Spectre, the latest James Bond movie, had everything it needed to work. Including the decision to cast the usually amazing Christoph Waltz as its main villain. Too bad some unfortunate choices turned Waltz’s villain into one of the film’s main liabilities instead. Spoilers ahead...
When you call a Bond movie Spectre, there are certain expectations. And one of those expectations is going to be the presence of Ernst Stavro Blofeld. A character that we all 100% knew was going to be played by Waltz the second after his casting was announced. No amount of Star Trek Into Darkness-style denial was going to convince us otherwise. But for some reason, the makers of this film decided to jump on the terrible bandwagon of making the identities of key characters into an actual narrative twist.
And on top of that, Spectre also decided to retcon Blofeld and Bond’s histories, to make them secret foster brothers. Why? Because.
In all seriousness, that’s as much sense can be really made of it. In this new version, Bond’s parents died, and some guy named Oberhauser (a ski instructor/mentor of Bond who shows up briefly in the book Octopussy only to get killed off) just sort of became the young Bond’s guardian. And then his son, Franz, lost his entire shit. Because while his father was mentoring the boy who just lost his family, Franz was feeling as though he’d been replaced in his father’s affections by an interloper. We know this, because the script forces Waltz to pontificate endlessly about cuckoos to a confused Léa Seydoux and an apoplectic Daniel Craig.
So Franz murdered his father, faked his own death, and—Voldemort-style—created the Blofeld persona for himself. And then he devoted basically the rest of his life to ruining Bond’s. In theform of killing all the women Bond cares about, because why not add fridging to his litany of crimes?
That’s where Spectre gets high on its own continuity, and tries to evangelize its drug use to the rest of us. This movie wants us to believe that everything that’s happened, from Casino Royale on, was the work of a mastermind who’s dead set on ruining Bond. Unfortunately, they don’t actually do the work to make that work. He just did it, okay? He’s crazy and evil and full of daddy issues, so just go with it. Don’t try to overthink how this could have worked.
Spectre’s villains are a disaster. And not like a “force of nature that only the cunning of our heroes can defeat” kind of disaster. Like a “very low-speed car crash caused by texting where no one gets hurt, but a very expensive car is totaled” kind of disaster. Totally foreseeable and avoidable, and only the stupidity of the person at the wheel allowed it to happen at all.
There’s no reason whatsoever to give Blofeld this backstory. The original Blofeld—the iconic cat-stroking, bald-headed, scar-faced Blofeld—was plenty interesting all on his own, in the books and the movies. He’s got degrees in political history, economics, and engineering. He’s a manipulator, who founded SPECTRE in a bid to take over the world. Originally, SPECTRE’s plan is basically to let the US and the USSR tire each other out until it can sweep in.
When did it go out of vogue for a villain to be a megalomaniac with a yen to take over the world, just because they thought they could?
Is it that in a post-Cold War world, having two sides battle it out over ideology just seems passé? Because Captain America: The Winter Soldier didn’t seem to have that problem with Hydra. (And in most other respects, Winter Soldier and Spectre have almost the same plot.) And at no point in Winter Soldier does Robert Redford tell Samuel L. Jackson that he broke his dollhouse.
There’s something much scarier about a Blofeld whose intellect and resourcefulness have led him to the top of a criminal enterprise. A maniac who sees everything as a mean to the end of world domination. It’s not personal, this nuclear attack—it’s business.
The original Blofeld may have hated Bond’s interference, but not because he thought Daddy liked James better.
Why did they need to invent a complicated pyschodrama for Blofeld? It undermines him as a villain, in the worst possible way. In this new version, he’s not a mastermind whose genius means he could actually succeed in putting the world under his thumb. He’s a spoiled child. Except that even a sociopathic child would be more interesting than this Blofeld.
This is especially a missed opportunity, since SPECTRE and Blofeld are not dated concepts in need of updating—if anything they’re perfect for the chaotic early 21st century. Multinational terrorist organizations—unfettered by nationalism and fueled by ideology—are a much more relevant topic now than in the 1960s. And Blofeld’s intellectual pursuits also fit that mold. He has a grounding in political history, enough to make him convinced of the righteousness of tyranny. And he has the perfect engineering background to make SPECTRE a technologically superior organization to MI-6’s human-based double-o program.
Part of what makes Spectre a frustrating sit is that there are hints of the old Bond in it. Blofeld refers to Andrew Scott’s C as “a visionary, like I am.” I would have loved to hear more about Blofeld’s New World Order, and less about ornithology and sibling rivalry.
Introducing SPECTRE, as a threat, should have upped the stakes of Bond’s missions. Whatever Scott’s baddie was doing with his all-seeing spy technology was clearly important. But the film shunts it to the side, in favor of Blofeld’s vendetta. All it takes is a shove from M and a few keystrokes from Q, and the “global surveillance” threat is eliminated. Meanwhile, Blofeld’s making Bond run around a bomb-rigged obstacle course saying ridiculous things like “Brothers always know what buttons to push.” The focus of the movie is completely wrong.
Not everything has to be personal. Personal is not a shortcut to depth. That’s the mistake Spectre made—assuming the original Blofeld and SPECTRE lacked depth because they weren’t tied to Bond’s personal life. Depth can come thematically, instead—and it probably should have, in this case.
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