Story by Simon Murray
The newest installment of the James Bond series finds 007 busy untangling the nefarious web that is SPECTRE.
Aside from the British spelling for “specter,” meaning ghost, what is SPECTRE? It’s not new. In fact we’ve seen it—them—before; the master villain Franz Oberhauser (played by Christoph Waltz) tells Bond (in a shadowy dreamlike sequence reminiscent of Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut): “You came across me so many times, yet you never saw me. What took you so long?”
What took us so long, indeed? SPECTRE’s machinations are grand. Like the stylized political cartoons depicting early 20th century monopolies, their shadowy tentacles slip through governments, strangle combatants, and envelop the world over.
The acronym stands for the Special Executive for Counterintelligence, Terrorism, Revenge, and Extortion: a global terrorist organization that plays a major role in the Bond stories; first introduced in 1959 by the novelist Ian Fleming in the novel Thunderball.
We’ve seen SPECTRE on-screen before, and many Bond villains count themselves as (card-carrying?) members. There’s Dr. No (Dr. No), Emilio Largo (Thunderball) and, of course, Ernst Stavro Blofeld (From Russia With Love, Thunderball, and Diamonds Are Forever, to name a few). Blofeld, you may remember, is the bald-headed criminal mastermind with a scar over his eye and a fluffy white cat in his lap. Ring any bells? In recent years, he’s been recalibrated in pop culture as the innocuous, (if not endearing) rogue Dr. Evil in Austin Powers. In fact, and this is true, after For Your Eyes Only—where Bond unceremoniously drops him down a chimney stack before the credits even roll—the filmmakers lost the rights to the character. (To add insult to, ahem, injury—he even goes unnamed in that last movie.)
A legal battle lasting for more than 50 years is the reason; with MGM Studios and the Broccoli family finally acquiring all of the rights to the 007 franchise from screenwriter Kevin McClory and his estate in recent years.
Where does that leave us? Well, more uncertain then we’d like. We’re left with a rebooted franchise (starting with 2006’s Casino Royale); with a moody, brooding James Bond; played by a moody, brooding British actor who would rather slit his own wrists with glass shards—ouch—than play the titular role again.
Enter John Logan. You’d be forgiven for not knowing the name; but the Northwestern University alum has put pen to paper for a wide range of films (Gladiator, The Aviator, Hugo), TV shows (Penny Dreadful), and plays (Red) that you would recognize. He’s also the co-writer of not one, but two of the newest, hardesthitting films in the James Bond series: Skyfall and Spectre.
It’s hard to imagine many blockbuster action-movie screenwriters having a bust of Shakespeare in their office. (Logan does.) Or being able to quote any line from Diamonds Are Forever. (Logan can do that, too.) He saw that movie when he was 10 years old, and ever since he’s counted himself a fan of the British Secret Service agent. But his creative tendencies have always gravitated closer toward The Bard. He was eight when his Belfast-born father, a naval architect who had a deep appreciation for literature, said to him one day, “Come and watch this movie with me on TV. It’s got ghosts and sword fights.”
That movie was Hamlet.
“If you want to be a successful screenwriter, here’s the secret… you have to read Hamlet,” Logan said in a British Academy of Film and Television Arts lecture podcast. “And you have to read it again, and you have to read it until you understand every word.”
He trafficked in his own advice. After graduating from Northwestern in 1983, Logan had no money and no job prospects. When he found work, it was shelving books at the University’s Law Library. Every morning he would work from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. shelving books. When he wasn’t shelving, he was reading Shakespeare, writing, and schooling himself on how to be a proper playwright.
His earliest plays drew from real life drama: Never the Sinner tells the story of the infamous Leopold and Loeb case; Hauptmann was about the Lindbergh baby kidnapping; and Riverview, a musical melodrama set at Chicago’s famed amusement park. All were put on more or less during a “very vibrant time in Chicago theatre,” said Logan. It wasn’t until an ex-HBO executive discovered one of his plays that Logan entered into the movie industry. That executive, Brian Siberell, left HBO to become an agent at Creative Artists Agency, a talent agency in Los Angeles; taking on Logan as his first client and guiding him to write his earliest screenplay: a take on King Lear in the NFL—or what would eventually become Any Given Sunday. (Oliver Stone read Logan’s draft and personally coached him through 26 more drafts to make the final film.) When Logan started writing the premise for Skyfall—a gripping, unflinching, humanizing movie for the onedimensional super spy, with more elements of film noir than most Bond films—he had already received a Tony Award, a Golden Globe, and three Academy Awards. He had also been an openly gay screenwriter in Hollywood for decades.
Spectre marks the second Bond movie Logan and director Sam Mendes have worked on together. Lately, after smashing box-office records with Skyfall, the duo have partnered for Penny Dreadful on Showtime. (The title refers to the penny dreadfuls, a type of 19thcentury cheap British fiction with lurid and sensational subject matter, and stars Josh Hartnett and Eva Green.)
With Spectre, Logan has the not-so-easy task of keeping the Bond franchise going for another couple of decades. If you’re going to do that, it doesn’t hurt to introduce an ever-expanding league of assassins and terrorists out for Bond’s blood. Will we see Blofeld make an appearance? (For its part, the Internet has its money on Blofeld being a she.) Either way, Logan will have had succeeded: Bond has shed his silly, one-dimensional archetype in favor of a character that could traipse across the stage. Bond bleeds, and we bleed with him.