Certain parallels between 2012’s Skyfall, the most successful Bond film ever, and Spectre (Nov. 6) are too obvious to ignore. Both movies feature brooding British thespian Daniel Craig as an all-too-human 007 who must shoulder the heavy existential burden of being a superspy while simultaneously saving the world. Both were directed by Oscar-winner Sam Mendes, and each film showcases the same actors portraying MI6 support staff facing downward pressure from government bureaucracy: Ralph Fiennes as Secret Intelligence Service boss M, Naomie Harris as Eve Moneypenny, and Ben Whishaw as gadget master Q.
The key difference between the sequels according to Mendes, however, is the way Spectre and Skyfall synthesize real-world headline news into narrative twists. “The last movie was a post-Assange Bond,” the director says, a shout out WikiLeaks’ controversial co-founder/editor-in-chief Julian Assange. “This one is post-Snowden.”
At a time when Big Data has evolved into something closer to Big Brother in the collective imagination, one of several inter-twining Spectre plotlines taps into cultural anxieties about the erosion of civil liberties in the digital age, à la NSA contractor-turned-privacy activist Edward Snowden.
“There was a lot about hacking in the last movie, about security services being archaic and preposterous, about Bond being a dinosaur,” Mendes explains. “Here, again, the assumption that was with us in 1962 when the franchise began that Bond worked for the good guys: that can’t be taken for granted anymore. “
“If you Google MI6 or MI5, 90 percent of the headlines that appear are negative ones,” he continues. “There’s a sense of suspicion of the security services in this country, that they’re spying on us. So you have to animate that debate in the movie. You have to create someone who represents drone warfare, increased surveillance, and a surveillance state. And you have to pit them against Bond, who represents the old values, the man on the ground.”
Enter Irish actor Andrew Scott, who portrays National Security head honcho Max Denbigh — a.k.a. “C” — a character who attempts to Bigfoot M’s authority and revoke Bond’s License to Kill in the 24th spy series installment. While Scott remains tight-lipped about his character’s motives (except to say “there’s a certain amount of tension” between him and 007), the actor points out Spectre’s willingness to wrestle with the modern malaise of the Information Age is precisely what distinguishes the movie from so much other mega-budget popcorn fare.
“It’s important that Bond films remain relevant. And this is certainly topical,” says Scott, best known for playing Moriarty in the BBC series Sherlock. “It pertains to fears that every human being has. What is that camera looking at? Who’s looking at my history? Are you the sum of your digital legacy? In our new digital world, what does surveillance mean? What do we have to do to maintain our security and privacy?”
Adds Mendes: “It’s trying to make serious points about the way we live now and the ways we can preserve identity and privacy and civil liberties. That is an issue I care about very much.”