From the very beginning of Bond’s latest adventure you get the sense that it is in the business of paying homage to the past. Spectre opens with a long one-cut tracking shot reminiscent of the way in which Orson Welles opened Touch of Evil (1958).
This is further emphasised as Daniel Craig channels Sean Connery in some of his early mannerisms, particularly during the first explosive sequence of the movie. Bond finds himself falling through a roof and landing on a cushioned seat, after which he rises, gives it a smirk and a shrug, and brushes himself off as he coolly emerges from the wreckage. No doubt about it; what this movie lacks in originality, it more than makes up for in fan-serving nostalgia.
The plot certainly continues in the same vein. While I don’t wish to spoil anything, you’ll likely be aware that Christophe Waltz appears as the main villain, and his is a villain that recalls those of older Bond films in more ways than one. He has the elaborately constructed base in a top secret location, the typical bulky henchman (played by former WWE wrester turned Hollywood actor Dave Bautista, who makes a brilliant modern day equivalent of the Jaws-type character) and even continues the absurd idea (though admittedly necessary plot device) of having drinks with his adversary while he explains his intricate plans before eventually attempting to kill them in a convoluted fashion.
In one sense, Spectre has it all, and if you’re coming to see everything you’ve ever liked about the James Bond series of films, particularly those earlier entries, you’re going to lap it up. You can probably feel a ‘but’ coming in that sentence, right?
Now, if I was to list my favourite Bond movies, the top 5 would include at least one (possibly both) of Timothy Dalton’s two outings as the character, as well as Casino Royale and Skyfall, with the former a strong contender for the number one spot. This should tell you a lot about my personal taste as it pertains to this series. I’ve always preferred the slightly edgier, gritty version of Bond over the flashy, light-hearted and misogynistic elements that were prevalent during Roger Moore’s tenure in particular.
Essentially I wouldn’t consider myself a hardcore fan of the Bond series, as my favourites have tended to be those that strayed from the established formula. Yet it is this formula that Spectre plays on and references throughout. Frankly to me it felt like the least ‘Daniel Craig’ Bond movie of the four he’s starred in thus far (though Quantum of Solace is a bit of an anomaly; more an extension of Casino Royale than a Bond movie in its own right), which is kind of ironic considering Spectre is clearly intended as the climax of this mini-series – the final part of the trilogy, so to speak.
To this end it wraps up the unresolved plot threads of Craig’s three previous outings, though not in an altogether satisfying way. It’s a little hard to buy into when you get the feeling this plot wasn’t planned from the start – which it wasn’t, as MGM only acquired the rights to use the ‘Spectre’ concept in November 2013, and the organisation formerly known as Quantum is basically ret-conned in this film as a result. This kind of thing annoys me; perhaps you won’t mind it so much.
The cast is, of course, jam-packed with talent. Ben Whishaw (Q), Ralph Fiennes (M) and Naomie Harris all return following their introduction in Skyfall, providing a solid spine to the film with their performances. Harris, in particular, continues to be the best Moneypenny ever; she’s such a breath of fresh air and if this wasn’t a review I could go on about her for so, so much longer…
Andrew Scott is introduced as Max Denbigh (or ‘C’), a character working for the British government and one whom you would feel immediately suspicious of even if you weren’t familiar with Scott’s portrayal of Moriarty in the BBC’s recent Sherlock series. Unfortunately his character here is considerably less interesting; that has more to do with how he is written than Scott himself though.
Denbigh is the figurehead for a secondary (but sort of primary) plot thread which involves the merging of MI5 and MI6, along with the proposed closing down of the ‘OO’ section, and a wider initiative called ‘Nine Eyes’; an intelligence co-operation agreement between nine of the world’s most powerful countries. It all sounds more complicated than it actually is, the plot in the end playing out rather predictably up until a final scene that follows suit.
Lea Seydoux continues the recent tradition of strong female characters in the series with her portrayal of new ‘Bond girl’ (for want of a better term) Dr Madeleine Swann; a psychologist with whom Bond’s interactions provide some of the film’s best moments. Seydoux does a great job here; her character second perhaps only to Eva Green’s Vesper Lynd as a strong female presence among an otherwise masculine action movie.
As a pure action film, of course it delivers – though I will highlight that certain scenes in Spectre almost seem like they’re trying too hard to deliver that iconic Bond moment. Two separate scenes in particular come to mind; one on a train (another nostalgia trip) and a boat chase towards the end come off as carefully planned set-pieces designed to get a reaction from the audience. The film gradually loses any sort of ‘organic’ feel as a result; an organic feel that it did have during the action-oriented introduction. Unfortunately it never quite manages to regain that pre-title sequence, adrenaline-fuelled hype.
What we have here is a fan-pleasing Bond movie that arguably does justice to its series in a wider context, if not quite living up to the ‘Craig’ era. For me it’s a distant third behind Casino Royale and Skyfall, but then again those are some pretty high standards, and as an action movie in its own right, perhaps Spectre will be one of the standout titles of this year. I’m guessing that’s precisely what it was going for.
7 / 10