SPOILERS AHOY for Spectre, Skyfall, Quantum of Solace, Casino Royale, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and possibly for any of the nineteen other canonical Bond films I decide to chuck in
I have a theory. I haven’t researched it at all, so there might be plenty of other people who have theorised the same thing. Or there might be stuff out there refuting it, or confirming it. But it’s my theory, and I’m going to put it here.
Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace, Daniel Craig’s first two James Bond movies, are pretty openly presented as the first two episodes of a trilogy dealing with the discovery and exploration of the top-secret global criminal superconspiracy, “Quantum”; and the end of Quantum of Solace—in which Bond takes Dominic Greene offscreen to interrogate him, and all we learn of that interrogation is when we cut back to Greene afterward and he screams, “Okay! I’ve told you all you wanted to know about Quantum!”—clearly set the third Daniel Craig film up as Bond’s big final showdown with Quantum and whatever shadowy mastermind was running it.
I’ve assumed it was because Quantum of Solace was so underwhelming (in terms of critical response and general narrative dissatisfaction, though certainly not in terms of box office) that the decision was taken to abandon the Quantum storyline completely in Skyfall. Narratively, Skyfall stands completely apart from its two predecessors, with no mention of Quantum. Even the characterisation of Bond has been reversed: not only has the first two films’ “Bond is too young, hotheaded, unpredictable and inexperienced” theme been jettisoned, it’s been replaced by its exact opposite, as Skyfall is centred on Bond being too old and past his prime to carry the physical demands of his job.
So here’s my theory. I think that when the Bond people reacquired the rights to S.P.E.C.T.R.E. and the Blofeld character in 2013, they were so anxious to include them in the next Bond film (particularly given how successful Skyfall was at reintroducing elements that have been missing from the series, such as Q, Miss Moneypenny and even the 1960s Aston Martin), they were so eager to include them that they basically just dusted off the abandoned original storyline for the third Daniel Craig film and changed the name “Quantum” to “Spectre”.
This would explain why Blofeld in Spectre is essentially identical, in modus operandi, to Raoul Silva from Skyfall; because Silva would have been originally conceived of as the evil genius masterminding Quantum. (Silva’s obsession with Judi Dench’s M fits in well here. One thing the first three Daniel Craig Bonds did very well—I’ve raved about this many times in the past—was their extended exploration of the relationship between Bond and Dench’s M. The treatment of the Bond–M relationship in Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace makes a lot of sense if the plan had always been to subject it to the same deconstruction it gets in Skyfall even when Skyfall hadn’t been intended to be Skyfall.)
This would also explain why it is that Spectre and Blofeld don’t actually seem to have any sort of evil goal. They have want to link up the intelligence-gathering networks of Britain, South Africa, Japan, China and five other unnamed countries, and have access to the information produced by those networks, but there’s no explanation as to what they want to do with that network that would be so much more horrible than the fact that modernday governments already have access to that information in the first place. Mounting terrorist attacks on Mexico City, Frankfurt, Tunisia and Cape Town? Except that those terrorist attacks were staged as a means to get the Nine Eyes network up and running, and once that goal had been achieved, there wouldn’t have been any reason to keep them going. To avoid prosecution for Spectre’s sex trafficking and counterfeit African drugs programmes? They seem to be doing a pretty good job of that already, considering that they apparently have already cornered both those huge markets of global crime and yet still no one is even aware that their organisation exists.
(Really, if Bond had been a bit more cooperative with Ralph Fiennes’s M and told him he’d just discovered a secret global crime syndicate who are masterminding the distribution of counterfeit drugs in Africa, M could have saved everyone a lot of time just by saying, “Don’t worry about it, 007; your wife and I already took care of that.”)
There were parts of Spectre I thought worked well. I really liked the Dia de los Muertes imagery in the opening shot. Blofeld’s introduction at the Spectre board meeting in Rome was a really brilliant example of “this is how we take a quintessentially 60s cinematic moment and put it on the screen for a 2015 audience”. The Bond torture scene was genuinely squeam-inducing.
But it was also a clunky film, and its biggest area of clunkiness was its complete lack of a coherent plot. If that’s because it’s the product of an abandoned storyline that had already been cannibalised for parts in Skyfall, well, that would explain a lot.
Another area of clunk were elements that seemed to have been included as homages or tips of the hat, but that were just tossed into the background, glided quickly past and never mentioned or focused on. For instance, when Mr. Hinx popped out his opponent’s eyes, I could have sworn that he had steel-tipped thumbnails, which I took as a reference to Jaws’s steel teeth; but his thumbs were only onscreen for a second or two, and weren’t shown again, so I couldn’t check.
Similarly, Bond first finds Madeleine Swann at an ultra-exclusive, ultra-luxurious, secluded mental health clinic perched in isolation on a mountaintop in the Austrian Alps, and that has to be a reference to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, right? There’s no way that everyone involved in the production of Spectre can have been unaware that that’s a major part of OHMSS, particularly considering that OHMSS is not only one of the “Blofeld trilogy” of Bond films, but is also the only other Bond film that ends with Bond resigning from MI-6 and (literally) driving off to spend the rest of his days with the woman he loves? And yet Dr. Swann’s milieu gets no special comment or focus; it’s just an exotic background like any of the many others that litter the opening acts of Spectre as they do all Bond films.
I’m a huge fan of ambiguous storytelling, but I didn’t find things like this to be ambiguous so much as I did frustrating. Because they make you wonder if other parts of the movie are also references to previous films, or if you’re just pattern matching and there’s really nothing there. For instance, when Bond and Dr. Swann arrive at Blofeld’s layer, and Swann finds that Blofeld has left a dress out for her on her bed in her room; Lisa was pretty sure that was a reference to Dr. No. Or the fact that Bond’s ultimate defeat of Blofeld involves bringing his helicopter crashing down out of the sky over London—there are enough differences between how that’s realised in Spectre versus in For Your Eyes Only that I think it’s kiiiiiinda a stretch to see the two as related, unless Spectre has already been genuinely peppered with all these other moments and images from the previous films.
Anyway, that’s my theory, and I’m sticking to it.