From the moment we see the gun barrel sequence back in its rightful place right after the studio logos, SPECTRE makes its intention clear – we are firmly back to formula.
Following revelations made at his childhood home, James Bond (Daniel Craig) takes the search for a shadowy worldwide terrorist organisation into his own hands as MI6 is forcibly merged with MI5 and the 00 Division axed. As Bond begins to dig through the pasts of both old friends and enemies, it becomes increasingly clear that one man has been behind every major challenge and trauma in his life…
Every critic has been waxing lyrical about the film’s opening sequence, and I won’t buck the trend. It’s a very handsome extended tracking shot through Mexico City’s Day of the Dead, and it’s great to observe how effortlessly Bond moves through crowds and keeps track of his target. This flows straight into a stomach-turning helicopter rumble where you must question Bond’s logic of attacking the pilot while airborne. It’s all very slick, exciting and very cool. This sequence, paired with the expressionistic meeting of SPECTRE members puts the film in contention with SKYFALL and THE SPY WHO LOVED ME to be the best-looking Bond ever.
After nine years of playing a stony-faced spy, Craig now seems much more comfortable with Bond’s quips, and these moments of levity, like asking a mouse at gunpoint “who do you work for?” or telling a downed security guard to “stay” help to prevent the grand, moody sweep of the rest of the film from feeling too monotonous. He still looks great in a suit and you really believe he could kill you, which helps. His take on the world’s most famous secret agent also pleasingly has an arc – Bond is still a bit of a blunt instrument after all this time, but he’s come a long way from chucking his dead friend in a skip.
Léa Seydoux as Madeline Swann is a Bond Girl refreshingly aware of her place in the grand scheme of things. She is fully capable and very human, but not to a fault. Christoph Waltz is of course perfect casting. Before his character’s reveal he’s a judgmental silhouette who can make his subordinates quake with a tilt of the head or a whisper, but when he moves front-and-centre he becomes every bit the maniacal supervillain you could hope for. Waltz makes him charismatic and equally chilling and funny, mocking Bond’s “interchangeable” love interests and making one of the best villainous declarations in recent memory (“I am the author of all your pain!”). Ben Whishaw threatens to steal the show once more as a frustrated, borderline tantrum-throwing younger Q, and Ralph Fiennes’ more actively involved, idealistic and irritable M this time locks horns with the slimy surveillance-obsessed C (Andrew Scott). Dave Bautista colours his performance as the hulking Mr Hinx with little quirks, and his FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE-riffing rumble with Bond on a train, instead of being nasty and confined, pretty much breaks the whole locomotive. The sidelining of Naomi Harris and Monica Bellucci is disappointing to say the least, but the Bond movies have never managed more than one interesting female character per film, and this has never been OK.
There is a definite attempt to tidy up the messiness of Craig’s previous Bond movies. We all suspected that Quantum was really SPECTRE renamed by EON’s lawyers, but this finally confirms it, and somewhat elevates what has come before by revealing it all as a sinister puppet show (noticeably skipping over the ugly and rushed QUANTUM OF SOLACE). It’s all very convenient, full of obvious twists and tumbles over itself to retroactively fix what didn’t work on a storytelling level before. There are cameos harking back to Craig’s tenure as 007 as well, though I did feel like we were missing another from a key someone.
Much like Skyfall, there is a definite dip in the second half of the film. If your best moments are front-loaded in your film, you have to do something bold to cap everything off. It doesn’t have to be bigger, but it has to be brave, or at the very least interesting. The end of Spectre feels tacked on, clumsily trying to please fans and file off the edges of the story to fit the pre-shaped hole and it’s mostly unnecessary. The Sam Smith theme song has been tortuous since its first radio airing, and the uninspiring tenticular title sequence doesn’t make it any less so.
From the outset, Sam Mendes and co. were committed to fully restoring the James Bond status quo. It’s nice to have things back in their rightful place and there are certainly some high points in Spectre, but also no real surprises. SSP