It’s a couple of months now since Spectre burst on to our cinema screens. Like a firework it blazed bright but its light has since been dimmed in comparison to the latest Star Wars epic. (Actually, I think that Spectre and The Force Awakens have quite a lot in common but that will have to wait for another time.)
Much of the hype surrounding Spectre arose because its predecessor in the series, Skyfall, was largely considered to have been a huge success. And I think that this hype has led to a specific flaw in Spectre. Since the 1970s, the Bond series has renewed itself by riffing off whatever it can find elsewhere in popular culture. So Live and Let Die is the Blaxploitation one, Moonraker the Star Wars one, Octopussy the (admittedly this one’s more of a long shot) Indiana Jones one, The World is Not Enough the Lara Croft one (or at least poor Denise Richards had to dress up like Lara Croft) and Casino Royale the Jason Bourne one.
Unfortunately for Broccoli, Wilson and Mendes, nothing emerged after Skyfall to trump it. And so Spectre is ‘the James Bond one’, closer to the standard Bond style than any of the Craig films so far.
And that’s the problem. When thinking of Spectre, the reasonably awake Bond fan will remember the little shout outs – an references to Live and Let Die here, a fight just the same as in From Russia With Love there. There are some attempts to continue plot points from previous Craig films, although Q’s modern gadget policy has been reversed (which is a shame, given that the National Gallery scene was such a highlight of Skyfall).
All of that is fantastic. It’s a real treat for the fan, with no downside for the non-fan. You don’t need to know this stuff to enjoy it. Films make reference to each other all the time – either to steal or to pay homage. But Spectre offers very little of its own that is actually new. There is no new motif that I can think of. Put another way, when Bond producers next decide it’s time for a ‘greatest hits’ package, what will be the reference to Spectre? What does it contribute to the series other than a feeling that seen this one, seen them all?
Originality is not the only target to aim for. The last Bond film that went out of its way to pay tribute to its predecessors, Die Another Day, got the tribute part right and the original bits – such as the invisible car – so, so wrong. But I think that Spectre felt too much of a series devouring itself: the brilliant ingredients superbly mixed but with an after-taste of not-that-much.