the villain, leaves a fair amount to be desired. For a film that hits so many high points, true, sublime greatness remains out of Spectre’s grasp.
Summary: There are thrills and instantly classic scenes galore, but on peeling back the layers of Spectre, it isn’t quite the ghost with the most.
 
RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars
Jedd Jong

In-Spectre Gadget: Paying Attention to Q

As published in Issue #69 of F*** Magazine, Singapore

Text:
IN-SPECTRE GADGET
We pay some attention to James Bond’s trusted Quartermaster
By Jedd Jong

The Bond films have always been packed with adventure, danger, glamour, women…and yes, gadgets! The nifty devices at James Bond’s disposal have always been part of the series’ appeal, and there would be no gadgets without Q, the head of MI6’s Q Branch who arms Bond with all the tools he needs for each mission. It became customary for Bond to visit Q’s lab, where Q would demonstrate his inventions and sigh disapprovingly at 007’s immaturity and recklessness. While the focus is usually on the gadgets themselves, with Spectre’s release imminent and Q set to play a fairly significant role in the proceedings, let’s place the attention on Q himself.

“Q” is a title, standing for “Quartermaster”. In Ian Fleming’s original novels, Q himself did not appear, though Q Branch gets mentioned. Continuation novels by other authors did include Q. The novel Dr. No introduces the MI6 service armourer Major Boothroyd, who was named for firearms expert Geoffrey Boothroyd. He had written to Fleming saying he was a fan of the character but not of his choice of weapons, and as a result of their correspondence, James Bond came to use the Walther PPK, a gun which has become indelibly linked to the character. Moral of the story: complain about your favourite books and shows on internet forums and your points will definitely be taken into consideration!
Major Boothroyd was played by Peter Burton in 1962’s Dr. No, the first official EON Productions Bond film to be released. Boothroyd replaces Bond’s .380 ACP Beretta m1934 pistol with a .32 Walther PPK, noting that the Beretta jammed on the last job. Burton was unavailable to return for the second Bond film, From Russia With Love. This turned out to be a stroke of bad luck for Burton, because his replacement went on to play Q from 1963 to 1999.
The actor who played Major Boothroyd in From Russia With Love and who would go on to become the definitive screen incarnation of Q was none other than Welsh actor Desmond Llewelyn. From Russia’s director Terence Young had previously worked with Llewelyn on the war movie They Were Not Divided, in which Llewelyn played a tank gunner. In real life, Llewelyn had served in the military in World War II as part of the Royal Welch Fusiliers, surviving five years as a German prisoner of war.
In From Russia With Love, Boothroyd supplied Sean Connery’s James Bond with what is considered the first true “Bond gadget” of the movies, a tricked-out attaché case. Disguised as an ordinary briefcase, it contained a folding AR-7 sniper rifle, held 40 rounds of ammunition, a removable throwing knife that popped out of the side, a bottle of tear gas disguised as a bottle of talcum powder and 50 gold sovereigns. Not exactly cutting-edge, but definitely very cool for the time.

In Goldfinger, the character was first referred to as “Q” and would be known by that title in the films that followed, with one notable exception: In The Spy Who Loved Me, Soviet agent Anya Amasova calls Q “Major Boothroyd”. Q was characterised as somewhat of a curmudgeon, often impatient with Bond’s juvenile antics. Goldfinger introduced Q’s immortal line, “I never joke about my work, 007,” which was Q’s response to Bond’s incredulous reaction when he is told that the Aston Martin DB-5 has been equipped with an ejector seat. Q was also prone to muttering an exasperated “pay attention, 007!” or “oh grow up, 007” on many an occasion.

Q was far from a stereotypical harsh taskmaster, and one got the impression that he had grown very fond of 007 and would just rather not admit it out loud, taking on the role of the disapproving but ultimately kind old uncle. In On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Q showed up to Bond’s wedding, visibly sad that Bond would be leaving MI6, and in both Octopussy and License to Kill, Q went out and about in the field. Octopussy has the silly but loveable scene of Q flying to Bond’s aid in a hot air balloon and teaming up with Octopussy’s bevy of circus troupe beauties. License to Kill took the more serious tack of Q assisting Bond behind M’s back after Bond has been disavowed by MI6. “Remember, if it hadn’t been for Q Branch, you’d have been dead long ago,” he tells Bond with that trademark blend of warmth and stern fatherly authority.
Despite insisting that he never joked about his work, Q did have a sense of humour – gadgets that were onscreen solely for a visual gag became one of the staples of the Q Lab scenes. In The Living Daylights, we see Q working on a ‘ghetto blaster’, a boom box that can fire a rocket. In GoldenEye, Q enters the scene wheelchair-bound, revealing that his leg cast hides a missile launcher. Surprisingly enough, Q also utters one of the most blush-inducing double entendres in the whole series. At the end of Moonraker, Bond and Holly Goodhead are aboard the space shuttle, partaking in some zero-gravity lovemaking. Bond’s superiors inadvertently witness this via the shuttle’s on-board cameras, with Minister of Defence Fredrick Gray exclaiming “My God, what’s Bond doing?”
“I think he’s attempting re-entry sir,” Q answers slyly.
Q has also donned disguises when meeting Bond, posing as a car rental agent in Tomorrow Never Dies, a Mexican priest in License to Kill and a Greek Orthodox priest in For Your Eyes Only. The latter resulted in this amusing exchange:
Bond: “Forgive me father, for I have sinned.”
Q: “That’s putting it mildly, 007!”
While he played a technical whiz in the Bond movies, Llewelyn’s aptitude with gadgetry in real life was a far cry from that. “I am hopeless with gadgets,” he admitted in an interview. “I can’t even get a ticket to work in one of those confounded machines on the London Underground. And I can hardly put on a kettle, let alone set a video.” Llewelyn also saw the character of Q and his gadgets as enabling the crucial escapism that became associated with the series, which leads one to think he might not be the biggest fan of the more straight-faced approach the recent Daniel Craig-starring films have taken. “You must keep fantasy with Bond, and not only fantasy, but pure relaxation, enjoyment. What you see on the screen is something that you don’t have in this world today. You can just sit back and enjoy it,” he said.
By the time 1999’s The World is Not Enough rolled around, Llewelyn had appeared as the Quartermaster in a whopping 17 Bond films including that one, and had dispensed gadgets to Bond as played by five different actors. The World is Not Enough introduces Q’s assistant R, played by Monty Python’s John Cleese. Brosnan’s Bond quips “If you’re Q, does that make him R?”
Carrying on his mentor’s disdain for Bond’s smart-mouthed tendencies, R retorts “Ah yes, the legendary 007 wit, or at least half of it.”
R was being set up to take over for Q after the latter’s retirement. “Always have an escape plan,” Q tells Bond as a platform lowers him out of his lab. Sadly, that scene would take on a far more sombre tone as just weeks before the film’s release, Llewelyn died in a car crash, driving home from a book signing. He was 85. “There can be forever many Bonds, but only one Q. I’ve lost a great friend, someone who I will miss dearly, someone easy to cry for. And I think the whole world will feel the same. He was a gentle gentleman, this lovely man,” Brosnan said of Llewelyn.
Cleese was promoted from R to Q, holding this post for exactly one film, 2002’s Die Another Day. This Q has the ignominious honour of introducing one of the most widely-mocked Bond gadgets, the nigh-magical invisible Aston Martin Vanquish. Die Another Day was the 20thBond film, released 40 years after Dr. No, thus containing far more references to the franchise’s storied past than usual. In the Q Lab scene, classic gadgets including Rosa Klebb’s bladed shoe from From Russia With Love, the jetpack from Thunderball and the “croco-sub” from Octopussy can be seen.
While Judi Dench retained her role as MI6 head M from the Brosnan films, Q and Q Branch were nowhere to be seen come 2006’s reboot, Casino Royale, with Daniel Craig in the lead. Its follow up, Quantum of Solace, was also Q-free. During a 2008 press conference for his film Defiance, Craig expressed his desire for Q to return to the series. “We’ve finished this story as far as I’m concerned,” he said referring to the plot that stretched from Casino over to Quantum. “Let’s try and find where Moneypenny came from and where Q comes from. Let’s do all that and have some fun with it.”
Both of Craig’s wishes would be granted come 2012’s Skyfall. Naomie Harris took on the role of the reinvented Moneypenny and Ben Whishaw was cast as Q. Aged 32 at the time of Skyfall’s release, Whishaw was by far the youngest actor to play the Quartermaster. It’s a move that makes sense, given how the tech-savvy geniuses in Silicon Valley these days tend to be in their 20s. The dynamic between the characters was reworked, with Bond now being the disapproving uncle to Q. In the character’s introductory scene in the National Gallery, Bond gets to say “you must be joking” – although this time, it’s his reaction to Q’s youth instead of being told his new car has an ejector seat. This Q still seemed tweedy and old-fashioned in the most charming of ways, but this was now wrapped up in a geek chic package, with an unruly mop of hair and vintage-style glasses. Q’s mug, with Q10 on one side and the official Scrabble letter distribution score chart on the other, was just the right accessory for this take on the character.
“It was such fun for me to play an expert in an area where I’m completely not an expert. I’m really hopeless with technology — I don’t even have a computer. But I had to reel off all this technological information as if it were second nature,” Whishaw told The Telegraph, apparently continuing Llewelyn’s legacy of being a technophobe in real life. “It’s great to play someone who has this mysterious understanding of things that are so complex. I also really enjoyed his relationship with Bond. I’m very excited about future films and where we will take that,” he continued. This Q, while still a genius, still slipped up on occasion – plugging the villainous Silva’s laptop into the MI6 mainframe inadvertently allowed the baddie to hack into the system and escape captivity.
At the time of writing, the release of Spectre, the 24th Bond film, is just right around the corner. While some fans were disappointed by Q stating that Q Branch didn’t really go in for “exploding pens” and the like anymore, we will be getting a specially modified Aston Martin DB10 in Spectre, and the trailer features the long-absent “Q showing Bond the new car” scene. The character will have a larger role than in Skyfall. “Moneypenny, M, Q, all find themselves in a surprising situation, which Bond helps them escape from” Whishaw told French movie news site AlloCiné cryptically. We will apparently also get to see Q in the field again, since Whishaw was spotted on location in Austria shooting a scene in a cable car.
“Make me disappear,” Bond asks Q. Like in License to Kill, Bond’s going off-books and needs the assistance of his trusted Quartermaster.
Many long-time Bond fans are pleased that Q has not disappeared and that while the character now comes in a new flavour befitting the times, the intrinsic appeal of the gadget master remains. Bond may be the guy most men want to be, but there’s no way he could’ve done it all alone, with Q proving across the decades to be one of his most faithful allies, repeated admonishment and pleading with Bond to “pay attention” notwithstanding.