For a James Bond film titled Spectre, also the 24th entry in the franchise that has spanned over 5 decades, one could assume that if you’re an avid fan of the franchise, a familiar arch-nemesis villain would also make a triumphant return. After all, this secret criminal organization has been teased since Casino Royale with breadcrumbs being sprinkled throughout Quantum and Skyfall. And due to copyright disputes and legal cases, Spectre, the organization along with its tirelessly ruthless leader has been absent for 4 of those decades. The last time a hint at Spectre making a comeback was during an opening action-packed helicopter sequence in the Roger Moore Era.
That was a long time ago in a very different time for the franchise. Craig’s era of Bond has been a reboot or renaissance of sorts that has brought the franchise back to earth to the basics of what Made James Bond (Daniel Craig) an action pop culture icon, basically a well-dressed, dapper mortal superhero who always saves the day and never succumbs to any peril despite the villain’s best efforts. Just look at MI6, with the passing of the torch in Skyfall from Judi Dench’s M to Gareth Mallory (Ralph Fiennes) (the new M) the office looks like Bernard Lee’s office. I half expected to see Bond charm Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) while throwing a fedora on the coat hanger.
Spectre is a culmination of the previous 3 films that Craig has starred in serving as the next chapter in an expanding story. Think of the MCU that has released individual films over the course of so many years that lead up to an Avengers film – that’s Spectre. Re-capturing the golden era of Bond is certainly enticing, it’s what started it all and with the rights available for producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson why not take a modern approach to it.
Just like with Quantum of Solace that had to follow Casino Royale, Spectre must follow Skyfall, two of the best released films in the franchise and following them is no easy task. At least with the consistency of having Sam Mendes back in the director’s chair along with writers John Logan, Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, the same creative team picked up right where they left off a perfect story. The only absence is Roger Deakins’ gorgeous cinematography, but Hoyte van Hoytema does a solid job in brining Spectre to life with Mendes at the helm.
Since its inception, Bond has never played by the rules or taken anything M has said too seriously – there are zero repercussions beside stripping James of his license to kill and his 00 status. Opening the film sees Bond in Mexico on Día de los Muertos (The Day of the Dead) on a mission from a posthumous M where he stops a terrorist bombing from going off. In lavish fashion Bond fights his way through the bombers, takes a helicopter (a Bond film trope that has been seen in nearly every single film) and rides off into the sunset while Sam Smith’s “Writing’s on the Wall” starts to play.
Because they are fresher in my mind, I still prefer Chris Cornell and Adele’s theme songs to Jack White and Sam Smith’s. Those are two brilliant theme songs paired with stunning visuals.
In his insubordinate nature against authority, Bond follows the breadcrumbs to Rome with the aid of Moneypenny and Q (Ben Whinshaw). Both Moneypenny and Q have been given significant upgrades in Craig’s era of Bond. In fact, when called upon, Q is the most important character in Spectre – identifying the criminal organization to hacking the system of the new Joint Intelligence Service, a cover for Spectre to gain control and power over the world, headed by C (Andrew Scott).
All of that plus the sub-plot of the main Bond girl (there are two) Dr. Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux) and her father Mr White (Jesper Christensen) makes Spectre feel overstuffed and convoluted within its runtime. Though seeing M in a larger more impactful role is good for the character, his struggle with C could have been trimmed or cut out completely.
The second Bond girl role goes to Monica Bellucci marking the first 50 year olde Bond girl.
Taking inspiration from the previous 5 eras of Bond – characters, gadgets, vehicles, and plot points make their presence felt in their return. After a tease in For Your Eyes Only – though no name was given to the wheelchair conniving villain, Ernst Stavro Blofeld aka Franz Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz), the mastermind behind Spectre makes his return. It shouldn’t have been too difficult for people to figure out who Franz really was (given the title of the film) once his all-white furry friend made his appearance on screen.
Waltz previously appeared in two Tarentino pictures, Inglorious Basterds & Django Unchained but my guess is the role of Blofeld was earned in Basterds playing villainous Hans Landa. Blofeld in Spectre is given a backstory that dives deeper into the enigmatic past of James Bond as an orphan (no one has really seen James and Batman in the same room have they) adding more meat on an already fat pig that doesn’t feel earned in the moment.
It’s the trope that has been seen majority of the films – Bond and the villain meet, break bread (Bond is usually captured and imprisoned), and get close to one another and partake in a deadly game of cat and mouse. Both can’t live while the other survives. The two together have a parasitic relationship.
Sometimes, the henchman is the true threat to Bond though used as more of a distraction. And just like the past that Spectre was inspired by, the muted and muscley assassin Hinx (Dave Bautista) poses a bigger threat to Bond than Blofeld does physically. Hinx is the Oddjob and Jaws of this modern era of Bond only less comical and more deadly. Blofeld can only hope to defeat Bond mentally and emotionally – using Bond’s heart as a weakness to exploit
For what lacked in Skyfall is made up in Spectre – action. Stunts and action sequences fill this film as James risks it all for love – something that has only happened to the character twice in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and Casino Royale. James falling in love always proves deadly – his newly wed wife is gunned down by a previous iteration of Blofeld and Vesper is found out to be a pawn in this iteration of Blofeld’s scheme. Only the next film No Time to Die will decide Madeleine Swann’s fate.
Spectre has a lot of story stuffed into 148 minutes. Plot points can be trimmed to make a leaner more efficient Bond film, but it isn’t all that bad. Craig continues to make his case for the best Bond (it’s tied with Connery), a return to the golden age that takes already great legacy characters and gives them a facelift, and some script issues due to a handful of cooks in the kitchen keep Spectre from following in its predecessor’s success. Not as bad as Quantum but not nearly on the same level as Casino Royale – Spectre will end up as a middle tier Bond, which isn’t a bad thing necessarily, that tries too much to mimic other culmination type franchises (though this one started it all). The story is clearly not over for all involved in what will be Daniel Craig’s final turn at being James Bond.
If one thing is certain, that Aston Martin will always be a timeless vehicle for Bond.
Written By: John Logan, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade & Jez Butterworth
Directed By: Sam Mendes
Music By: Thomas Newman
Cinematography: Hoyte van Hoytema
Starring: Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Léa Seydoux, Ben Whinshaw, Naomie Harris, Dave Bautista, Ralph Fiennes, Monica Bellucci
Release Date: October 26, 2015
Running Time: 2 Hours 28 Minutes
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 65%
My Score: 3.5 out of 5
Based On: James Bond by Ian Fleming