I have no problem giving brief synopses for spy dramas but my God the Bond films get a bit convoluted. Jumping from set-piece to set-piece with heavy action, random exposition and absurd plot holes, it can be rather tricky to summate exactly what the hell was going on. After the events of Skyfall, Bond [Craig] carries out a rogue operation in Mexico, which culminates in a building collapse at an extremely populated festival. With MI6 being merged with a government branch, Bond [Craig] is grounded by M [Fiennes] but continues his mission nonetheless. Building on the list of eliminated villains from Casino Royale to present, Bond uncovers a secret terrorist organisation called Spectre, run by a mysterious enigmatic figure [Waltz].
Tackling the positive elements, there’s a considerable amount of subtle layering and symbolism that ensures the Mendes Bond films are a step above their many predecessors. Instead of Roger Moore’s raised eyebrow and space adventures, we’re given a pleasing helping of emotional character development. Continuing the connection work in Skyfall, Spectre is more than a random sequel, it’s another layer of Bond’s armour exposed and peeled away. Another pleasant addition is the decent treatment of the ‘Bond girls.’ First we have Moneypenny who has been given more to do and makes a valid contribution to the story. Admittedly Monica Bellucci’s appearance as Lucia Sciarra serves as little more than a cameo but she’s the most sexual presence of the film and proves that you don’t need to rely on twenty something airheads to generate a sultry air. And finally, Seydoux as Dr. Madeleine Swann, who manages to be trained enough to handle herself, vulnerable enough to need Bond and clever enough to know the lifestyle has an expiry date. I mean, there wasn’t a great deal of chemistry between the actors but it’s somewhat forgivable. There’s nice use of simple humour without punning and quipping and Craig’s Bond has definitely found his stride in terms of how to execute comedic moments. As regrettable as this phrase is, the confident laddish banter works very well. Even to the extent that he doesn’t bother to dispatch a low-level security guard, opting instead to simply hold out his hand and forcefully command, “No! Stay.” Finally, the action is commendable and largely grounded, if verging on a fair amount of ludicrousness; being pummelled through the internal décor of a train without incurring a single bruise or broken bone, a small explosive watch that inexplicably causes an enormous chain reaction, that whole plane in the woods business. But all-in-all it works considering the overall nature of the type of film we’re watching.
At the end of the day, much like the Marvel films, these movies are franchise action set pieces. As such, they forward the series while relying heavily on formula, call-backs and nostalgia. Skyfall closed having introduced us to Q, Moneypenny and brought back a male M in a wood-panelled room; everything about Mendes’ films tries to revive the tropes in a convincing and plausible way. And as I stated back in 2012, this is a problem for me. If the series ended with Skyfall it would bring everything full circle and work wonderfully. But here we are again with another sequel, this time with such heavy-handed homage work and series tickboxing that everything feels all too familiar. I will concede that Spectre addresses a lot of faults with the franchise, trying to rationalise and modernise the series even more but it’s still loyal to a fault. The villains always miraculously find Bond and vice versa and after they locate one another, nobody wants to just pull the trigger, leaving us with 60’s developmental nonsense like, “This way Mr. Bond. Would you mind surrendering your weapon?” “Why of course, it’s the gentlemanly thing to do.” We covered this with Austin Powers in the 90’s; it’s weird for murder-happy villains to pause when they’re about to win.
Echoing his work in Skyfall, Thomas Newman has had his wings clipped and been confined to a distinct pattern, from which he must not deviate. Then there’s Sam Smith’s theme, Writing’s On The Wall which falters somewhat, failing to live up to the previous theme belted out by Adele. It’s not bad, it’s not going to go down like For Your Eyes Only and has a few soaring strings that work beautifully but overall it simply lacks majesty and presence. Staying with the technical aspects for a minute, Spectre is a very well-crafted film. The direction and editing are tight, the production design is noteworthy and the cinematography is very impressive. However, the pacing is pretty off. A fault with every single 007 release is the extremely bloated running time. These films are just far too long and with hindsight several action pieces or expository segments could have been cut entirely but are left in to keep the action/series quota on par with its predecessors. I still maintain these should be period films but Mendes and Co do a decent enough job of bringing the outdated intelligence agency into the modern era, highlighting this odd, misogynistic, arrogant relic of post-imperial Britain while noting the danger of monitoring and recording all information, like a Soviet controlled nation.
The most interesting point presented by this film is the reaction it will instil in its audience. There are those who disliked and fought the grounded Bonds (Dalton/Craig), preferring familiarity and those who prefer the grittier aspects of this new flawed killer. Striking a bit of a middle ground, Spectre may feel too campy and throwback for its contemporary fans yet still too sombre for others; like Goldeneye. In truth, I doubt this is a swan song for Craig’s Bond and we can probably expect another instalment sometime soon; the quality of this work remains to be seen.
26th October 2015
The Scene To Look Out For:
With it massive scale, praiseworthy narrative drive, great camera work and captivating performance, Spectre’s opening sequence will be one that everyone will talk about. It’s entertaining, bold and masterfully executed. Having said that, it does resurrect an interesting niggle present in the last film: the Bond convenience hard at work again. I’m not necessarily referring to him falling through a building and landing on a sofa but the video that set him on that particular path. I won’t spoil anything but he’s out to assassinate a target based on intel that has neither supporting evidence or justification. Just, find this guy and kill him. How do I know this will help? Shut up, that’s how.
Christoph Waltz is great but that’s really no surprise; if anything there wasn’t enough Waltz. Subsequently, I’d like to highlight Ralph Fiennes, who gives us a much more hands on M. Too often we were treated to MI6 being this hands-off department, disavowing knowledge of their own operatives; which is arguably realistic. Now we’re given a leader who follows in the footsteps of Judi Dench’s M and takes a much more active role, highlighting the hand-tying politics and bureaucracy working its way through the back channels, external to the excitement and peril of the missions.
“Did you think it was a coincidence that all the women in your life ended up dead?”
In A Few Words:
“There’s a fair amount to praise with this latest instalment but ultimately it feels like a ‘best of’ anthology of previous 007 releases”