The gang’s all here!
I have spoken in the past about my love for James Bond. More so than any other series of movies, the Bond franchise has a special place in my heart. I initially watched the Sean Connery Bonds in my teen years, around the time Pierce Brosnan was taking on the role, and then became an even bigger fan when DVDs started to come into prominence. The Bond special editions released in the early 2000s were a revelation to me about the character’s legacy and I couldn’t get enough. Even the franchises worst film, 2002’s Die Another Day, wasn’t enough to deter me from the character. There is just something about James Bond and his cinematic (and literary world) that I love. All of this preamble brings me to the latest offering in the Bond cinematic canon, Spectre.
Since taking over the role of James Bond in 2005’s almost-best Bond movie ever, Casino Royale, Daniel Craig has proven to be the best man for the role since Sean Connery. Although 2008’s Quantum of Solace wasn’t as well received as Casino Royale (I maintain it is almost as good, but my opinion is in the minority), 2012’s Skyfall, as of this writing, is the most financially successful of the series and was well received critically. Skyfall director Sam Mendes has returned for Spectre, as have writers John Logan, Neil Purvis, and Robert Wade, with new writer Jez Butterworth in tow.
The title of the film, for the uninitiated, refers to a nefarious criminal network known as SPECTRE. SPECTRE originally appeared cinematically in the first Bond film, Dr. No in 1962. Due to copyright issues (between Bond creator Ian Fleming and co-creator of SPECTRE Kevin McClory), which were finally cleared up a few years ago, the organization hadn’t been referenced in the MGM film series since the early 1970’s. Skyfall looked to bring the modern-day James Bond back in league with his predecessors by reintroducing elements such as Q (Ben Whishaw), Moneypenny (Naomi Harris), and Ralph Fiennes as the male M. Spectre takes this nostalgic sentiment way further, and that will probably affect a person’s enjoyment of the film.
The plot involves Bond going after a shadowy group of individuals that the former M (Judi Dench) had alerted him to. As the film begins he has tracked Marco Sciarra (Alessandro Cremona) to Mexico during their Day of the Dead celebration. A wild chase ensues, involving exploding buildings and out of control helicopters, in the midst of which Bond takes a ring featuring an engraved octopus on it from Sciarra.
After disposing of Sciarra, Bond heads back to England to find out more about the ring. Bond is immediately removed from field work due to his actions in Mexico City, but he decides to travel to Rome to attend Sciarra’s funeral. After the funeral, Sciarra’s wife (Monica Bellucci) tells Bond about a criminal organization that her husband belonged to. They are meeting later that night so Bond decides to attend.
The organization ends up being Spectre, headed by a shadowy man from Bond’s past named Franz Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz), whom Bond thought died in an avalanche many years prior. It turns out this is not the case and Bond quickly becomes a target of Spectre, particularly an assassin known as Mr. Hinx (Dave Bautista). Through various circumstances, Bond eventually joins forces with Dr. Madeleine Swann (Lea Seydoux), daughter of former enemy Mr. White (Jesper Christensen), and attempts to take Spectre down.
Spectre, for good and bad, is kind of like a James Bond greatest hits. You have a railcar fight (From Russia With Love), an evil lair in the middle of nowhere (Dr. No), the Aston Martin DB5 (Goldfinger, also already used for nostalgia in Skyfall), Mr. Hinx (Oddjob from Goldfinger) and many others I won’t go into to avoid spoilers. I, as a Bond fan, greatly enjoy these nods to the past, but I don’t know that Spectre really does much for the future of James Bond.
One of the reasons Casino Royale was so successful, is due to the fact that it pushed the reset button on a franchise that sorely needed it. Die Another Day had hit such a Batman-and-Robin-style low that there was no way to revitalize Bond other than to throw away the blueprint and start over. Casino Royale was a lean, mean movie that deconstructed a Cold-War hero for a new age. Gone were the double-entendres and winks to the camera, replaced with a guy who wasn’t that cool and collected yet. This James Bond fell for the girl and got double-crossed. This James Bond didn’t make easy quips when something bad happened. This James Bond got angry and was sloppy.
So it makes sense that as the films with Daniel Craig progressed, that James Bond would become more like the James Bond of old. By the time Skyfall came around, it was good to see Q and Moneypenny return. It was time for Craig’s Bond to let loose and have some fun, and that does carry over to Spectre, but it also seems that the filmmakers have leaped head and shoulders back into the old formula when maybe they should have pulled back just a bit. Although I had a fine time with Spectre, and most people probably will, it does seem like Daniel Craig and Sam Mendes went into the movie knowing it would be their last, and tried to cram a lot more into it’s run-time than they (maybe) should have.
All that said, Spectre is still incredibly entertaining. I give it my full recommendation as a Bond fan, and as a casual viewer. It does well to set-up future installments and I certainly hope that whoever makes the next James Bond film does something cool with our old friends in Spectre. Just don’t bring back Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd, okay? Thanks in advance.
Until next time…