Spectre was a pleasant surprise – a flawed but pleasant surprise. I went in with low expectations because the James Bond meets Jason Bourne trope had been taken too far with Skyfall and it has been increasingly difficult to pinpoint the vintage Bond elements in the more recent series entries. I remember watching Casino Royale with my dad and hearing his complaints when the film opened without the classic Binder sequence. That was a bit of foreshadowing I reckon. We do get the classic gun barrel opening here and by the time Spectre run its course I felt like I had seen a proper Bond film for the first time in a long while.
The committee screenplay here reaches back into the annals of Bond films drawing on both the sweet and sour of the Bond institution. We have the amusing quips, the Quatermaster’s toys in play, a quite imposing “Killer Jack” and a proper villain lair but we also have the dismal globe trotting, cheesy contrivances and of course the good old prehistoric misogyny. Nevertheless this is a Bond film that tries and succeeds in wooing Bond aficionados. I gave in when our protagonist found himself on an antiquated train in one of many throwbacks and nostalgia sweeteners that paper over the cracks in this film.
The film opens with an almost five minute semi – gimmicky tracking shot as director Sam Mendes follows our favorite British spy (Daniel Craig) through the percussive splendor and rich visuals of the Mexican day of the dead parade. Bond has a mark in his sights and moves through the crowded streets into a hotel up a lift into a room then out a window onto the rooftops before setting his actual gun sights on his target. What follows is the traditional eruption of action that ushers us into every Bond film. This one starts well with explosions and collapsing buildings but fizzles out with a quite ponderous sequence with poorly shot action in a helicopter. Mendes’s general filming of action left a lot to be desired in action but that was to be expected from a man with a Drama background.
Bond is tugging on threads rolling back to Casino Royale as this film doubles down on the very personal narrative that has enveloped the last three films. He appears to have gone semi rogue as he looks to put a name and face to the ominous forces in the shadows. Bond creeps ever closer to the authors of his pain the and the trail he has been following leads him to Rome where we finally meet the shadowy silhouette of Christoph Waltz’s Franz Oberhauser and the crux of what we now know to be the Spectre organization. Waltz isn’t doing anything special here and he is basically playing himself, sometimes dithering close to a wacky spectrum but he is a bundle of secrets and carousing reveals in this film – some we see coming from a mile away and others we don’t. Waltz’s villain also ticks the throwback box as he is cut in the mould of an old school bond villain.
- Exquisite pantomime European accent – check.
- Menacing wordless henchman – check.
- Evil lair (in a crater this time) – check.
- Diabolical long winded endgame for Bond coupled with a ton of Basil Exposition – double check.
You could play a drinking game with all the Bond references that come our way and a massively contrived one, albeit welcome, lies at the heart of this film.
As always a dashing damsel plays a pivotal part of a Bond story. Monica Belluci’s character shows up to point Bond in the right direction via the much talked about bout of preposterous seduction but that is the extent of their connection and those who expected Bond to play around with a woman in his age range were obviously asking for way too much. The script spends much more time with the younger Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux) whose feisty aura and arch reminded me of Izabella Scorupco in Goldeneye. It will interest you to know Swann literally has daddy issues here and there is a bit of an oedipal leaning to her relationship to Bond and that gives the film some compelling weight audiences can buy into.
There is a bit of subplot to Spectre with Ralph Fiennes’s M facing the dissolution of the 00 program. The script draws on the post 9-11 security pointers as MI6 is forcibly merged into the new age of espionage characterized by the good old Big Brother surveillance and drones with field operatives now considered obsolete. This push for a new order of espionage is driven by the intelligence yuppie, Max “C” Denbigh (Andrew Scott), who ironically purports to be ushering British intelligence from the dark ages into the light. The likes of M along with Q (Ben Whishaw), Bill Tanner (Roy Kinnear) and the refreshingly reinvented Moneypenny (Naomi Harris) are thus forced onto the threshold of the rogue spectrum much like Bond.
Spectre features the loud elaborate sequence its 300 million dollar budget obliges but they come off as unimpressive filler. This film wins by tugging at the heartstrings of fans of the Bond mythology. There is a year zero quality to this film (and Craig’s Bond run) that may garner proper recognition as the decades go by. It manages eat its cake and have it by delivering a Bond film with a quintessential feel whilst successfully managing to tie a bow on the novelty of the very personal stakes tied into this incarnation of James Bond.
By: Delali Adogla-Bessafirstname.lastname@example.org/Ghana