Spectre Review: Bond is Back

This week saw the return of the British Film Industry’s greatest export, the James Bond franchise, with Daniel Craig again picking up the mantle for his fourth stint as the 00 agent. This time, Spectre see’s Bond going rogue and matching up against the mysterious Spectre organisation, headed by Christoph Waltz’s Franz Oberhauser. Carrying on from the magnificent Casino Royale, much loved Skyfall and less talked about Quantum of Solace, hopes were high for the latest instalment in the franchise as they always are, and with critically acclaimed auteur Sam Mendes again behind the camera, it seemed that this was sure to be a success. And to some extent it is, containing pretty much everything you would want from a classic Bond movie, from the epic orchestral theme from Sam Smith to Bond’s sleek Aston Martin DB10. However, for me there is something just missing. Before I continue I most issue a SPOILER WARNING, as I do mention a few of the film’s biggest scenes, so do come back when you’ve seen the film!

Whilst it is as stylish, and intelligent in a way we’ve come to expect for a Bond film, it does seem rather 007 by numbers, and a little less gritty compared to Craig’s other films, with winking glances back at the Bond films of old. With a lot of the references more akin to Rodger Moore’s incarnation of the infamous spy, such as when Bond jumped off a collapsing building and landed on a conveniently placed sofa and the zinging one liners, giving Craig’s Bond a new tongue in cheek dimension. Other more nostalgic aspects that were introduced in Spectre included; the return of the silent henchman (in this case Dave Bautista’s Mr Hinx), the big twist that Christoph Waltz’s character was in fact James Bond’s most infamous villain Ernst Stavro Blofeld (I think we all saw that coming…) and a lot more ‘why doesn’t he just kill Bond’ moments, such as Blofeld’s attempt to torture and wipe Bond’s memory when he had him captured in his lair. Whilst in many cases this did work well and got laughs from the audience, it does distract from the usual high-octane, gritty image cast by Craig’s 007 and that made him more suiting to the 21st century in a way similar to Jason Bourne than the antics of Austin Powers.

Spectre most certainly boasts a high calibre cast, with Craig putting in a traditionally physical performance as every ones favourite spy. Whilst Ben Whishaw’s Q threatened to steal the show, providing great comic relief in his more substantial role compared to previous films. Ralph Fiennes’ performance as M, taking over from the legendary Dame Judi Dench was well crafted as he battled with the equally spectacular Andrew Scott’s (Moriaty from the popular Sherlock) C for control of the British Intelligence agency. Disappointing, however, was the fact that Moneypenny, played by Naomie Harris (who was so great in Skyfall) was demoted to a pretty much cameo role in Spectre. Furthermore, the big hype surrounding Monica Belluci’s role as Lucia Sciarra fell flat, as the promise of a Bond girl who was more suiting to his actual age (with the Italian actress aged 51 to Daniel Craig’s 47) was limited to a mere 5 minutes screen time, despite being one of the film’s most interesting characters as the widow of an assassin killed by Bond. Instead Lea Sedoux’s Dr Swann was the lead bond girl, a character of whom, despite Seydoux’s strong portrayal, seemed far too young for Bond. Another character that I was largely underwhelmed with was Christoph Waltz’s Blofeld! With an actor so talented (just think of his two oscar winning performances in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds and Django Unchained) playing a Bond villain so iconic, his cartoonish evil super villain portrayal was rather a let down. Hoping for something more akin to Heath Ledger’s evil depiction of The Joker, Bond’s greatest nemesis had limited air time and never really got to show the true extent of his wicked ways.

My biggest hope is that this is not the end of this current Bond story arc, as there is so much more that can still come from these characters, particularly Waltz’s Blofeld. Whilst the film ended in a way that could very much see the end for Craig’s Bond, I believe is important for him to stay for at least one more film, to properly end in the series of films in a way it deserves and tie it all together nicely. After all Craig does still have one more film left in his contract so it would be a surprise to see him leave now, especially with the undoubted millions that this film will make.

Where the writing in this film may not have been the strongest, you can not argue with the quality of Sam Mendes’ direction. A man originally of the theatre, who proved his film directing mettle with dramas including American Beauty (of which he won the Best Director Academy Award for), Jarhead and Revolutionary Road, once agin takes up the helm for Spectre following the monumental success of Skyfall.  Again Mendes has proven that he knows his way around panting a beuatiful Bond film, taking in the luscious mountains of Austria, the urban city scapes of Rome and London and the anarchic Day of the Dead festival in Mexico City. The latter of which makes for one of the most exhilarating opening sequences of any Bond film, shot by Mendes as one extended tracking shot, which is in itself a piece of cinematic brilliance. With helicopter’s flying upside down above Mexico City, car chases through Rome and an exasperating final set piece in the MI6 Headquarters in London, you can only feel that if the story was there, this could’ve been an all time great Bond film, it was just missing those final few pieces.

Don’t get me wrong Spectre is a good, thoroughly enjoyable, in some ways classic James Bond film, it’s just not up to the high quality standards that Daniel Craig and Sam Mendes have set for the MI6 agent. In Spectre it has seemed to have lost that gritty edge that we’ve become accustomed to with this portrayal of James Bond. Fans of the series will love this ode to the Bond films of old, however to the casual viewer it will not have the lasting legacy of Skyfall or Casino Royale. Where those respective films saw the death of huge characters in M (Judi Dench) and Vesper Lynd (Eva Green), giving the films that extended emotional depth and challenging Bond, Spectre’s ending seems a bit too hollow and jovial. With Bond walking off with his far too young love interest and the villain neatly captured, it doesn’t quite satisfy an audience that are used to that powerful sucker punch of an end. Spectre stands for me as a good but not quite great edition to the 007 canon. I only hope for more to come!

Rating: 3 Stars

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