UK (2015) Dir. Sam Mendes
“It’s a Bond film!”
This is what I kept having to tell myself whenever something incredulous took place during the 24th entry into the film canon of the legendary James Bond franchise. After Skyfall took some chances and remodelled Bond for the 21st century, Spectre takes a number of infuriating steps backwards to the dying days of the Roger Moore era.
Spectre begins in Mexico where James Bond (Daniel Craig) is on the trail of assassin Marco Sciarra (Alessandro Cremona) at the behest of the previous M (Judi Dench) who left him this final secret mission before her death. Bond kills Sciarra and returns to MI6 with a ring engraved with an odd symbol. The new M (Ralph Fiennes) suspends Bond for working on his own which he continues to do anyway.
Bond travels to Italy where he learns of the global criminal group SPECTRE from Sciarro’s widow Lucia (Monica Bellucci), currently headed by Franz Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz) a man thought to be dead. After infiltrating a SPECTRE meeting with Sciarro’s ring Bond then travels to Austria to hunt down Mr. White (Jesper Christensen), a senior figure of QUANTUM, who tells Bond to find his daughter Dr. Madeline Swann (Léa Seydoux) for help with his mission.
007 certainly racks up a lot of air miles in this film and while this sounds exciting, not all of the trips are particularly rewarding or feel completely necessary. Clocking it at just under 150 minutes, there is just cause for some fat to be trimmed from this film, the globetrotting scenes for scraps of information being a leading candidate.
It is ironic that once the truth about SPECTRE and its operations are revealed to have so much to do with modern computer technology and surreptitious surveillance that Bond could just as easily have easily used MI6’s vast computer system to seek half the answers he needed – after all that is what his secret cohorts Q (Ben Whishaw) and Miss Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) do!
But, this is a Bond film so jet set he must, a facet of the films which is as much a part of its DNA as the explosive action sequences, slinky women and fancy gadgets, all present and correct here, although the latter is the least represented, with just one adapted everyday item made for devastation.
The film starts as it means to go on with a homage to the extended single shot opening of Orson Welles’s A Touch Of Evil which begins from the back of a the “Day Of The Dead” parade in Mexico, and ends with Bond blowing up a building! It’s impressively shot and constructed, serving as one of the strongest examples of the superb camerawork and cinematography this film can proudly boast.
Shame then that the story, which isn’t bad, feels like a series of skits glued together with a hazy connecting thread which relies on viewers having a photographic memory not just of the previous Daniel Craig films but the entire Bond canon. At first these seemed like cute riffs on the past – the aforementioned Mexican parade recalls the funeral procession in Live And Let Die; a fight on a train echoes The Spy Who Loved Me and so on – but they do have a teasing relevance as we later find out.
There is a subplot which could have made for an interesting singular story in its own right, in which a British Government operative named Max Denbigh (Andrew Scott), known as “C”, arrives and announces he is closing down the “00” operations. This boils away in the background while Bond is shagging and shooting his way across Europe, leaving it to M, Q and Moneypenny to defend the castle.
As ever one of the key attractions of the film are the physical scrapes 007 gets involved in and there are plenty, usually involving SPECTRE muscle Mr. Hinx (Dave Bautista – showing more intensity and fighting skill here than he ever did in a WWE ring as multi-time champion Batista). These pieces are the typical stunt laden high-speed spectacles of obscene destruction, but with one slight cavil – Bond never gets hurt.
He is shot at, drugged, tortured, beaten, even has his brain electrified yet shrugs it off and walks away each time without a scratch. Every time! Bond can also accurately shoot a gunman from 200 feet away, bring down a helicopter with handgun from fifty feet away, survive a huge explosion and now can leap from great heights while carrying another human being!
But it’s a Bond film, so we should expect this from the world’s greatest secret agent, right? And it is not just these egregious moments of credibility stretching fancy that also irritated me either. Too much happens without explanation or happen “just because” – such as an escape plan which depended entirely on Madeline implicitly knowing what Bond had in mind in order to execute it which was highly unlikely!
Staying with Madeline Swann (I wonder how many people understand her name?) she began as a feisty, strong young woman who refused to fall for Bond’s charms, making a refreshing change from her many predecessors – until she suddenly shows up in a tight figure hugging dress and you can guess the rest. Then there is Monica Bellucci, at 51 the oldest “Bond Girl”, who only appears for about five minutes – long enough however to sleep with Bond ON THE NIGHT OF HER HUSBAND’S FUNERAL!
Despite the many irritating niggles and oversights which a film the calibre of Bond opus shouldn’t be guilty of – and a hideous theme song from woeful warbler Sam Smith – Spectre isn’t necessarily a bad film but isn’t a great one either. Certainly after Skyfall it lacks humanity and poignancy, replaced by explosions and silliness and fails to capitalise on the new direction its predecessor laid out for it.
Then again, after all, it’s a Bond film!