Stirred, Not Shaken: A 'Spectre' of What's to Come

First off, let me apologize for the terrible pun. Let's label it my callback to the risible double entendres of Bonds past. But after sifting through and parsing this morning's official press announcement of Spectre, the twenty-fourth James Bond film scheduled for release November 6, 2015 in North America, it seems entirely apropos. Much of the same ingredients and formula as the wildly successful Skyfall (even another seven-letter title starting with "S"), with a few tweaks around the edges to keep the franchise at the leading edge of what's trending in popular culture while still drawing on familiar elements from Bond's over 50-year history.

The title itself is something a celebratory one, given that it represents the return to "the family" of a piece of Bond that's been tangled up in the courts for almost as long as there have been James Bond movies. Owing to a web of legal rights so complex it could have been knotted by one of Bond's diabolical nemeses, the official 007 series hasn't been able to use the character of iconic cat-stroking supervillain Ernst Stavro Blofeld or his terrorist organization SPECTRE (Special Executive for Counterintelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion) since 1971's Diamonds are Forever, apart from a brief, oblique reference in 1981's For Your Eyes Only.

But last year, that long-simmering dispute was finally settled, and clearly producers/Bond stewards Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson have wasted no time in making good use of their new acquisition (just as they made 2006's Casino Royale as soon as they had sewn up that movie's rights). Indeed, spectres hang over many elements of the film, only rumors for months, that have manifested with today's official, speculation-killing announcement. The poster, a bullet hole shattering glass into seven distinct tentacles, is absolutely a reference to the octopus ring that SPECTRE's members wore in Thunderball.

Anyway, let's start with the team behind the camera. Following Skyfall, director Sam Mendes, temporarily as it turned out, removed himself from consideration for its follow-up, citing commitments to the London stage. During the sede vacante fanboys (myself included, admittedly) were overjoyed to hear that Broccoli and Wilson had a chat with Interstellar director Christopher Nolan instead -- the hottest filmmaker at the moment and a professed Bond fan who's been open about the influence of Bond on his work, citing specifically the groundbreaking ski chases in On Her Majesty's Secret Service as the inspiration for the mountaintop finale of 2010's Inception. With Mendes ultimately wooed back for round two -- for either the official reason, scheduling the film around his theatre obligations, or the more likely tremendous vault full of cash -- he has brought with him two of Nolan's collaborators: Interstellar's director of photography Hoyte van Hoytema, filling the Oscar-nominated shoes of Skyfall's Roger Deakins, and Nolan's longtime editor Lee Smith.

So we have another example of culture feeding back on itself, where a popular director drawing on classic Bond for his inspiration ends up influencing Bond in return, just as the modern Bond era finds itself owing a large debt to the Bourne movies, which themselves never would have existed without 007. However, the majority of Skyfall's creative personnel, including composer Thomas Newman, have chosen to return to see if they can recapture the magic. And one suspects Christopher Nolan is merely waiting in the wings until Mendes decides that the world is indeed enough.

But that stuff's for the film geeks. What about the cast? Daniel Craig, Ralph Fiennes as M, Naomie Harris as Moneypenny, Ben Whishaw as Q and Rory Kinnear as Tanner are all back working for Queen and country. On the side of the devils, since having an Oscar-winning villain (Javier Bardem) worked so well last time, let's bring in somebody who has two of those little golden guys: Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained's Christoph Waltz, as the enigmatic "Franz Oberhauser," whom nobody who knows Bond worth a damn thinks can be anybody other than Blofeld himself, in a move that smacks of Benedict Cumberbatch-is-Khan-no-he-isn't-he's-John-Harrison-okay-he's-Khan from Star Trek Into Darkness.

Speaking of His Cumberbatchness, with he and Sherlock co-star Martin Freeman committed to their own respective franchises elsewhere, Spectre has snagged Andrew Scott, a.k.a. Sherlock's Moriarty, to play "Denbigh," a figure supposedly working for the British government, from whom those familiar with Scott's unequaled ability to do a psychotic leer will be waiting for an inevitable act of betrayal. We also have, in a nod to Marvel's dominance of the worldwide box office, Dave Bautista following up his acclaimed performance in this summer's smash Guardians of the Galaxy as "Mr. Hinx," a henchman said to follow the mold of silent, physically dominant baddies like Oddjob and Jaws. (Oddly, in the official cast photos, Bautista is sporting a cardigan, which is hardly the epitome of evil fashion, depending on your point of view I suppose...)

As to the casting of the ladies, it's been a long and somewhat winding road, but Italian actress Monica Bellucci has finally found her way into a Bond film. Prior to her star-making role in 2000's Malèna, she auditioned for the role of the villain's haunting, ill-fated wife in 1997's Tomorrow Never Dies opposite then-Bond Pierce Brosnan, but was allegedly vetoed by the studio who preferred a name more recognizable to American audiences and selected Desperate Housewives' Teri Hatcher instead. She'll be playing "Lucia Sciarra," and since Bond can never be sated with just one woman, joining her is Léa Seydoux, the tenth French actress to take on a Bond girl role, as "Madeleine Swann," a name the snob in me wants to believe is a deliberate allusion to Marcel Proust and À la recherche du temps perdu but is probably just fodder for another mordant pun to be delivered at just the right post-coital moment.

What of the story, then? The official plot summary speaks of Bond pursuing a cryptic message from his past that leads to the revelation of a "sinister organization" and a "terrible truth" -- i.e., SPECTRE, and... I don't know, maybe that they've rigged the voting for The Voice -- while M struggles against superiors in the British government looking to shut MI6 down. Threads of this arc were laid in Skyfall, with the previous M (Judi Dench) forced to defend the very idea of secret agents to her political bosses, and it appears that Ralph Fiennes' successor will be carrying on that fight, at the least to give him more screentime than M's traditional role of assigning Bond the mission at the beginning and then buggering off. But it also speaks to the undercurrent in today's thinking in Western democracies, that there is something sinister going on beneath the veil of simplicity in the everyday that we choose to cloak ourselves with, that it is slowly stripping away our freedoms one at a time, and it has so deeply entrenched itself in power that we may never be rid of it, absent heroes like James Bond stepping up to take it on. Ironic then that it may be a vehicle of that very same light, diverting, corporate-produced, product-placement-saturated entertainment that chooses to point that out, but -- oh look! -- New Aston Martin too! Fabulous.

So now begins the yearlong wait, the meticulous avoidance of Internet spoilers, and speculation as to whether Spectre can overcome the enormous spectre of Skyfall and fifty-two years of 007 to deliver the rousing ride it seems to promise, and whether it can carve out a niche for itself in a year already crammed with major franchise releases such as Marvel's Avengers sequel and the new Star Wars. One certainly hopes so, because contemplating the spectre of a movie theater absent any more new Bond movies can leave you quite shaken indeed. (Sorry, yet again. Where's my martini?)