How Does “Spectre” Follow the Traditional Bond Film Formula?


The latest Bond film, Spectre (2015), stars Daniel Craig as the man himself. Directed by Sam Mendes and produced by Eon productions, Spectre checks nearly every box essential to making a traditional Bond film. Visually brilliant and thematically blunt, it follows suit both in terms of its visual style and its marquee events.

Any Bond film worth its salt starts with an extravagant opening scene. The Spy Who Loved Me opens with a ski chase culminating in Bond parachuting off a cliff, the British flag adorning his parachute. Casino Royale starts with a parkour chase through the skies of Madagascar, and Goldfinger had perhaps the most outrageous opening of them all, which finishes with the iconic toaster scene and shocking pun. Spectre is no different from its predecessors in this regard. Set in Mexico City during Dia de los Muertos, the first scene shows Bond navigating an extravagant parade while tracking down an agent of the notorious Spectre organization. The scene ends with Bond fighting the agent in the cockpit of a helicopter as it veers precariously over a crowded square. Just as Bond has killed the agent and regained control of the helicopter, the iconic Bond theme booms triumphantly.

Then comes the opening song, traditionally sung by a preeminent figure in the pop world, like Adele’s award-winning opener of Skyfall or Madonna’s frightful opener of Die Another Day. Spectre’s pop voice is Sam Smith, one of British music’s most high-profile performers, and both his vocal performance and the dark and twisted visuals that accompany his voice are aptly over-the-top enough to herald the following two hours or so of high octane action.

Next there’s the stern talking-to Bond receives from M for his reckless efforts that always seem to get the job done, followed by a lenient punishment given that Bond is acting as a sort of global judge, jury, and executioner. Over time it’s become a staple to have Bond saunter past Moneypenny into M’s office where he hears about how the reckless pursuit of his goals jeopardizes the fate of MI6. This time around, Ralph Fiennes’ M puts Bond on leave effective immediately.

Of course, there’s the girl, who (as always) is initially off put by Bond’s directness and perceived brusqueness but is eventually won over by his charm. Léa Seydoux plays that part this time, and she plays the part to a T, including the suggestive/seductive conversation over drinks during transit.

We have the ruthless and maniacal villain who is deluded enough to believe he stands for something good, Franz Oberhauser, played by Christophe Waltz. As is often the case, Oberhauser represents a perceived common enemy of the time, much like the Cold War-era Bond villains did. Oberhauser is the head of an international global surveillance organization that sounds suspiciously like the NSA.

Perhaps most importantly, Bond seemingly gives complete control of his fate over to the villain. This is a staple of Bond films and is a part of what makes up the mythical figure of Bond, a spy hero who is always in control, regardless of how dire the circumstances may seem. In Skyfall, Bond goes alone to Raoul Silva’s private Island, and who could forget the iconic laser scene in Goldfinger? In Spectre, Bond finds himself experimented on by Oberhauser while his love interest is forced to watch, yet he manages to escape by using a wristwatch bomb given to him earlier.

As we cross off this checklist of universal Bond film elements, it may sound like the films are getting predictable. But the Bond audience knows what it wants, and the room for creativity these days is in how the formulaic requirements are met.

Admittedly, the formula has undergone minor changes over time. For instance, it used to be that “Bond girls” were entirely reliant on Bond for their safety, but recent other halves have shown more explicit strength and resourcefulness, often intervening in a key moment to save Bond. Seydoux’s Madeleine rescues him by shooting a Spectre agent pursuing Bond. This mirrors the scene in Casino Royale wherein Vesper saves Bond from cardiac arrest without a moment to spare. Yet these adjustments, overall, don’t alter the fundamental Bond structure.

For better or for worse, Spectre is a Bond film to its core.