Cast: Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Léa Seydoux, Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris, Dave Bautista, Monica Bellucci, Ralph Fiennes
Director: Sam Mendes
Writers: John Logan, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Jez Butterworth
I’ve been a fan of Bond since I was a kid and for me Daniel Craig’s tenure as the MI6 agent has been the most consistent in terms of overall quality (although Sean Connery still remains my favourite Bond). Casino Royale is a fantastic thriller that did a terrific job of updating and rebooting the franchise and I think stands as the strongest of the Craig Bond films. The (slightly) underrated Quantum of Solace is easily the weakest of these films but I think that some of the criticism it gets is undeserved. It certainly isn’t a great film but I still think it has enough action and style to be worthy of the Bond name. The (slightly) overrated Skyfall on the other hand is a strong film but I’m not convinced that it is the masterpiece everyone says it is. I think that most of its praise was drawn from the hype surrounding the film than it was from the film itself, although the brilliant villain and the use of Judi Dench’s M certainly helped. Now Bond is back in Spectre which I think stands as the third strongest outing in this series only slightly behind Skyfall.
In the aftermath of the events in Skyfall James Bond (Daniel Craig) receives a cryptic message that sends him on a rogue mission. The trail he finds eventually leads him to the mysterious criminal organisation SPECTRE, led by Franz Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz), a figure from Bond’s past. Meanwhile in London M (Ralph Fiennes) is having his authority challenged when Max Denbigh (Andrew Scott), the new Head of National Security, seeks to shut down what he perceives to be a costly and redundant 00 programme. Along the way both Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) and Q (Ben Whishaw) are enlisted to help combat these threats. As Bond is drawn deeper into SPECTRE’s intricate web he falls into the company of Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux), the daughter of a former enemy who might hold the keys to SPECTRE’s secrets.
After the first three films which distinguished themselves from the classics with their post-9/11 fast-paced Bourne style of action, Spectre marks a return to the basics. All of the elements of a classic Bond film are here including the sinister villain, the beautiful and proficient Bond girl, the high-tech car and gadgets, the silent and intimidating henchman, the exotic locations, the secret lair and the stylised action. In fairness some of these elements are not executed as well as they could have been but I still thought it was a nice change of pace to have a Bond film that harkens back to the originals. Spectre still has the grit and intensity that has made the newer films so thrilling to watch but the inclusion of the tropes that made Bond iconic in the first place was very welcome.
The film’s greatest weakness however is its story. While the plot has never been the greatest strength of any of the Bond films, Spectre is nevertheless placing a clear emphasis on its narrative in an attempt to tie all four films together which is why the story’s shortcomings are more notable. This is perhaps a symptom of the impact television has had in recent years with audiences becoming more receptive to longer and more substantial narratives. This story however is very rushed and unpolished and lacks the necessary development required to make the kind of impact it is trying to make. Throughout the four films Bond has evolved as a character and this film marks a point where he has been emotionally wearied and damaged and is seriously considering the prospect of leaving this world of death and destruction behind. Elements of his past return to haunt him during his encounters with SPECTRE and threaten to be his undoing. I do admire the big-picture long-form narrative that this film is trying to tie together, the trouble is that it all seems too last minute at this stage.
At the end of the day however, I came to Spectre looking for a Bond film and that is exactly what I got. The action is as intense and stylish as ever, the biggest highlight being the opening tracking shot where Bond navigates his way through a Mexican carnival in pursuit of a lead. The villain was unfortunately quite a let-down with the film failing to take full advantage of Waltz’s ability to convey his uniquely charming form of intimidation. Seydoux however is on top-form as a smart and fully capable Bond girl who is second only to Vesper Lynd in her ability to challenge and serve as a foil to Bond. There are imperfections with this film, as there always are in the James Bond franchise, but I was on board from beginning to end and got almost everything that I wanted from this film. The thrills, the style and the charm are all classic Bond and its great to have him back.