Editor’s Note: SPECTRE opens in wide theatrical release on November 6, 2015.
With the arrival of every James Bond comes a wealth of expectation, speculation and anticipation. SPECTRE, however, has the near-impossible task of both following and expanding upon Skyfall, one of the character’s finest filmic adventures to date. Director Sam Mendes and star Daniel Craig sadly can’t match their previous brilliance, but SPECTRE is still a swaggeringly confident effort with the topical relevance and bombastic action to keep both Bond devotees and franchise newcomers alike. Although it was all but guaranteed to disappoint in conjunction with the series’ staggering highpoints, this is most certainly not another Quantum of Solace.
In an understandable effort to raise emotional turmoil, the writers sacrifice the Craig era’s deliberate pacing in place of a convoluted, globe-trotting task to discover why on earth we should care.
SPECTRE is a direct sequel to Skyfall and a continuation (possibly finalisation?) of the Craig/Bond lineage. On a rogue mission to Mexico City, which flaunts a technically mind-blowing five-minute tracking shot, Bond uncovers a web of conspiracy linking all his previous missions to a single, unstoppable organization: SPECTRE. The polar opposite of Bond’s honourable MI6, SPECTRE are led by the film’s flamboyant villain Franz Oberhauser, a maniacal figure from Bond’s past. As Oberhauser unveils his network’s overwhelming influence on the world’s misery, he confounds the film’s conflict: “It was me, James. The architect of all your pain.”
In SPECTRE, the audience’s investment relies heavily on personal conflict rather than apocalyptic threat. The crime syndicate’s plot remains ambiguous for the vast majority of the 150-minute runtime. In an understandable effort to raise emotional turmoil, the writers sacrifice the Craig era’s deliberate pacing in place of a convoluted, globe-trotting task to discover why on earth we should care.
The film, more so than any other in the Craig canon, remains faithful to Bond formula.
By now, Craig has established himself as the quintessential modern James Bond, his rugged charm and effortless style is surely the closest any actor has come to capturing author Ian Fleming’s vision. Christoph Waltz is clearly channeling his Inglourious Basterds persona, but when that degree of magnetic villainy won him such critical acclaim, who can blame him? Now that Judi Dench’s M has left the franchise, Mendes returns to the classic Bond girl formula in the shapes of the glamourous Lea Seydoux and Monica Bellucci, both fine additions to the questionable legacy of the convention. Back at MI6 HQ, the new M (Ralph Fiennes) must protect his team from the threat of termination in the arrival of Andrew Scott’s C. The latter’s ideal of a globalised security network is a shining example of the substantive real-world subtext that has defined this generation of 007 films, as well as an excuse for tongue-in-cheek speculation as to C’s full code name. Think about it…
The film, more so than any other in the Craig canon, remains faithful to Bond formula. It’s virtually a checklist of what kept fans of the franchise in awe for decades, almost to a fault. For all the flirtations with innovation and adaptation, SPECTRE knows its audience and plays straight to their hands. By seeking to fill every frame with as many references as possible, the movie develops a serious tendency to overstretch its mark. At two-and-a-half hours, it’s at least 30 minutes overlong and fails to maintain momentum throughout. This is one case where ambition is a major issue, instead of an admirable attribute.
Unsurprisingly, SPECTRE ends with the promise that Bond will return. At last we have come to the point that you wish the series would take a breath to recalibrate and rediscover its identity. Gritty realism and overt theatricality are not natural bedfellows. That being said, for those in search of little more than a solid thriller and a thought-provoking subplot will find much to enjoy in this witty, gripping and technically adventurous movie. Call it one step forward and two steps back.
Technically adventurous and faithful to the James Bond formula almost to a fault, SPECTRE is an entertaining and witty thriller, though lacking in originality.