Out of the ashes of Skyfall, Bond (Daniel Craig) receives a message that leads him to an unauthorised Mexico City kill mission opens the gateway to a mysterious organisation known as Spectre. Upon his return he’s grounded from M (Ralph Fiennes), who is attempting to avert a hostile, corporate takeover of MI:6 by ‘C’ (Andrew Scott); whose attempting to use unbridled, NSA on crack, surveillance technology to retire the ’00’ program. Disobeying his London ‘house arrest,’ Bond will stop at nothing to cut the head off of this hydra.
If there’s a legacy of Sam Mendes helmed Bond films it’s unparalleled beauty in the composition. Skyfall’s oscar nominated, glorious cinematography from the master Roger Deakins was handed over like an Olympic relay baton to the sensation Hoyt Van Hoytema (Her, Interstellar, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy). Spectre looks exquisite from minute one in what this reviewer will argue is the single most perfectly executed opening to a Bond film in the fifty plus years of the franchise. Winding through the Day of the Dead festivities in Mexico City, guised by a Skeleton mask the camera stalk’s Bond and his prey Marco Sciarra (Alessandro Cremona) weaving one singular brush stroke until an unexpected explosion increases the tempo and leads to Helicopter acrobatics that would make Shane Black and Francis Ford Coppola swoon.
The fights in the pre-Craig era age worse than Roger Moore’s face in Moonraker, with the exception of From Russia With Love, but this exchange honestly has it all. The train fight between Bond and Hinx is a war. The smiling and silent, mountainous instrument batters Bond through the opulent old dame of a locomotive with maximum collateral destruction. There’s an avalanche of furniture being laid to waste as Bond is doing anything he can to overcome one of his most dangerous foes yet. The hits are fierce, the tactical changes in Bonds plan as certain techniques don’t prove effective are organic and make sense in the context that he’s a man familiar with lots of hand to hand combat techniques and Bautista’s physicality and relentless go forward makes the early exchanges feel like someone trying to stave off a lava flow with a super soaker. The secure camerawork makes you appreciate the chaos without being swept up and disorientated by it.
Spectre, is definitely the most Bond lore laden film of the Craig era and Mendes and co have every right to; they got the rights back to the original big bad. Throughout the film there are a tonne of subtle (and not so subtle) references to a whole mess of the previous novels and films. For those transient Bond goers, you won’t notice; for those fans who revisit classic Bond weekly, listen to the James Bonding podcast on repeat and looked up ‘driving gloves’ and ‘Tom Ford sunglasses’ on eBay today your fist pumping arm is definitely going to tire. The reinvention of the Bond holy trinity Ralph Fiennes’ M, Ben Whishaw’s Q and Naomie Harris’ Moneypenny is one of the masterstrokes from Skyfall that gets to bloom here. While the former Bonds left him to his own devices after his mission briefing has been replaced with team members that can be called upon to assist him in getting to his objective. Whishaw’s Q gets more screen time this go around and he’s no less potent. Harris’ Moneypenny may dress like a secretary but she’s a field agent at heart and if you listen close you can hear a lick of Thomas Newman’s score dedicated to the character. Fiennes’ M central struggle is with C played by BBC T.V’s Moriarty Andrew Scott. Scott is the kind of stooge that Edward Snowden warns us about and M beautifully points out that the importance of an agent is in the humanity, discretion and judgement of being in the situation to execute an order; while C (dubbed C because it’s the beginning initial of that very naughty word) would rather drones replace men in the field.
In Skyfall there’s a sense, despite M’s (Dame Judi Dench) endorsement that Bond has “lost a step.” There’s not a fraction of second in Spectre that you’re not wholly aware that this is peak Craig Bond. This is a seasoned assassin, who is licensed to kill the same way Michael Schumacher was licensed to drive. There’s elegance in his proficiency that leaves his many foes hopelessly outmatched. Craig wears Bond beautifully on his fourth outing allowing his impressive tough specimen to carry the necessary ferocity, abandon and relieving releases in the form of perfect one liners. No Spectre doesn’t revert to the Brosnan lobotomisation of “I thought Christmas only comes once a year,” *head explodes* but he gets to release the pressure with a barb or two. It’s going to be an even more difficult act to follow as Craig has such a great ability to wordlessly convey so much or so little about what Bond is thinking in any given moment.
Léa Seydoux’s Madeleine Swann, daughter of Jesper Christensen’s Mr. White has just the right amount of baggage and beauty to make for a sensational Bond woman. Raised by an assassin (can I hear a Draco and Tracey from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service anyone?) and determined to distance herself from everything associated the life that her father’s chosen for her. Is it any wonder that Bond is attracted to the lure of an intelligent woman who knows his profession so intimately. And let’s not forget that if you saw her in person donning ‘that dress’ you’d probably be rendered speechless.
There’s been a lot made of the feeling of finality for Craig’s series of films. There’s most certainly a firmer sense of ending than the hopeful beginning of Skyfall‘s closing scene; however, after the second viewing of the film, the sense of closure that resounded suddenly had a question mark.*
Spectre is the collision of everything we love about Craig’s contribution to the character and the all 23 official Bonds preceding it. There’s a sense of confession of unbinding love of the franchise from all involved, especially after being given the keys to Ernst Stavro Blofeld.
Blake Howard – follow Blake on Twitter here: @blakeisbatman
*Huge spoiler end of Spectre examination coming soon.
Directed by: Sam Mendes
Written by: John Logan, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade (screenplay/story) and Jez Butterworth (screenplay) based on the character created by Ian Fleming
Starring: Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Léa Seydoux, Ralph Fiennes, Monica Bellucci, Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris, Dave Bautista, Andrew Scott, Rory Kinnear, Jesper Christensen
Music by: Thomas Newman
Cinematography by: Hoyte Van Hoytema
Film Editing by: Lee Smith
Daniel Craig … James Bond
Christoph Waltz … Blofeld
Léa Seydoux … Madeleine Swann
Ralph Fiennes … M
Monica Bellucci … Lucia
Ben Whishaw … Q
Naomie Harris … Moneypenny
Dave Bautista … Hinx
Andrew Scott … C
Rory Kinnear … Tanner
Jesper Christensen … Mr. White