In the new James Bond film Spectre, 007 is given the mission of rescuing Hollywood from a month of dismal box office. At that, he succeeds. As an entry in the long-running franchise, however, the movie is only so-so. There are good action set pieces and interesting moments throughout, but they don’t come together to form a coherent whole. The third act makes no sense whatsoever. And, in keeping with his statements about how sick he is of the role, Daniel Craig — who did a spectacular job in the last good Bond film, Casino Royale — seems to play each scene here as if he’s wondering what’s for dinner.
But more than that, as with last summer’s Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation (a much better movie) — and with the last three Star Wars flicks (much worse), Spectre suffers as a result of the deterioration of American values since the original source material was made.
The Bond of Dr. No, like the Ethan Hunt of the original MI TV series, like the Luke Skywalker of the first Star Wars trilogy, knew what he was fighting for and what he was fighting against. The story — all those stories — took place with the presence of the Soviet Union and Red China in every viewer’s mind. We knew they were slave states who wished to impose their brand of slavery — called communism then, progressivism now — on the entire world. We knew we needed brave men and strong ideas to defeat them.
Where oh where could we find such villains today? Who holds to a slave philosophy now? Who wants to impose that philosophy on the rest of us? Why are they evil? Why should we oppose them?
The answers are 1. In the Middle East; 2. Islamists; 3. Also Islamists; 4. Because individual liberty is an objective good; and 5. Because if good men don’t fight evil, evil wins.
The people who make these movies live in a haze of such intellectual dishonesty that they have forgotten, or chosen to ignore, these answers. They aren’t honest so they can’t write honest plots. Their villains have no motives and their master plans are confusing where they’re not just laughable. Their heroes are merely an assemblage of characteristics from an earlier age: empty images that move and talk a certain way but have no virtue and so no power to thrill. They are, so to speak, merely spectres of their former selves.
Without intellectual honesty, you can’t find moral truth. Without moral truth, there are no good stories.