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Plot: The actual mechanics of the story that moves each individual scene together.
Story: The general overarching story. It's more concerned with symbolic and thematic gestures than the intricacies of the plot.
Martin Scorsese is similar. Scorsese has stated that he's only really made one or two films with a "plot". He draws connections with Hitchcock (who Scorsese is a huge admirer of), made films heavy on plot, however, his film 'The Wrong Man' is a film heavy on story. Scorsese spoke that when he first watched the film, it didn't resonant the way Hitchcock's other films did, as there was no immediate thrill or twists. However, he now feels it is Hitch's most re-watchable film as you don't anticipate the twists and can see different story and character unravel over time.
Mendes is the same. He isn't concerned with the mechanics of the story (how Bond goes from A to B to C). But he's more interested in the character's journey and the story.
The plots for both SF and SP are woefully undercooked. But you do have strong conceits and interesting character arcs:
Bond is broken and irrelevant in a new world. He's attempting to see if he can survive, despite being physically and emotionally way. That's a pretty brilliant set-up that bought something new to the tired Bond formula.
Trying to unpick the logistics of Silva's plan is a waste of time. It makes zero sense. But the story conceit - a man looking for a mother only for her to betray him, who now has devoted his life to killing her - that's a fucking fantastic story and character motivation.
SF is perfectly executed story with great characters. I'll be the first to sing its praises, however, I'm also first to point out how little sense the plot makes.
Ultimately I just think the film is a visual and auditory (yes, I'm a big fan of Newman's score for this film, so shoot me) feast.
It's scenes like the above gif which make the film for me. It's full of flair, flavour and character. Plot be da#%ed in this case at least, although we wouldn't want to make a habit of it.
A plot that's put together in a logical enough way isn't an absolute necessity, but it's generally a welcome sign that care and thought went into the different aspects of a movie. Though sometimes, a film that aims for a certain playfulness and kitsch value can have a slightly undercooked plot, and it will actually feel appropriate for the film, and not really lacking.
For Bond films, when aiming for a serious tone, the plot should be solid; it shouldn't have to withstand the toughest scrutiny, but for the most part it should be well thought out in its details. With something like YOLT or MR, it can be less so.
But is that really the case?
I wouldn't say it makes little or zero sense. As presented in the film, with the exposition provided by the characters to explain it, I would say it generally does make sense, though not entirely, if one considers the good timing of Silva getting captured just as M has to go to the hearing, but I find that was left that way to keep the narrative momentum going, and disbelief can be suspended considering Silva is a genius hacker and has a bunch of people working for him. Now, in real life, would the head of MI6 take just one agent and go hide somewhere to wait for the terrorist to come? No. But Skyfall does explain the motivation to do so and makes it reasonably convincing. It's a serious film in tone, and one belonging to the spy genre, so having some of the plot mechanics have more of a basis in reality would've felt more appropriate than just basing them on reasons of story and character. In that sense, it's obviously not a great plot, but it's decent and goes well with the story.
SF is a difficult one to categorize for me though. I know many members consider it a 'serious' Bond film, but I on the other hand generally do not. I personally find it quite humorous and evocative of the classic era for some reason. It could be the visuals, it could be the character interplay or it could be the dialogue, all of which I enjoy very much. Silva's slightly hammy and OTT depiction of villainy also convey this impression, at least in comparison to Green and Le Chiffre, who were arguably more grounded. I remember the press suggesting he was a throwback villain in 2012, and to a large extent I agree.
SF certainly has a lot of serious moments anchored by the overriding themes, but I think Mendes was smart to leave some of the plot elements open ended and therefore open to interpretation. Those who enjoy the film at a superficial level (like myself) don't notice plot holes, or at least don't care so much about it and those who really enjoy the film in a more meaningful and deep way are able to interpret character motivations, behaviour and occurrences in a way that works for them.
This for me is the perfect summation of SF.
It's a fun romp with serious stakes. However, on analysis there is a deeper thematic core which is there for inspection. However, it's not a film that begs for interpretation. If you want to enjoy SF for it's superficial thrills, then the film is immensely accommodating, but there is more to pour over as well.
It's one of the reasons why I believe it's Craig's best made Bond films - and one of the most impressive entries in the series.
Say what you want about Mendes, but he had flair and confidence. He had the bravado to pull of instantly iconic Bond scenes like this:
...and deliver high art:
Also, for those who ridicule Silva's plan - I think Mendes perfectly followed Fleming's ethos. Create an entertaining story that moves quick enough, so the audience don't see the incredulity of it all.
I think the reasons why we interrogate the plots so much is due to the large gaps between films. We need something to talk about.
I’ve never fully understood why people get so excited by the Shanghai sequence. Pretty enough I suppose but compare it to the sniper scene in TLD and it pales in comparison.
I really enjoyed Silva’s first appearance and his speech. That’s possibly the highlight and high point of the film for me. Although there are plenty of things that annoy me, up to that stage I feel SF works moderately well. After Silva’s island it becomes a stodgy and incoherent mess of a film.
Purvis explained: "People were already in pre-production on the film and they wanted to see things all the time. And sometimes they couldn't decide what they wanted until they'd seen it written."
Case in point - the helicopter crash on Westminister Bridge at the end of the film. Construction on the set at Pinewood had already begun, so they had to find a way of using it as a set piece. The ending they wrote had Bond walking off the bridge back to the only life he knows at MI6 with M, Moneypenny and Tanner. They were over-ruled for a happier ending with Madeleine.
"So you write scene upon scene upon scene. You write so much. But how it finally got shaped was probably down to Sam Mendes, the director."
I always thought the finale was so bone-headed. The thematic resonance of that scene had all the tact of a primary school play.
Bond is on the bridge - will he kill his nemesis? Will he cross over to his old life or will be run into Madeline's arms and into his new life?
It's seriously clunky writing. However, I'm surprised that Mendes went with the more gooey and sentimental ending. I imagine both him and Craig wanted Bond to drive off into the sunset and have a "happy ending".
It's a shame that P&W didn't get their ending. It's very in tune with Fleming's Bond. The broken man who has resigned himself to the shadows. It would actually be very in keeping with the ending of Moonraker.
I think Mendes had burnt out with SP and realised that he was a little bereft of ideas. He just went with spectacle and overblown sentiment. I'd have loved to have seen a more committed director tackle Spectre and Blofeld.
It's a slight shame, as much of his excellent work on SF is let down by the sloppy execution of SP.
Just goes to show that even P&W are capable of good judgement.
Even when Mendes was phoning in the storytelling elements, he never let down with the visuals.
As much as the final act was a disaster, the bridge scene was fine. I had no problem with Bond not killing Blofeld. He didn't kill LeChiffre or Greene, either. Let's not forget that. In this case, I always figured that Blofeld survived to set up Bond 25 or thereafter. Also,
Bond's decision was set up by what M told C about what it's like to kill a man in the field.
But here we are again with an odd criticism: How was the ending of SP (Bond and Madeleine in the DB5) any more gooey and sentimental than almost every previous Bond film? They almost all end with Bond leaving with the girl. The difference is that DC's previous three did not do that. Regardless, the ending fit with the franchise.
What Purvis seems to be unhappy about was that nobody (Sony, EON, Mendes) seemed too good at communicating what they wanted...or they all wanted different things. This all fits with the what came out of the leak.
I will say this, however: what DIDN'T work was Bond's sudden desire to be with Madeleine when earlier in the evening, he let her leave a safe house, to walk the dark streets of London, by herself. Of all things in that final act that bothered me, that bothered me the most. Talk about bad writing and not understanding motivation. If Bond cared about her that much, there is NO WAY he lets her leave under those circumstances, not without protection from police or other agents.
How Madeleine was handled and worked into the final act was a disaster. I would have used TSWLM as a template. There were four things Bond needed to do: 1. Save the world from nuclear catastrophe; 2. Find the girl; 3. Kill the villain; 4. defeat the henchman. In that order.
This basically needed to happen with SP. 1. Save the world from Nine Eyes; 2. Find and kill/arrest Blofeld; 3. Go find and save madeleine; 4. Defeat Hinx.
IMHO, Mendes & co. put the helicopter fight scene in the wrong place, with the wrong bad guy. That fight scene needed to happen at the very end (with Hinx instead of Sciarra) and Bond saving the helicopter from smashing into Big Ben or Westminster Bridge or whatever landmark you like.
The difference is that here there is a strong implication that Bond is leaving the service to settle down with one girl, which is unlike any previous Bond film apart from OHMSS (which definitely earned its unique ending) and also at odds with the endings of Craig's previous three, all of which sent a strong message that Bond is back in action and wholly committed to the service. I don't think Spectre's ending is necessarily the worst artistic crime in all of Bondom, but the gooeyness comes from weird touches like Bond sassily flinging his Walther into the river and from the film simply not earning Bond and Swann's romance being the romance to end all romances. As your point suggests, their romance has all the depth of Bond and Goodnight or Bond and Christmas and yet the film tells us Bond is willing to leave the service for Madeleine. There have been far better earned romances previously in the series where Bond "rode off into the sunset" with the girl without surrendering his license to kill, because that's precisely who Bond is—living for the moment and taking pleasure in great beauty yet ultimately devoted to the cause to which he's committed his life ("JAMES BOND WILL RETURN")—and those perhaps have been some of the series' most satisfying conclusions.
This actually has been the only ending in the series where the film itself suggests James Bond won't return.
EDIT: On a sidenote, I wonder sometimes whether the filmmakers fully realize the messages they are sending audiences with some of their artistic choices. I was watching a documentary on Jurassic World recently where the director Colin Trevorrow was talking about a sequence they had planned in which the Indominous Rex tears the head off of an animatronic T-rex. As cool as the sequence sounded, Spielberg nixed the idea because he knew people would interpret the scene as the filmmakers saying that animatronics and practical effects have no place in today's world of CGI this and that and everything. Trevorrow realized Spielberg was right and that that wasn't what they wanted to say at all and so they canned the scene. I feel like at times, especially with Spectre, elements get thrown into the Bond films so haphazardly and by so many chefs and at such eleventh hours that little if any thought goes into the actual messages all these elements will be sending to audiences.
And the filmmakers would be stone cold crazy to introduce then kill Blofeld in the same film.
I don't have an issue with the idea - in fact, it's a pretty interesting narrative hook. Bond rises above killing his nemesis, falls in love and leaves MI6.
It's the execution that sucks. Bond is at a cross-roads in his life at that moment, where he is forced to make a decision to go between two different paths. Therefore, Mendes put him on a bridge where the decision is so inelegantly presented.
Don't you get it guys?!?! Bond is on a metaphorical bridge - so let's put him on a literal bridge! Genius!
It's dumb and overly simplistic.
This is just one example of the simple and dumb decisions that Mendes made in SP. Here's a brief run-down:
- Using Danny Kleinman's cringeworthy main-title sequence.
- Making C a villain (what a twist!)
- Sloppy narrative
- Half-arsed action
- Fudging Blofeld and Spectre's return
- the pictures in MI6
- Q's magic ring machine
- Everything being "connected"
- The nonsensical torture scene
As this tread is a testament to, I really really like SF but SP was a poor follow-up.
This was particularly dreadful. If I had to point to one thing in Spectre I loathed the most, it would be this (and really it's just the ultimate visual representation of the terrible, terrible idea of "everything being connected").
It also didn't help that they used often seen promotional photos. Well aside from White's. I loathed those as well.
To be fair, they’d spent most of their budget on the world’s most mildly impressive movie explosion.
For their reduced administrative and staff capabilities at least, I mean.
I was in a particularly salty mood last night when I wrote that diatribe. If there is something I could forgive it would be the photos in MI6.
I understand what Mendes was doing and in theory it's terrific - once again the execution is iffy:
Bond is forced to return to the old cavernous and decrepit MI6 HQ (something of a visual metaphor for him) and there is even a psychological trip down memory lane where he is tormented by his past failures, before confronting Blofeld.
It's a good idea, but the execution is way off. It should have gone a little more like a modern version of Scaramanga's funhouse from TMWTGG. It needed to be more surreal to truly work. However, the camerawork does redeem the sequence considerably; it's very reminiscent of The Third Man.
Also, in regards to the photos used. As I understand why they used the ones they did: due to copyright issues they could only use already published stills or screencaps. You cannot use previously unreleased material without some kind of onerous approval process. The alternative is hiring the actor to take another photo. Danny Kleinman spoke about this before as he was disappointed he couldn't use takes not included in CR, QOS and SF in the SP titles.
I don't think Bond desired to be with Madeleine as much as he actually desired to escape the "life of an assassin"; he didn't want to "live in the shadows, hunting, being hunted" anymore but rather settle for a normal life (though we know from the books he'd never be able to do it; being a 00 is in his DNA after all, hence why he's coming back in Bond 25). But yeah, I agree with pretty much everything else.
So did I, which is why I'd be rather annoyed if Blofeld did not show up in Bond 25. But because of all these talks about "Boyle's great idea" and the fact I can see Boyle wanting to move on and detach himself by previous installments, not to mention SPECTRE's mixed reviews, I'm convinced Bond 25 will be a standalone with little to no mentions to SPECTRE.
Also, this is probably a controversial opinion here, but I don't really care for the last two Kleinman titles - other than that part with the dragons. The SF/SP title sequences are too cluttered and lack colour. I much prefer CR's (classic) and (more controversy here) the underrated QOS titles.
SP is the sort of movie that has scenes where people get thrown through walls and Andrew Scott mugs and sneers to the camera. You needed a director who could play towards the campier and more outlandish aspects better. You needed someone who wouldn't have been afraid to have some fun and would happily ditch the naval-gazing.
Mendes isn't that guy. He tried, but it just wasn't a comfortable fit. On the other hand, when he played to his strengths he can be magnificent and SF is proof of that.
Everthing in Skyfall was character driven, and the action scenes were basic but well crafted and tense. In Spectre they tried an over the top approach and you could see he did not have the right mindset for it.
I remember on one of the behind the scenes videos he complained that it takes weeks of Shooting an action scene like the plane chase but it's just a couple minutes of screen time. You think Campbell would have ever complained about that or any director familiar with really good action films? It is what it is, you need to understand the purpose, you could be creating the greatest action scene in a 60 year old franchise.
Thats why Mendes didn't even bother with the Vulcano escape, that whole sequence just feels like 'lets get it over with quickly' *cut to the blandest world record setting explosion ever*
Only the pre titles sequence had some tension, Ok and the Train fight (all thanks to Batista and Craig) everything else was nice to look at but overall just dull.
He talks about his frustrations with SP and how he wasn't given the time to take the script into different directions. Mendes states that during the scriptwriting phase of SF they developed the story numerous times and went down different blind alleys to try and figure out the shape of the film. On SP he was never given that chance. I feel SP's script was another draft or two away from really working.
Also, found this very recent interview with Mendes from April 2018. He's a very charismatic and charming man. Also a terrific speaker. It's rather long, but I do recommend leaving it on in the background.
At 1hr 22min he walks you through a day on a Bond set
Completely agree. SKYFALL is a terrific Bond picture, SPECTRE was a strange, incoherent mess of a story.
Interesting comments by Mendes regarding Bond 25. In the video it's very clear that he wasn't asked back for Bond 25.
I'm quite surprised that Eon and Craig didn't feel obliged to go back to Mendes, even out of politeness. He did make the two most successful Bond films. Surely the courtesy would be to invite him back. Perhaps the rumours that both Craig and his relationship deteriorated in Spectre were true...
I think we all know what a Sam Mendes-directed Bond 25 would be.
-- Daniel Craig would have to play old and grizzled.
-- It probably would be closer in tone to SF (dour and contemplative) than SP (more
frothy and frivolous)
-- We would have got the conclusion to the Blofeld story.
-- We'd have likely got the adaptation of Fleming's YOLT many were hoping for.
-- Both Lea Seydoux and Christoph Waltz would have returned.
-- Possibly it would have borrowed from Logan
I remain intrigued by the idea of a third Mendes film, however, SP felt like a film running on an empty tank. It's a fine throwback to the old Bondian days, but the injection of the 'new' ushered in by SF had long diminished.
I like Sam, but I feel the time was right for him to move on.
I can't help but feel that is is what we are going to get from Boyle.