Monday, November 16, 2015
Strained Analogies Between Recently Released Films and Current Events: Spectre and the Republican Primary Debate
by Matt McKenna
James Bond, like most action heroes, is a conservative protagonist. Even as the other characters in the film--both friendly and hostile--deride 007 for sticking with his outmoded methods of problem solving (blowing stuff up, shooting everybody, etc.), Bond stoically carries on, winning the day without the expectation of apologies from his doubters much less thanks from those he saves. Of course, Bond's attitude makes a lot of sense for an action movie hero. Instead of shooting down aircraft to stop nefarious organizations, can you imagine the snorefest that would ensue if Bond attempted to solve problems diplomatically? Thankfully, director Sam Mendes stays true to the franchise's legacy in his second Bond film, Spectre. While the movie drags towards the end, especially during the perfunctory scene in which the villain (Christoph Waltz) blathers exposition while torturing Bond (Daniel Craig), the opening action sequence alone warrants the price of admission. If you can manage it, the best viewing strategy is to buy a matinee ticket for Spectre then clandestinely head into another auditorium to see a better movie immediately after the helicopter fight scene ends. I realize this plan may go against movie theatre policy, but don't you think it's quite Bond-like?
If you saw this past summer's Mission Impossible film, Rogue Nation, then you already know the plot of Spectre. In Rogue Nation, secret agent Ethan Hunt has to prove the existence of the evil intelligence organization The Syndicate without the support of the the IMF because the agency has been inauspiciously merged with the CIA. In Spectre, secret agent James Bond has to prove the existence of the evil intelligence organization Spectre without the support of MI6 because the agency has been inauspiciously merged with MI5. In both films, the hero is forced to covertly call in favors from old friends and operate without the help of their respective governments--a conservative tale if I've ever heard one. Of the two blockbusters, Rogue Nation is better, but both films are an improvement over the tiresome conservative fantasy playing out in America right now in the form of Republican presidential candidates attempting to expose the unfair treatment they've received from the media.
Google "Republicans call out media" and you will be met by a wall of articles and blog posts mostly focusing on how Republican candidates feel they are scrutinized by the media while the Democrats are given a pass. This complaint from Republicans is a common one, so much so that when anyone uses the phrase "liberal media," we know pretty well where they land on the political issues of the day. Of course, Democrats roll their eyes at the phrase because this "liberal media" is owned by the same giant corporations liberals are supposedly hostile towards (but are they really hostile towards them?). This is where Republicans look like a gaggle of pre-teen boys dressing up as Bond for Halloween: by "calling out" the media, they're attempting to rewrite their narrative so that despite being members of a dominant behemoth political party, they're recast as a gritty upstart attempting to uncover the truth about a conspiracy designed to defraud the good citizens of America.
But there is no conspiracy because there has been no concerted effort by liberal masterminds to pull strings at television stations and make life hard for Republicans--debate moderators just think it'd be more entertaining to ask Ben Carson about that time he might have stabbed a guy than to ask him by exactly how much he is going to cut taxes. Unlike Bond, Republicans don't have an "architect of all their pain," which is a phrase used by Christoph Waltz's character to describe how he has systematically made the agent's life difficult by killing the people he loves and so forth. Speaking of Waltz, his role is the most disappointing part of the film because he seemed perfectly cast as a Bond villain considering his incredible performance as the quirky-evil Nazi bad guy in Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds. Unfortunately, Waltz's ability to elicit trepidation through dark humor is lost in Spectre as his character doesn't have scenes or dialogue that do more than provide confusing and unnecessary exposition. Indeed, Waltz's character is given a catchphrase ("cuckoo!"), a ton of backstory to go over, and not a whole heck of a lot else.
In addition to the helicopter fight scene, there are other reasons to like Spectre. In particular, there are a few gorgeous shots in the desert and at least one impressive car chase. I can't say the same for the Republican debates, however, which don't have any redeeming value I can decipher. While paranoid feelings of victimization work well in espionage thrillers, it doesn't provide much in the way of entertainment or elucidation in these circus show debates. I mean, there has to be something better on TV to watch. In fact, there's a high probability that one of those Pierce Brosnan Bond films from the 90s is on TBS right now.
Posted by Matt McKenna at 12:25 AM | Permalink