This article is meant for people who have already seen Spectre, now in theaters. Heavy spoilers to follow.
Sam Mendes’ Spectre tries earnestly to be a romp, I’ll give it that. It’s at least a welcome tonal shift from its gloomier yet ultimately slicker predecessor. But I’m not here to review Spectre (Bob took care of that), though I think my feelings on it are about to become evident.
Let’s get something out of the way first. We’ve all seen Batman Begins. It is a fine movie, I personally love it. But without question it’s changed franchise filmmaking for the worse. In setting such an exemplary blueprint for revitalizing dying brands, Hollywood has rained similar treatment down upon every property from your childhood ever. But how familiar is too familiar? And can said blueprint be adhered to a little too closely?
You bet your ass. And this isn’t even the first time this device has been rehashed in a franchise in the last decade. In terms anyone who’s taken the SAT understands:
Narratively speaking, Ra’s al Ghul (Batman Begins, 2005) is to Talia al Ghul (The Dark Knight Rises, 2012) is to Khan Noonen Signh (Star Trek Into Darkness, 2013) is to Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Spectre, 2015).
I’m writing of course about the wildly popular trope of obfuscating an established villain’s identity in a reboot. Let’s just call it “Ra’sing,” wherein some form of Liam Neeson, Marion Cotillard, or Benedict Cumberbatch reveals to Christian Bale/Chris Pine that they’ve been some form of Ken Watanabe, still just Marion Cotillard, or Ricardo Montalban all along!
Ra’sing worked in Begins because Jonathan Nolan and David Goyer’s script did backflips in restructuring the Batman mythos for film. No longer is Batman trained by some obscure mountain man named Henri Ducard as in the comics. Merging the Ducard and al Ghul characters both circumvented legit fans’ expectations and led to a neat reveal that invigorated Begins‘ final act. But that’s all it was: neat. And while not the inventor per se, Begins popularized two narrative devices that Spectre apes with reckless abandon:
- The hero’s backstory is inextricably linked with that of the villain’s.
- Said villain is going to pretend to be someone else for two thirds of the movie. Because reasons.
That second one is the real bullshit. That Christoph Waltz’s Franz Oberhauser is ultimately revealed as Blofeld in Spectre is hardly a surprise. (If you’re new to the series you can educate yourself on the Bond villain and where he fits into the earlier films here). Spectre tying Bond and Blofeld’s origins together (like that of Batman and Ra’s al Ghul’s in Begins) only adds to the prevailing hokiness of the film’s late-stage meltdown. But let’s go one step further and confront Spectre’s simplest, most-glaring idiocy:
Who the hell cares if the Franz Oberhauser in Spectre is Blofeld?
And I’m not talking about you or I. There are Bond fans who know the history and care, that’s fine. No, I’m talking about the actual characters in this goddamn movie. Who seriously cares if Franz Oberhauser changes his name to Blofeld in this movie called Spectre? They don’t. And that’s a problem.
I have no issue with the Bond films dusting off old characters. More the merrier. But when a pivotal moment of the film is rendered meaningless because it exists solely to “surprise” fans, not because it serves some significance to the people on screen, that moment flat out sucks. The name “Blofeld” might as well be a random sequence of letters to this James Bond, so why should it mean anything as it relates to Spectre? Why is it treated with bombastic score and close-up of Waltz’s mugging face? It only works if the foundation has been laid. And in Spectre it hasn’t. Not even close.
Just a thought, but what’s the harm of calling these characters by their actual names? Why can’t characters from separate ideologies, who’ve never met in the past, meet and battle it out all the while going by their real names? Why can’t a guy named Bond have a fight with a guy named Blofeld and not have it mucked up by bullshit backstory and familial silliness? The narrative switcheroo has become so prolific that some loons are already positing Ben Affleck’s Batman is a red herring for Christian Bale’s return in Batman v. Superman.
The argument can be made that this is all the internet’s fault, and it probably is to some extent. Filmmakers now purposefully muddy the inclusion of characters like Khan or Blofeld as a way of swerving blogs and trades from a film’s true nature. As if we’re supposed to be grateful for these odd trojan horses that make no damn sense in the final product. This movie is called Spectre, and the Blofeld character is synonymous with everything that name means to this franchise. No one was fooled here, and the inclusion of such parlor tricks feels tedious and deflating in 2015.