Reviewing Spectre while having a crisis of masculinity

Watching Bond be Bond, I didn't know whether to fist pump or facepalm

Christopher Hooton@christophhooton
Wednesday 21 October 2015 23:48
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James Bond playing chess, probably thinking about breaking a whiskey glass over the head of a grizzly bear and saying "well, that broke the ice".
James Bond playing chess, probably thinking about breaking a whiskey glass over the head of a grizzly bear and saying "well, that broke the ice".

"I don't know, because James Bond is cool but it's also kind of lame isn't it."

Touché, stranger stood beside me, asked by his friend what he made of Spectre shortly after the first preview. How to give a film the requisite one-sentence, gathering your coat and spilled belongings as you exit the cinema, "so what did you think?" review when you're feeling pulled in so many directions?

There were too many versions of me simultaneously trying to take in Sam Mendes' exhilarating ending to his Bond tetralogy, so I'll attempt to break them down:

Spectre - Trailer

The would-read-GQ-if-it-was-in-front-of-me, cliched male:

James Bond is f***ing cool, man! He travels all over the place and doesn't seem to need love or meaningful human connections or food. Have you ever seen James Bond eat? James Bond doesn't eat, he just drinks vodka either very particularly or straight out of the bottle, processes it into brawn throughout the day and punches guys twice his height in the head until they fall into shredders/out of moving vehicles. He has such cool clothes! How does he have an outfit that compliments every location even though he has apparently no baggage or time to browse ASOS? Does he wear them all at once and shed them each scene like an onion so actually there's like a four-stone Daniel Craig under there somewhere? Damn, if I emerged from a demolished building in a suit my top button would not still be done up, how does he maintain such high sartorial standards during fairly large-scale disasters? Man, James Bond literally only has four activities - f***ing, driving, walking very precisely and shooting machine guns one-handed, and it looks pretty fun.

The guilt-racked liberal:

Wow, James Bond is a massive douche huh, and the franchise as a whole is just very archaic and misogynistic and faintly embarrassing. Yeah, the "Bond girls" (ugh) aren't just damsels in distress anymore, but giving them one or two cutting one-liners and letting them lamp a henchman in the head with a nearby urn occasionally doesn't exactly amount to a rich character either. I don't like it when he talks about cars, how it makes me think of Top Gear, his right wing, vigilante outlook on the world or the way his only interrogation method is kissing women against glass after looking wounded when they ask about his parents.

The 8-year-old boy:

OMG he has punched a guy in the head on literally every single method of transport! If Bond realised he'd never punched a guy on a catamaran do you know what he'd do? He'd tell M to suck it and board the next flight to the Med. I am 100% behind the level of explosions in this film and it is a real thrill when his nice, fast car jumps over a regular car and when he goes round a corner in a provincial town real fast and upsets an old man eating a baguette.

The aesthete:

Wow, cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema has excelled himself this time, I want every shot to be my new desktop wallpaper. The really long take during the Day of the Dead opener in Mexico City! The train rolling through dusty Tangier! The symmetry! The lighting in the hotel scene! This is like watching a series of really expensive, beautiful and well-executed perfume ads. I mean that in the best possible sense. I would buy all of the stock of the perfume. I wouldn't even bathe in it or anything, I'd just pour it down the drain while shaking my head and doing a low whistle and thinking about how stunning that funeral in Rome scene was choreographed.

The 'plane movie' guy:

This is easy to watch and engrossing. I could happily get mildly sauced to this.

The critic/realist:

This movie teaches me nothing about what it means to be human.

§

So how to reconcile these antithetical (and horribly self-indulgent, I'm sorry) thoughts? Is film criticism inherently false in its out-of-five-stars single-mindedness? Should I be sad that a film with deep and nuanced themes didn't get made because of this one hogging cinemas, the message of which seems to be "you can have your surveillance state, there will always be a place for punching evil-looking dudes in the head"? Is it okay that Bond is a lonely misogynist and we can learn something from it a la Mad Men? Is it okay that he's a lonely misogynist simply because not every single film needs to be socio-culturally right-on?

I'm not sure yet, it's too early to say. But I do know this - I respect the hell out of Mendes for being able to make such an elegant, captivating film from such limp subject matter, and I don't envy the next director who must try and accomplish this feat.

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