December 5th 2015

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Well designed same-sex marriage law no solution

CANBERRA OBSERVED Kidman hectares to stay in local hands ... for now

EDITORIAL How to respond to Islamic State's latest outrages

OPINION What's left if Malcolm is in the middle?

LIFE ISSUES Feminists, conservatives unite against surrogacy

NATIONAL AFFAIRS Turnbull government is not serious about defence

HISTORY Geography the great shaper of Taiwan

PHILOSOPHY AND POLITICS Green ideology balances illogic with contradiction

SOCIETY Cultural displacement and the new terrorism

PUBLIC POLICY Cannabis for R&D has precedent in poppy trade

FAMILY AND SOCIETY Swedish daycare: paradigm or cautionary tale? Part I

CINEMA Not your average psychopath: James Bond: Spectre

BOOK REVIEW Fantastical Four


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Not your average psychopath: James Bond: Spectre

by Symeon J. Thompson

News Weekly, December 5, 2015

Spectre opens with the title “The Dead Are Alive” and the Day of the Dead celebrations in Mexico City. A bravura tracking shot, reminiscent of Orson Welles’ legendary opening take in Touch of Evil follows a man dressed as a skeleton, and a woman similarly attired to a hotel room. The man is revealed to be James Bond (Daniel Craig) who, to the surprise of his companion, steps onto the balcony and strolls along the rooftops to spy on, and disrupt, the secret meeting of a group of terrorists.

Daniel Craig’s is the loneliest Bond.

When he fires on the terrorists, he explodes a briefcase that takes with it a city block, leading to Bond diving around the disintegrating buildings as he pursues the leader, Marco Sciarra (Alessandro Cremona) through the streets and into a waiting helicopter for an awesome aerial fight scene. Bond wins and takes a ring from Sciarra, inscribed with an octopus design.

Back in London, the intelligence community is facing a restructure, much to M’s (Ralph Fiennes) displeasure. MI5 and MI6 have been merged into a new organisation – the Joint Intelligence Service headed by Max Denbigh (Andrew Scott), a bureaucrat who thinks the “00” section is outdated and wishes to replace it with a Global Surveillance Initiative. Bond’s actions in Mexico have not helped M and he suspends Bond from active service indefinitely.

This doesn’t stop Bond, as he was acting on the orders of the previous M (Judi Dench), who tasked him with killing Sciarra and tracking the organisation he worked for. While the current M deals with politics, Bond pursues the villains with the help of Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) and Q (Ben Whishaw).

Sciarra’s widow, Lucia (Monica Bellucci) points him towards a secret meeting in Rome, where he recognises the shadowy head of the organisation as Franz Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz), a man from Bond’s past believed dead.

It’s hard to describe a Bond film without giving the game away, but add to the mix a non-talking but hulking hitman, Mr Hinx (Dave Bautista), and Dr Madeleine Swan (Léa Seydoux), a woman on the run, who has a surprising connection to an old adversary, and you have most of the elements.

Spectre continues that tradition of being beautiful to look at, with exotic locales, gorgeous women and handsome men, and extravagant action sequences. The script may lack refinement but it still fulfills its purpose admirably. Sam Mendes ably brings together all the elements to craft a cracking thriller, one that’s thoughtful enough to not be shallow, but not so thought provoking as to strain the brain too much.

The Daniel Craig films are different to most Bond movies of the past in that they have a distinct narrative arc. They have sought to add depth to the character, and a gritty, almost Le Carré-esque, realism to the plots. In so doing, the fantastical element is played down and the darker aspects come into sharper focus. Despite this, they don’t seek to provide the elaborate and intricate plotting of some popular series full of betrayal and counter-betrayal.

Spectre ties together the narrative threads of the previous films, providing, in a way, a conclusion to the personal drama that began with Casino Royale (2006), was continued with Quantum of Solace (2008) and then complicated by Skyfall (2012).

Throughout the series we see the development of Bond as a patriotic “blunt instrument”, with substance abuse problems and a callous disregard for women – an isolated shell of a man who doesn’t stop to think about his life. This is not the wisecracking Roger Moore, or the suavely masculine Sean Connery, but a well-dressed and brutally effective killing machine.

Bond may be well mannered at times, but even Craig regards him as a bit of a psychopath, and not someone who should be anyone’s role model. The attempts of the series to humanise Bond make him less sympathetic as a person, while suggesting even more strongly that people like Bond are necessary; for, as George Orwell put it: “We sleep safe in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would do us harm.”

James Bond is indeed such a rough man, his Licence to Kill a sign of expertise that allows him to act as a targeted weapon. This is contrasted with Max’s plan for total surveillance leading to total security, a plan that revolts M and Bond. They see such a plan as wiping out the very things they are fighting for. More than that, they don’t see it as an effective way of fighting terrorism. Total surveillance creates an illusion of security – in watching everything it misses what matters most.

Spectre is an expertly made pulp thriller, beautiful to watch – a feast for the senses – if only a light snack for the mind.

Symeon J. Thompson is a member of the Film Critics Circle of Australia (FCCE).

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