Going into SPECTRE, we here at Screening had extremely high hopes for the film, having awarded it the coveted #2 spot in our Screening (P)reviews… 2015 article at the start of the year and, we’re happy to say, it absolutely doesn’t disappoint one bit.
Right from the now-famous pre-credits sequence, which this time around takes place in Mexico City on the infamous Day of the Dead festival, we’re dropped into Bond’s world at break-neck pace in the middle of the spy’s latest (and as we later discover, unsanctioned) mission. From the off, it’s clear you’re watching a Bond film, with the first line of the film being a trademark one-liner before he’s (quite literally) jumping out of a window and calmly walking along the edge of a rooftop, before unwittingly collapsing a whole building in true Bond fashion. Cue an opportunity for a high-altitude, edge-of-your-seat helicopter fight and you know you’re onto a winner even before Sam Smith’s tones resonate throughout the cinema with this year’s Bond theme, ‘Writing’s On The Wall’.
The main storyline of SPECTRE, then, is pretty standard Bond fare – James is on the trail of a mysterious organisation which coincidentally shares a name with the film itself, leading him around the world to locations including Austria, Rome and Morocco, as well as his home base of London. With the help of his old adversary Mr. White, once again played by Jesper Christensen after his appearances in 2006’s Casino Royale and its sequel Quantum of Solace, he discovers a chilling link to his own family history deep in the upper echelons of SPECTRE itself, forcing him to confront his past as it collides agonisingly with his present.
Thematically, it continues the personal nature of the Bond legacy which we were first treated to in Casino and which formed the majority of Skyfall‘s plot, unsurprising given returning director Sam Mendes’s vision for the character. Where SPECTRE excels, though, is that it’s not afraid to juxtapose this seriousness with classic Bond wit and humour which we’ve sorely missed from previous films during Craig’s tenure. This was most evidently felt in Skyfall, where the hard-hitting plot seemed to wane a little towards the end due to a lack of light relief.
Another stalwart of the saga is the ever-present Bond Girls, who are this time portrayed by Monica Bellucci and Léa Seydoux, playing Lucia Sciarra and Dr. Madeline Swann, respectively. Bellucci, who at 50 is the oldest Bond Girl in the franchise’s history, more than proves a match for Bond as the grieving widow of the pre-credits sequence’s Big Bad and shows it’s absolutely possible for an older woman to stand toe-to-toe alongside Bond, and both her and Seydoux continue the theme of strong-willed women challenging Bond which has proved a pivotal tentpole of Craig’s tenure. To say too much about Seydoux’s Swann would be to give away a rather large chunk of the plot, but suffice to say that she’s certainly not your typical helpless damsel in distress found in Bond films of old.
Also returning are Ben Whishaw’s Q and Naomi Harris’s Moneypenny, both re-introduced to the films in Skyfall, as well as the new head of MI6, Ralph Fiennes’s M, who we last saw taking over Judi Dench’s mantle at the end of Skyfall.
It’s great to see all three characters get so much screen time in SPECTRE, and we certainly hope this is a trend which continues forward into subsequent films. Whishaw’s Q retains all the mannerisms of his predecessors while firmly bringing the character into the digital age, and each character gets down and dirty with the action in the field as opposed to being stuck behind a desk in an office.
Fiennes’s M in particular deserves special mention for his ability to coolly and calmly handle new character Max Denbigh (Sherlock‘s Moriarty, Andrew Scott), a bureaucratic pen-pusher from MI5 who wants to dissolve the Double-Oh Section, while being unafraid to wield a firearm in one of the threads of the film’s multi-layered final sequence.
No Bond film would be complete, however, without an evil villain, and in the 24th Bond film, the honour falls to Christoph Waltz, who plays Franz Oberhauser. Much has been made of Waltz’s casting prior to the film’s release given the nature of his character as the head of SPECTRE, a title previously reserved for one of Bond’s most famous adversaries, Ernst Stavro Blofeld. With Mendes’s penchant for re-introducing iconic characters back into Bond lore, is Oberhauser a code-name for Blofeld, similar to Benedict Cumberbatch’s eventual reveal as Khan in Star Trek: Into Darkness? Do you expect us to talk? Sadly, we’re not going to reveal either way whether there’s any weight to these rumours, but what we can say is that Waltz plays a compelling and complex character and it’s great to see him on absolute top form here.
It may be the longest film in the franchise so far – just beating Skyfall‘s (slightly) overbearing 143 minute run-time – but SPECTRE never seems to miss a beat. Daniel Craig leads an ensemble cast in a wickedly entertaining and suspenseful outing which barrels along at a blistering pace, with little-to-no time for you to catch your breath as he zips from one exotic landscape to another. The plot is sharp and engaging, tapping into the cultural zeitgeist smartly in today’s surveillance-conscious society, and it’s nice to see more of the newer characters to the Bond franchise who were reintroduced to the saga in Skyfall.
As has been much rumoured – and indeed heavily hinted at by the man himself – if this is Daniel Craig’s final outing as James Bond, it’s a very fitting ending for his era as the spy – the plot threads that were started in Casino Royale and followed up in Quantum of Solace, before being left to gestate in Skyfall, are very neatly tied up in SPECTRE, leaving the door wide open for another to take over the role in the next film. Conversely, however, if Craig chooses to remain in the role for an already-contracted fifth outing, it’ll be nice to see what new ground the story would tread, if any.
For us, SPECTRE feels inherently like a final bow – Sam Mendes and his team have successfully brought Bond lore firmly bang up-to-date after the franchise’s reboot in 2006 with Casino and normal order has been restored, with Moneypenny, Q and M back where they belong in Whitehall after being notably absent for the first two films of Craig’s Bond era. Whilst we’re not against Craig in any way – in fact, he’s one of our favourite Bonds! – we’d be happy to see him hang up his Walther and slip away into the sunset with a Vodka Martini in one hand and a token Bond Girl on his arm.
SPECTRE is a rip-roaring ride befitting of the James Bond name and easily our favourite Craig film. Ultimately, if feels the most like a classic Bond film out of all of Craig’s portrayals thus far, with the return of more than a small number of elements of classic Bond, including humour and trademark quips, more high-octane chases in vehicles not restricted to just cars, gadgets and even the return of the classic gunbarrel intro sequence at the very start of the film. It’s sassy, clever, witty and smart, whilst retaining everything that has defined Craig’s new Bond generation. It feels like it’s been a long time coming, but this is definitely the Bond film we’ve been ex-SPECTRE-ing for a long, long time.