Why was Spectre a Disappointment?

Who is 007, and more importantly what does his character represent? To some, 007 represents a fanciful embodiment of the masculine psyche. He is a man whose adventures entail the thwarting of evil plots of maniacal villains through liquor soaked stunts and breezy one liner conversations that only seem to skim the surface of any real significance. He drinks the finest scotch only before he beds even finer women and it seems that no matter how many times he gets punched in the face he always manages to avoid any form of facial disfigurement. One would have thought that after 24 films he would have shown at least a single scar. Nope. Not a single one.

Daniel Craig as James Bond
Daniel Craig as James Bond

Thankfully this is not the only Bond in existence nor is it the one that was introduced in 2006 when audiences saw Casino Royale for the first time. Here was a film that introduced audiences to a Bond that felt remarkably more human that any of the ones that came before. For the first time Bond’s alcoholism and misogynistic womanizing ways were not set up to be comically glorified as the pinnacle of male machismo. Instead the film bravely attempted to illuminate Bond’s vulnerabilities by posing a simple question: what consequences befall a man who lives incessantly close to danger? The film was the first in the series to postulate the potential real world consequences of being James Bond and through this exposure to Bond’s humanity it left audiences, particularly men, questioning whether theoretically taking on the 007 persona was worth all the emotional baggage that goes along the way. Is it really worth being a womanizer if you have to initially witness the woman you love drown in front of you? With this information apparent does it not become obvious that Bond’s perpetual infatuation with women is in part a coping mechanism that reflects the betrayal of his true love?

Whether or not fans were consciously aware that they were processing these questions is irrelevant because based on the overwhelmingly positive responses to this realistic Bond it can be assumed that an emotional impact was elicited on at least a subconscious level; and this can be reflected by the critical and box office successes that the film garnered that can be easily surmised by calling it the “Rebirth of Bond”. For through the exposure to Bond’s humanity the film is intensified for audiences since they are introduced to a hero that has the potential to be broken either physically or emotionally; and as they are watching their hero embark on a perilous journey, because of his exposed vulnerabilities the peril feels more significant. This is a basic law of effective storytelling and it is one that filmmaker Steven Spielberg has been perfecting for years. A precursor that oversees good action is a well-developed central character because emotional attachment forces the audience to really care whether he or she makes it out alive. That is the power of vulnerability.

James Bond Skyfall Poster

Skyfall can be best described as the true successor to Casino Royale because it elaborates on this new incarnation of 007 by delivering a thought-provoking story that delves more into the history of James Bond. The films main goal is to expand upon the maternal relationship that 007 has with his supervisor M by introducing Silva, a villain who wants to target M while placing strain on her already tenuous relationship with Bond. The main hook lies in the introduction of a realistic villain with reasonable motivations. As Silva’s history unfolds it reveals his understandable scorn towards M that allows him to come across as a genuinely hurt human being as opposed to a bland caricature of evil. He is a phenomenal villain because his presence is aligned perfectly with the existing emotional subplot that entails James’s growing distrust towards M and the result in an emotionally resonant story with a satisfying conclusion.

Where it Went Wrong

With these two excellent revisions of the Bond formula it can seem that Spectre had a lot to live up to. But its shortcomings cannot be blamed on the possibility that its predecessors may have left too high of a standard to be matched. Instead there is something innately frustrating within the inner workings of Spectres script that makes it feel like an unworthy sequel, so where exactly does it go wrong? First off it must be stated that fundamentally Spectre as a film suffers from an identity crisis because it is indecisive about what kind of Bond film it wants to be. On one hand it try’s to remain faithful to Daniel Craig’s established character driven depiction of 007 but while also making concurrent regressions into the classic campy Bond formula and the result is two very different ideas being crammed into one film with neither of them being fully realized.

Remnants of this confusion can be recognized all throughout the film, such as Christoph Waltz’s representation of the classic bond villain Blofeld. Christoph Waltz is a fine actor, but the problem lies in the fact that Blofeld in the past has always been portrayed as a simple caricature of evil and this film concurrently maintains this archetype while also attempting to give the character emotional depth by relating him to James’s past. There is an attempt to elicit a moment of emotional relevance by providing a backstory that illuminates Blofeld’s intentions for committing evil but the whole subplot is incredibly underdeveloped and comes across as laughably underwhelming especially in comparison to Silva’s emotional arc.

The exact same problem can be seen in this films love interest. Lea Seyoux is downright beautiful and has proven to be a great actress, and enough pieces are in place that prepares her character for satisfying emotional depth that is never followed through. Her character is initially introduced as an intelligently skeptical woman who points out that she will not play victim to Bond’s womanizing ways, but later on in the film she abandons all self respect by being spontaneously eager to tear off her clothes and profess her love towards James. The appropriate amount of sexual chemistry between the two is not enough to reasonably justify this sudden change in character, and as a result she starts off by feeling realistic and then conveniently regresses into an absurdly naive woman that feels so reminiscent of the classic Bond era.

The Classic Bond Era
The Classic Bond Era

It should be stated that the intentions of this essay is not to discredit all old ideas for being redundant due to an overstayed welcome; in fact a new film that is self aware about embracing the old fashioned tropes of the classic bond era might be a piece of refreshing entertainment that is well needed in the overtly cynical world we live in today. But the fact is that the classic Bond framework cannot gracefully mesh well with this generation’s incarnation of Bond without sacrificing some believability in the characters and story, and as being advertised as the film that would tie together the plot points of Casino Royale and Skyfall, Spectre primed audiences to expect a film to be delivered on the same thematic level. Spectre ultimately feels like a betrayal because it carries a facade of being the emotionally driven 007 that we have come to expect from this generation and its failure to consistently commit to this theme makes the whole thing feel incongruent. The desire to create a film based on old fashioned ideas is okay as long as there is commitment to that said theme, but problems arise when attempting to create this kind of film while attaching it to an established storyline with diametrically opposing ideals. Therefore Spectre results in a whole bunch of wasted potential. Blofeld’s connections to James’s past could have resulted in a better understanding of 007’s character if the realistic motif were followed through, much like the emotional weight provided by the mother-son dynamic between M and James did.

The Future of Bond

So while not critically panned, the lukewarm reaction to “Spectre” proved that audiences have evolved to expect more novel ideas, so where should the series go from here? Should the series not over think Bond by creating a film that commits to reinvigorate that elusive old-fashioned charm, or should it continue to evolve in a new direction? Daniel Craig has already expressed that Idris Elba would be great for the role, and if you have seen any of his work then it becomes apparent that he can definitely own the 007 presence, but is the world ready for a Bond of colour? If we can handle this type of alteration to the classic framework then who’s to say that we can’t manipulate other factors such as what time period the film is set in? At what point does it stop being a Bond film, and how much change can we really handle?

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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  1. Emily Deibler

    This turned out amazing! Excellent work!

  2. The pre-credits opening was amongst the best in the entire franchise, and the first hour was a solid Bond film with some great sequences. Somewhere around the train fight though I felt it starting to go downhill, and the last half hour was incredibly underwhelming. Given that for so much of the film it felt like it was building to a showdown in Blofeld’s secret lair I don’t understand why everyone had to rush back to London for the final act. I enjoyed Skyfall but the last thing I wanted again was Bond running around a dark old building at night AGAIN.

  3. Samuel Lay

    I thought Spectre was great, not as solid or experimental as Skyfall but ultimately very satisfying. There were a few missed opportunities, thought the ‘Bond girls’ were underdeveloped, especially Belluici’s character. Thought Christoph Waltz could have been used more but then again he is Blofeld who always enjoys more than one appearance.

    This was more of a traditional Bond film which is good in some ways. For me it would be a solid 4 out of 5. With that surprisingly happy ending though, I’m unsure where Daniel Craig’s Bond can go from here…

  4. All the best ‘bits’ are in the trailers – note to self do not watch them in future.

  5. Munjeera

    Agree 100% with your analysis.

  6. Next Bond film I’d like to see M give Bond a mission in his office. Bond accepts the mission. Bond completes the mission. M congratulates Bond on a mission well done, probably with Bond mid-coitus.

    Enough with Bond going rogue already!

  7. its a money making venture.

  8. enjoyable but it almost looks like the script writers went back through the past bond films and took the best scenes, and then put them together in a story

  9. Fantastic nods to the Fleming/Connery era and classic Bond in general, evil henchman who can’t be stopped, remote lair, protracted death by a machine….at the same time it never felt camp or old hat or Austin Powers, it was all modern.

  10. amookle

    It is like a painting-by numbers-Bond, a ‘greatest hits’ of cliche ridden tropes and we all know you’ve well past your sell-by date when you roll that album out. Truly awful and stultifyingly boring. If Craig has any integrity as an actor he’ll get out now.

    • There was definitely a tick box feel that Mendes had employed but I honestly didn’t mind. It’s taken too long to undo the damage the final two Brosnen Bonds did, this being the first film to have the courage to actually give fans something that feels complete and ‘bondy’. I know that gives some people hives, and will seem predictable or cheesy but if that’s a problem don’t watch a film franchise in to its 26th sequel.

  11. Pamela Maria

    Really well writing article and I think you pegged Spectre perfectly — people aren’t sure what they want within a Bond movie. On one hand, Casino Royale was amazing because it was so emotionally charged and really changed the face of Bond however not everyone was pleased with it. I myself must admit that I didn’t enjoy the movie at first because to me, he wasn’t James Bond. Unfortunately, the classic 007 really is a womanizing, macho, god-like agent and I loved it for that. The freshness was almost too stinging and like I grouchy old man I missed the old Bond. However, with how Quantum Solice and Skyfall turn out your absolutely right. Spectre should have followed the new trend. Apparently Tom Hiddleston might be the next 007 so I’m really curious to see whether they’ll go back to classic roots with him…

  12. Saw this last night and my first thought was that Skyfall was a fluke by Mendes and the thought hasn’t gone away. It was fragmented, shallow and thoughtless. No character development and felt rushed even though it’s such a long film. Thoroughly overrated.

  13. It was absolutely fantastic, light years ahead of the snorefest that was Skyfall. Homages to Traditional Bond but still modern.

  14. Aprylep

    Spectre is an enjoyable romp. But it is NOT a classic bond film. Bond is not mission impossible and it needs character layers and depth, especially as the bar has been set so high in craigs previous films. For starters, spectre has two massive story arcs entwined together, bond hunting spectre, and MI6 at risk of becoming an Orwellian nightmare at the hands of the character Denby. The latter we could have easily done without, the story of bond hunting his past in the form of spectre and Christoph Waltz is more than sufficient. As it is, we get very little in the way of character development in favour of too much forgettable action.

    The women in the film has literally nothing to do!

  15. Hunter

    Bond in many ways is a superhero: he shares an identity across multiple actors and franchises, and he’s primarily a symbol. Just like Marvel reinvigorated superheroes, Bond’s writers need to figure out where his character can cater to audiences best. They may want to take some advice from Marvel, even.

  16. Interesting analysis. There was something lacking in Spectre that I couldn’t quite point out and this was it. Also, I definitely think we’re ready for a Bond of colour, and take his character further from what Daniel Craig’s bond already started. Not sure if studio execs feel the same.

  17. Karie Richey

    Really overrated. The whole thing.

  18. MapleCurrie

    The bottom line in a Bond film is to stage something as stunning and unexpected as parachuting off a mountain (for real) , a 72 ton tank doing ‘donuts’ in a car chase around St Petersburg (for real), using crocodiles as stepping stones (for real), or dozens of combatants abseiling into a huge base (for real).

    Plenty of humour, glamour and a decent plot but Spectre has nothing anywhere near as good as any of the above.

  19. Nice article, it’s interesting to see how the bond character changes from movie to movie.

  20. It is increasingly hard to “expand” the Bond character past the constraints of the history of the so-called “classic” era. Whenever such an attempt is made, fans cry foul. The unfortunate fact is that most Bond fans have never read the novels by Fleming, and, as a result, have no sense of the character as first imagined. Craig’s ruthless and troubled Bond embraces much of the original novels’ Bond tone and characteristics.
    Bringing Bond into the 21st century may well be a futile effort. The franchise has to deal with the very real expectations of “classic” Bond fans and the social critiques of a character that is out of touch with 21st century mores.
    Good essay!

  21. I can’t recall a single scene from Spectre, which is unfortunate because I can remember it being an objectively decent film. I think a large part of it’s failure to match the franchise’s high standards is because of the fantastic ending that was Skyfall.

  22. I would love to see an Idris Elba Bond…it would certainly give me some incentive to watch the next one which will inevitably be made! Nice analysis.

  23. Aish Khanduja

    Spectre’s soundtrack was the only thing good about it. Daniel Craig is obviously a legend as Bond but I agree with him turning down the 98 million dollar offer for the next Bond films. He, himself pointed out the many flaws in the character, such as being misogynistic so I think that evolving the character as the world is evolving into a more liberal, accepting place would be amazing.
    In addition, Idris Elba is not bad looking at all…..

  24. Rina Arsen

    I think you are completely right with your analysis. Spectre, while not exactly a bad movie, was conflicting in its nature and role within the whole James Bond series, which resulted in a conflicting and confused reaction from the viewers. The previous movie had been an incredible addition to the legacy, and the dialogue and plot, while still retaining the classical super villain vs antihero themes, still brought a breath of novelty, especially when the previous hyper-hetero 007 was crushed by Bond’s non-revulsion to homosexual topics. However, while the previous movies managed to perfectly balance the classical themes and new ideals, the newest addition seems instead divided and undecided, and would have definitely required some more polishing. In the end, it is clear that neither the viewers nor the writers seem completely sure of what they expect from the character.

  25. El Noeme Zaire

    2016 would make for a good year if the United States had it’s first female president and the studio responsible for making James Bond announced Idris Elba as the first Black Bond. It would make for quite good party conversations at Christmas and New Year’s 2017, I suspect.

    What’s missing in the beginning of this article for me is an exploration into the relationship between Bond and M as mother and son. There is potential to also draw analogies to Great Britain and the U.S. as mother and son based on the updated more humanized depiction of Bond in the latest films. The analysis is on point in all other ways, but if I were in a position to join this conversation live, this is where I would take it.


    El Noeme Zaire

  26. i left the cinema feeling really depressed and sad and melancholy because what i’d just witnessed was seemingly most people’s idea of a great night out at the cinema.

  27. motabulous

    This was a very enjoyable read. I appreciate how in-depth your analysis of the movie was, largely thanks to what seems like quite an extensive knowledge of the Bond series. I personally found Skyfall to be my favourite Bond film so far, but then again, I haven’t seen them all. After watching Spectre, I felt the exact sense of unsatisfaction that you described, but no one I talked about it with seemed to really agree with me, and I was starting to wonder if I was wrong, and I didn’t watch it with the right mindset or something. It’s good to hear that not only is my opinion shared, it is also reinforced and fair. I couldn’t understand why I didn’t enjoy Spectre, but now I understand perfectly.

  28. petergeoff21

    I completely agree with this article. Spectre tries to tap into a classic Bond villain with Christoph Waltz playing Blofeld, but the the whole time I couldn’t stop seeing Waltz’s as his character from Django. If the Bond franchise is going to continue to reboot old plot lines and characters maybe they should go with villains like Odd Job and Jaws, to really spark the nostalgia for life long Bond fans.

  29. tracyrwdeboer

    I completely agree that Spectre was a letdown. It was especially sad to see because it was the conclusion of the Daniel Craig Bond, a refreshing and deeper incarnation of Bonds before him. Personally, I’m looking forward to a Black Bond.

  30. I have to respectfully disagree. “Spectre” was a good, though not great, film, but it was not a 007 movie which was its problem. The classic formula for James Bond was perfectly portrayed in “Skyfall” when he responds to the words “agent” with “provacative,” “woman” with “provacatrix” (meaning challenge), and “heart” with “target.” Especially after he watches his first love drown in “Casino Royale,” James Bond begins in “Skyfall” to treat women with respect not love. The confusion with this distinction and 007’s good looks ultimately seduces the leading ladies until he is off to the next mission and thus the next movie. Notice there are three women he gets involved with in “Skyfall” yet none last, and he is not upset about that fact. Whereas I appreciate the writers developing the character from “Casino Royale” to “Skyfall” in this way specifically, they appear to have completely forgot that he has ‘learned his lesson’ from falling in love with the women he is hired to get close to because 007 would never regardless of his age turn his back on his company or country to chase tail. There are ways of making James Bond vulnerable and relatable without all of a sudden making him fall in love with every other women that waltzes into the camera’s view. “Casino Royale” and “Skyfall” stood out so well because they stayed true to the nature of the Bond character yet allowed the audience to see him vulnerable either emotionally or physically partly due to age. However, “Spectre” tried too hard to find more trauma’s in Bond’s past as well as make him weak in the knees for a girl because both of those worked the first time the audience saw it in the last two movies.

  31. I think you hit the nail of the head in your analysis. Personally, I’m very much in favour of the new, emotionally-driven 007 from Casino Royal, and I’m dismayed by the number of people who want a return to the ‘classic’, 2D Bond of the original series. James Bond was written in the 1950s. Society has evolved significantly since then, and a lot of the gender constructs and archetypes in the series are – to put it mildly – outdated. I think the introduction of a complex Bond and all the consequences his ‘hyper-masculine’ shenanigans entail is a great response to the changes in our society. Returning to the old Bond simply for nostalgia’s sake or for ‘preserving the story’ seems to me like a unnecessary regression.

    Fun fact: my best friend (a girl) loved Skyfall because of M’s twisted, complex relationship with Bond. My brother disliked it for the same reason (i.e. he didn’t like the ‘human’ Bond) and instead preferred Spectre. I’m not trying to prove a point, since this anecdotal evidence is hardly conclusive, but I did find it entertaining.

    I’m also entertained that everyone is acting like Quantum of Solace never happened.

  32. I totally agree with you, the last 007 did not live up to expectations to what it should have been. The first few were awesome but Spectre lacked everything. Honestly, i think the script was rushed which made the production team rush the movie with caused Spectre to be a bad movie.

  33. Benedict Hadley

    I think you nailed it. I was really disappointed with Spectre, it was too long and wanted to have it both ways. It should have either gone for straightforward thrills or stuck to the ‘revisionist’ version of Bond that Craig’s interpretation gave us.

  34. Zyana Hault

    Very well written post. I am a huge fan of James bond and that is the reason why I read your post. Well according to my thoughts, the reason of the movie failure was the plot.

  35. Great article!!

  36. Really well written article!
    However it is a tough line to walk between reinvention and staying true to the canon.
    Could John Wick be the next bond for a new generation?

  37. Joseph Cernik

    Good points. I read all the Bond novels in high school years ago, before the first film, Doctor No. It is interesting to follow the changes, or maybe evolution in Bond over the years.

  38. Joseph Cernik

    Spectre weaves through so many years of Bond movies that it can seem “old hat” if there are not some ways to keep re-making it seem even more evil than the time before–a difficult thing to do.

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