James Bond hasn’t been James Bond for a very long time. Not since Casino Royale, actually, when the death of Vesper Lynd, the love of his life, shattered his heart into a million pieces.
But it’s not just that. This Bond just hasn’t been the Bond that most people seem to want – that comical caricature-like version of Bond made popular by Pierce Brosnan, with all his over-the-top villains, satellite laser cannons, invisible cars and impossibly cool gadgets, and cardboard-cutout Bond ladies (with apologies to Michelle Yeoh).
Daniel Craig’s James Bond has been on a one-man mission to give the character some much-needed seriousness and character development, and to drag the franchise kicking and screaming into the modern world. It’s not always pretty (certainly, Craig is hardly the prettiest of the Bonds), and it may bore filmgoers used to CGI-loaded blockbusters with explosions at every turn, but it bears reminding that this is a Bond for the modern age, and that he has been that way since 2006. Actually, scratch that – he’s been that way since Ian Fleming created him in 1952.
Spectre is already Craig’s fourth outing as 007, but yet, people still seem to be holding out for the character to revert to the Brosnan Bond. Sorry folks, that’s not going to happen.
Anyway, remember how morose and depressing Quantum Of Solace was, with Bond moping about Vesper’s death at almost every turn? There was a danger of Spectre becoming yet another “Mopey Bond” film, especially after the death of Judi Dench’s M in Skyfall. Mercifully, Bond doesn’t seem remotely miserable here, just more driven than usual, especially when M sends him a video from beyond the grave with her final assignment for him. That assignment puts him on the trail of a shadowy organisation that has been working behind the scenes of every mission he has been so far.
In Casino Royale, Quantum Of Solace, and Skyfall, there has always been a sense that there is more going on in the background than the “villain of the day” story suggests. In Spectre, all the hints dropped in the previous films come together.
The neatest trick Spectre has up its sleeve is tying every single Daniel Craig movie together into one world, one “cinematic universe” if I may use the oft-mentioned superhero-movie analogy. It is a movie that gives the franchise a solid continuity, not just in leading actor and director (with Skyfall director Sam Mendes reprising his role behind the camera), but in story as well.
It expands Bond’s world, pitting him and MI6 against another organisation that is its direct rival. In Cristoph Waltz’s villain, Bond also has a formidable rival, the Moriarty to his Sherlock (an analogy that is quite apt, considering the Moriarty to the current Cumberbatch-ian Sherlock is played by Andrew Scott, who is also in this movie). Waltz plays the head of Spectre brilliantly, taking the deceptively charming yet sinister personality of his Inglourious Basterds Nazi officer role and mixing it up with some traditional Bond villain scenery-chewing.
This also is Craig’s most assured Bond performance, slipping comfortably into the role without becoming a parody of himself like Brosnan did with his final movie, Die Another Day.
If you were expecting a movie with lots of action and explosions, this isn’t it. This is a Bond with the action dialled down and the intrigue dialled up. The action is great, and quite varied – the opening helicopter stunts are heart-in-mouth stuff, the car chase in Rome is more memorable for 009’s preferred in-car music, and the fight scene with Dave Bautista’s hulking Mr Hinx inside a train is a Batista bomb of raw fist-on-flesh carnage that would make Drax the Destroyer proud.
In terms of all the stereotypes and usual Bond clichés, along with the best of them, we also get the worst of them. The gadgets are limited to a car (with some odd buttons), and a watch that seems oddly similar to the ones in previous Bond films. The girls mainly stand around waiting to be saved (Monica Bellucci, sadly, has less than five minutes screen time), and Bautista’s silent assassin is apparently only good at two things – showing up unexpectedly, and poking people’s eyes out. And don’t even get me started on Sam Smith’s utterly wimpy Bond song (which is a shame, because the tentacle-y opening title sequence is slimily brilliant).
While there are many other flaws – many sceptics would also nitpick at the way it takes its time to build up the threat of Spectre – there is also a lot to love about this film if you are a Bond fan in general. Just keep in mind that this may not be the James Bond you are looking for.
Director: Sam Mendes
Cast: Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Lea Seydoux, Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris, Dave Bautista, Andrew Scott, Monica Bellucci, Ralph Fiennes