James Bond deals with some old ghosts in ‘Spectre’


Special To The Japan Times

It has been a long time since the world of “Bond, James Bond” has included global gang of evil-doers SPECTRE (Special Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion) — an organization that, early on, produced so many formidable foes.

Its last appearance was in 1971’s “Diamonds are Forever” (back when Sean Connery was still playing Agent 007). However in “Spectre,” the 24th “Bond” film, the eponymous group makes up for lost time by terrorizing Daniel Craig’s Bond with a slew of villains, including the assassin Marco Sciarra (Alessandro Cremona), the muscular Mr. Hinx (Dave Bautista) and the mysterious Franz Oberhauser (who is later revealed to be a well-known character from the franchise), played by Oscar-winner Christoph Waltz.

“Budgets now are so big for these ‘Bonds,’ I think the producers spread out their chances,” Waltz tells The Japan Times regarding the film’s multiple baddies. “In the (1960s’) ‘Bonds’ there was one car crash, perhaps one explosion. Now there are more than one of everything, including villains and crashes and explosions. It takes more to compete in this market, and with everything so expensive, the only thing they can have one of is James Bond.”

There is only one Bond, at a time at least. Craig, 47, reprises the role for a fourth time in “Spectre,” but he alarmed fans in October when he told Britain’s Time Out publication that he’d rather “slit his wrists” than play the role for a fifth time. He seems to have tempered his comments since, but still hints that playing the spy isn’t as easy as it looks (and it doesn’t always look that easy).

“They’re more difficult to make, so much rides on each one,” Craig says of the franchise. “I wouldn’t doubt at all that Sean Connery had an easier, more enjoyable time of it. The films then were guaranteed hits. There wasn’t the same competition, nor the comparisons to other ‘Bond’ movies or action movies or to other genres. Everybody didn’t take themselves so seriously. It just looked like more fun.”

Though the film market has become flooded with Bond-types — “The Bourne Identity” and “Mission Impossible” series for example — “Spectre” still did very well at the box office by bringing in $749.6 million in 93 markets worldwide.

The story sees Bond learn of the existence of an international terrorist group while his boss, M (now played by Ralph Fiennes), deals with political infighting at Britain’s Joint Intelligence Service — a merged MI5 and MI6. Agent 007 goes off the grid to get to the bottom of who’s behind the group, SPECTRE, and when he finds Oberhauser at the helm Bond soon learns the villain is not who he seems to be.

Craig says he admires Waltz’s ability to “spontaneously produce a new mood or new expression that says so much. He’s very inventive, and can go from nice to rotten and be convincing in both. As a person, he’s a good guy, and it’s good he’s not stereotyped as the smirking villain you root against.”

For his part, Waltz says he thinks Bautista had it harder as Mr. Hinx, especially in the context of the “Bond” universe.

“He is not what you first think of as the bad guy, being a muscleman,” Waltz says. “Since at least Shakespeare, the villain is supposed to have that ‘lean and hungry’ look, and I do fit the bill. But I admire Bautista’s physiognomy — the right word, yes? — but he had to work harder to be hated than I did. I seem to come by it … not naturally, but without much difficulty.”

Director Sam Mendes is back for his second turn at helming the “Bond” franchise, his first being 2012’s “Skyfall.” Waltz says the director didn’t want “Spectre” to receive many comparisons with the last film, so there is a different vibe to his work this time.

“I think anyone directing a ‘James Bond’ movie has to be very detail-oriented, as Sam was,” Waltz says. “It is a very big job, like temporarily running a country, I imagine. … There was also a big change in the cast or, more exactly, in the hierarchy. The excellent Mrs. M is gone, so it is a big change in the psychology of the Bond character for the audience, who may have become used to her as a mother figure over several movies. Even if it was a, shall we say, difficult relationship.”

Dame Judi Dench’s strict-but-lovable M was killed off in “Skyfall.” Her character shows up briefly in “Spectre,” but for the most part Bond has to deal with Gareth Mallory, the new M, who is played by the 52-year-old Fiennes.

“I’ve admired Ralph for years, he has a splendid gallery of characters,” Craig says. “I had to work to overcome the affability and esteem I felt for him, because Bond is not at all thrilled to have a new boss. He still misses, for him, the real M … he might not confess to it, and to some degree resents the new chap.

“I don’t think Bond wanted a mother. But at times he wanted, in both senses of the word, mothering. And now she’s gone.”

Fiennes is quite a force to go up against, having played some of the most memorable villains in film history — Amon Goeth in “Schindler’s List,” Francis Dolarhyde in “Red Dragon” and Lord Voldemort in the “Harry Potter” series. His turn as M, however, brings to mind the easy-but-firm manner of Bernard Lee’s M in the early “Bond” films.

“There may be more room in the future for interesting antagonism,” Fiennes notes about his relationship with Bond. “With dear Judy, she could be exasperating to Bond, but how upset could he get at her? Could he physically threaten her? I think not. But he can threaten me. There’s more potential for major confrontation with the boss.”

Fiennes was also rumored to be up for the role of Bond before Pierce Brosnan landed the role in 1995’s “GoldenEye.” Fiennes recalls that Sam Neill once turned down the role saying that the degree of fame the job would have given him would have interfered too much with his life. With “Bond” comes some intense scrutiny.

“The ‘Bond’ movies have become heavier than the earlier ones. They were more tongue-in-cheek, particularly those with Roger Moore,” Fiennes says. “Times are darker now, which I think produces darker plots and themes … there’s a darker mood and protagonist.”

The heaviness could be what weighs on Craig’s mind as he flits between keeping the role and retiring. Having starred in three films so far — “Casino Royale” (2006), “Quantum of Solace” (2008) and “Skyfall” — while still appearing in other projects (such as 2011’s “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo”), audiences can’t really blame him for wanting to hang up the golden gun.

“I have played opposite divos and Daniel is not one of them,” Waltz says. “I can believe that he would walk away from the money and fame of being James Bond. I think to him, his work ethic is more important than what being James Bond can bring. I think he has a desire for diverse roles and not to be pegged into the James Bond slot from now on.

“My opinion is Daniel is the best Bond in a long time and if he does quit, which he might, it will be very, very hard to replace him effectively.”

“Spectre” is now playing in cinemas nationwide. For more information, visit www.007.com/spectre.